DIA: China Has Ground-based ASAT Missile, Likely Working on Laser Weapon

China’s 2007 test of its ground-based ASAT missile destroyed one of its own defunct satellites in LEO. The graphic depicts the orbits of trackable debris generated by the test 1 month after the event. The white line represents the International Space Station’s orbit. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Challenges to Security in Space
Defense Intelligence Agency
February 2019

Full Report (PDF)

Excerpt on China

China’s Military Strategy

In 2015, Beijing directed the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to be able to win “informatized local wars” with an emphasis on “maritime military struggle.” Chinese military strategy documents also emphasize the growing importance of offensive air, long-distance mobility, and space and cyberspace operations. China expects that its future wars mostly will be fought outside its borders and will involve conflict in the maritime domain. China promulgated this through its most recent update to its “military strategic guidelines,” the top-level directives that Beijing uses to define concepts, assess threats, and set priorities for planning, force posture, and modernization. The PLA uses “informatized” warfare to describe the process of acquiring, transmitting, processing, and using information to conduct joint military operations across the domains of land, sea, air, space, cyberspace, and the electromagnetic spectrum during a conflict. PLA writings highlight the benefit of near-real-time shared awareness of the battlefield in enabling quick, unified effort to seize tactical opportunities.

Strategy, Doctrine and Intent

Beijing now has a goal of “[building] China into a space power in all respects.” Its rapidly growing space program—China is second only to the United States in the number of operational satellites—is a source of national pride and part of President Xi Jinping’s “China Dream” to establish a powerful and prosperous China. The space program supports both civil and military interests, including strengthening its science and technology sector, international relationships, and military modernization efforts. China seeks to achieve these goals rapidly through advances in the research and development of space systems and space-related technology.

China officially advocates for peaceful use of space, and it is pursuing agreements at the United Nations on the non weaponization of space. Nonetheless, China continues to improve its counterspace weapons capabilities and has enacted military reforms to better integrate cyberspace, space, and EW into joint military operations.

The PLA views space superiority, the ability to control the information sphere, and denying adversaries the same as key components of conducting modern “informatized” wars. Since observing the U.S. military’s performance during the 1991 Gulf War, the PLA embarked on an effort
to modernize weapon systems and update doctrine to place the focus on using and countering adversary information-enabled warfare.

Space and counterspace operations will form integral components of PLA campaigns, given China’s
perceptions of the importance of space-enabled operations to U.S. and allied forces and the growing importance of space to enable beyond-line-of-sight operations for deployed Chinese forces. The  PLA  also sees counterspace operations as a means to deter and counter a possible U.S. intervention during a regional military conflict. PLA analysis of U.S. and allied military operations states that “destroying or capturing satellites and other sensors” would make it difficult to use precision guided weapons. Moreover, PLA writings suggest that reconnaissance, communications, navigation, and early warning satellites could be among the targets of attacks designed to “blind and deafen the enemy.”

The launch vehicles depicted are representative of China’s launch capabilities. Additional light-, medium-, and heavy-lift vehicles are in development. China uses its light-lift vehicles to place small payloads into LEO and its medium lift to  place larger satellites in MEO and smaller satellites in GEO. The LM-5 heavy-lift SLV supports launching crewed space station components to LEO and heavy payloads to GEO. The developmental LM-9 primarily will support missions to the Moon and Mars. (Visualization: DIA, D3 Design)

China has developed a “quick response” SLV to increase its attractiveness as a commercial small satellite launch provider and to rapidly reconstitute LEO space capabilities, which could support military operations during a conflict or civilian response to disasters. Compared to medium- and heavy-lift SLVs, these quick response SLVs are capable of expedited launch campaigns because they are transportable via road or rail and can be stored launch-ready for longer periods. Currently, due to their limited size, quick response SLVs such as the KZ-1, LM-6, and LM-11 are only capable of launching relatively small payloads into LEO.

Counterspace Capabilities

Space Situational Awareness. China has a robust network of space surveillance sensors capable of searching, tracking, and characterizing satellites in all Earth orbits. This network includes a variety of telescopes, radars, and other sensors that allow China to support missions including intelligence collection, counterspace targeting, ballistic missile early warning, spaceflight safety, satellite anomaly resolution, and space debris monitoring.

Electronic Warfare. The PLA considers EW capabilities key assets for modern warfare and its doctrine emphasizes using EW weapons to suppress or deceive enemy equipment. The PLA routinely incorporates jamming and anti-jamming techniques against multiple communication, radar systems, and GPS satellite systems in exercises. China continues to develop jammers dedicated to targeting SAR aboard military reconnaissance platforms, including LEO satellites. Additionally, China is developing jammers to target SATCOM over a range of frequency bands, including military protected extremely high frequency communications.

Directed Energy Weapons. China likely is pursuing laser weapons to disrupt, degrade, or damage satellites and their sensors and possibly already has a limited capability to employ laser systems against satellite sensors. China likely will field a ground-based laser weapon that can counter low-orbit space-based sensors by 2020, and by the mid-to-late 2020s, it may field higher power systems that extend the threat to the structures of non-optical satellites.

Cyberspace Threats. China emphasizes offensive cyberspace capabilities as key assets for integrated warfare and could use its cyberwarfare capabilities to support military operations against space-based assets. For example, the PLA could employ its cyberattack capabilities to establish information dominance in the early stages of a conflict to constrain an adversary’s actions, or slow its mobilization and deployment by targeting network-based command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR), logistics, and commercial activities.

The PLA also plays a role in cyberespionage targeting foreign space entities, consistent with broader state-sponsored industrial and technical espionage to increase the level of technologies and expertise available to support military research and development and acquisition. The PLA unit responsible for conducting signals intelligence has supported cyberespionage against U.S. and European satellite and aerospace industries since at least 2007.

Orbital Threats. China is developing sophisticated on-orbit capabilities, such as satellite inspection and repair, at least some of which could also function as a weapon. China has launched multiple satellites to conduct scientific experiments on space maintenance technologies and it is conducting space debris cleanup research.

Kinetic Energy Threats. The PLA has an operational ground-based ASAT missile intended to target LEO satellites. China has also formed military units that have begun training with ASAT missiles.

Other Counterspace Technology Development. China probably intends to pursue additional ASAT weapons capable of destroying satellites up to GEO. In 2013, China launched an object into space on a ballistic trajectory with a peak altitude above 30,000 km. No new satellites were released from the object, and the launch profile was inconsistent with traditional SLVs, ballistic missiles, or sounding rocket launches for scientific research.

  • Robert G. Oler

    hah hah

  • duheagle

    What part of this tickles your funny bone? I hope it isn’t the part about the Chinese having direct-ascent ASAT weapons. Or do you think that thing in 2007 was just a lucky shot?

  • Robert G. Oler

    I always find the GOP military experts who for the most part never served in the military or really thought all that much about military policy funny (if not stupid) …and it shows in the papers like this whenever they get a whiff of power. they are always quite keen to give the “other side” weapons we 1) tried but found enormously useless and 2) weapons that we spent billions on and couldnt make work…and give them to them in an operational status that is next to impossible

    as for the direct ascent ASAT. first off we have done that. the US has on two occassion “done what they did” one time from a ship and the other time from an airplane…which is enormously more valuable then the Chinese from a fixed location…as it is tiresome to have to wait for the “satellite” to come within range.

    second…as a hedge on bets why do you think the USAF is looking heavily at things like Virgin Galactic and whatever they call “the redstone under the Boeing”…not to mention their previous interest in the now seemingly failing stratolaunch.

    If “Galactic Girl” can routinely launch payloads into LEO it doesnt take to much imagination to see how they would function nicely as a direct ascent weapon system…one that is very mobile

    third and most important…the GPS and other middle altitude payloads as well as the GEO sats are virtually immune from surprise attack due to the time ti would take to get to them even on direct ascent…

    and its hard for me to imagine why the Chinese would attack even low alititude statellites

    doing so would make prosecuting an effort in the South China sea (or what they call the Eastern Sea) Hard but not impossible…to stop that effort the Chinese would need to do something on earth not in orbit

    like 1) take out the ports at Guam or Pearl 2) some flattops or 3) the supply chain of USNS ships that make the flattops “weapons”

    thats not in orbit…thats on the sea…and if they are thinking about doing it…they will think out of the box in terms of how they do it

    its not hard…the USN has done war games along those lines…I know. I played a Chinese fleet commander in one 🙂 I was called “sneaky” 🙂

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    There was a great sequence of events back in the 70’s when a Heritage Foundation Academic started writing copy that said the USSR could track SSBN’s. When a BBC reporter hunted down the story and found out it was bogus he interviewed the Heritage Foundation who’s rep said when cornered “We were right spiritually.”. That’s a political partisan. The political right has no problem looking at something like the SS-18 and then spinning yarns around it to generate fear and defense dollars. From their POV if they’re wrong, it only adds to military capability in their view which is a gain. Much the same way the left will invoke climate change in order to get more money into efforts to alleviate poverty, establish nature preserves, you name it. From their POV if they’re wrong, they’ve still done good work. It’s the malfunction of any political partisan.

    Pop up ASAT’s are good when you only have to shoot down two to four KH-11 class satellites. However what the PLAN really has to do these days is hide from Planet Labs. And if the Chinese are going to use DF-21based pop up asats to shoot down a SkySat well ….. That’s a win for us. The biggest boon to the West in securing the South China sea is putting F-35’s on Japanese Kaga’s and Australian Canberra class LHD.

  • Robert G. Oler

    There was a great sequence of events back in the 70’s when a Heritage
    Foundation Academic started writing copy that said the USSR could track
    SSBN’s”

    It did spawn a great or semi good James Bond movie…the spy who loved me 🙂

    yes you got the tune about correct. both the right and the left do a bit of “being correct spiritually” but the right wing does it with abandon on military spending and “scary people”. if you were to believe the nuts in this administration Iran is on the verge of a first strike capability 🙂

    whileanything is possible (See Red Storm Rising the “The Third world war”) it is fairly clear to me that both the US and the PRC would pretty much leave space assets untouched because both have (or are acquiring them) at fairly rapid rates.

    this entire thing is just a lie by an administration that lies with ease

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    I miss the days when the American right and left both partook in systems of arms control. The American right went rotten after Desert Storm when they got in their minds that the US could be invulnerable and that the rest of the world’s right wingers would happy with the prospect of being totally vulnerable to the US while being incapable furthering their own interests by means of force of arms.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Yes…Desert Storm taught the right wing exactly the wrong lessons…and they have been determined to prove that the lessons they think they learned were correct ever since

    it has not worked against the pygmies we have made war against and it clearly will not work with the Chinese (and I doubt with the North Koreans)

    the Chinese have figured the failure of the Soviet Union out…ie a big military with no industrial base to support it is not only doomed but very useless in a modern war. Add to that the Chinese today kind of view the US as a tiger that is slowly losing muscle and rapidly gaining paper…

    I suspect the Chinese view us kind of as France and GB in the mid 50’s when those two powers foolishly went into the 56 Arab Israeli war and found their knees cut off by the Ike administration. The chinese I am pretty sure think that they can geet what they want in the China sea without firing “to many” shots…what they want is to make the US back down on a freedom of the sea issue for the first time in a long time…and that will to them signal the start of the end of US superpower status and the rise of the PRC to the new superpower. they wont get that in space and know it

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    What the US business sector has done to the American industrial sector is amazing on that front. They have transferred American industry on a one to one basis from the US to China such that the loss of American industry is a gain for Chinese industry. They’ve done this to the point of extracting 50% of what was there. Then consider all the opportunity loss from American business men bypassing even considering the United States. Not to mention the loss in human resource development because the American business sector would rather have an exploitable work force to invest in instead of well paid members of the middle class. The result is a well trained and massive Chinese work force. The American business sector has conduced a massive strategic bombing run against their own industrial sector on behalf of the Chinese government. That’s what happens when right wing free trade economics goes up against a planned communist government with a industrial policy.

  • Robert G. Oler

    without a doubt…a function of trickle down economics has been that business took the manufactoring part of American industry and moved it to China and other third world countries…and what is left are service jobs ie selling the goods which they have trivizlied in the profit scheme.

    YOU CANNOT be a superpower just on a military model alone. the Russians tried that and we are determined I see to try it as well

  • duheagle

    Perhaps you would deign to name those GOP military experts who never served? It’s hard to argue with gassy generalities – I suppose that’s why you trot so many of them out.

    I can certainly think of one rather high-profile Democrat “military expert” who never served – Obama’s last SecDef Ashton Carter. He’s been a high-profile “defense intellectual” of the left for over four decades, a frequent flyer subordinate to SecDefs in Democrat administrations and got the top job during the last two years of Obama’s administration. He has a perfect record of opposition to every anti-missile system ever proposed in the U.S.

    The only airborne U.S. direct-ascent ASAT weapon I know of is that air-launched missile system that used an F-15 as a launch platform. It was successfully tested – once – against a very low-orbit target bird and never used again. It has been out of the U.S. inventory for decades. The Standard missile fired from an Aegis cruiser also shot down a damaged satellite in a low and decaying orbit. The Standard missile is not a general-purpose ASAT weapon.

    All that is kind of beside the point as I’m not an advocate of direct-ascent ASAT weapons for the U.S. They are an extremely bad fit with what the U.S. needs to accomplish by way of space asset protection and enemy space asset disablement.

    Time would be needed to convert LauncherOne into any sort of ASAT. Far more time than it would be worth to spend, IMHO. Even if accomplished, it would be a single-shot dueling pistol of a weapon. Stratolaunch could potentially carry several at a time, but that might not be useful based on the limited interception “footprint” of an ASAT-converted LauncherOne.

    The Chinese indisputably already have such weapons, though, and tests in recent years suggest they are now capable of striking MEO and GEO targets.

    Admittedly, these weapons are useless for a “surprise” attack – for certain values of the word “surprise.” Their main utility is in the utter absence of any U.S. system capable of countering them. The fact that they can’t be fired in huge salvos is also not an impediment to their usefulness so long as the U.S. deploys no active opposition. They can be launched one or a few at a time over a period of weeks and still take down U.S. space-based military assets far faster than we could replace same – at least for now. Four or five dozen would be sufficient to wipe out AEHF, MUOS, KH-11, and all the GEO early-warning and Elint birds, plus enough of the GPS constellation to render the system effectively useless.

    Having no ASAT assets of any kind, we couldn’t respond in a directly tit-for-tat fashion. Thus we would have to hit something else belonging to the Chinese. But all potential ground targets carry the risk of killing Chinese nationals – most would be guaranteed to, in fact. Their pot-shooting at U.S. satellites wouldn’t do likewise anent U.S. nationals.

    This would present the U.S. with a nice geopolitical image problem that recent history suggests it would “solve” by doing nothing – especially if another gutless Obama-esque Democrat happened to be in the White House at the time with an Ash Carter- or Les Aspin-ish SecDef.

    You are correct that the Chinese would be quite unlikely to do such a thing, “just for fun.” But they could find it a very useful prelude to something a lot less “benign” once we no longer had the assets with which to observe them or direct precision strikes against them. The likeliest such thing would seem to be an invasion of Taiwan. As China’s internal problems mount and its economy continues to stagnate, “pulling a Galtieri” might look like just the ticket to whip up patriotic fervor and divert the masses from thoughts of neck-stretching their commissars from available light standards.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Perhaps you would deign to name those GOP military experts who never served? It’s ha”

    Dick Cheney, John Bolton, Donald Trump, Most Fox news “military experts”…should I continue?

  • Robert G. Oler

    The only airborne U.S. direct-ascent ASAT weapon I know of is that
    air-launched missile system that used an F-15 as a launch platform.”

    I stopped reading there. I have a rule …the first serious mistake a person makes in facts or logic, is about as far as I go as the rest is suspect

    do some research while I am up flying today…start with AEGIS.

  • duheagle

    It wasn’t an error. AEGIS is a radar and battle management system for carrier battlegroups. Neither it, nor the Standard missiles it employs constitute an ASAT system.

  • duheagle

    Bolton was in the National Guard and Army Reserve.

    Donald Trump is Commander in Chief, but I don’t think he regards himself as a “military expert.”

    I can find no comprehensive list of Fox’s military analysts, but I can’t think of any who aren’t retired military.

  • Robert G. Oler

    tell that to the satellite it downed goofy

    my last name in the Navy was Captain 🙂 or chief of staff

  • Robert G. Oler

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kul34O_yMLs

    Trump “I know more than the Generals”

    trump “I would have made a very good general”

    you are not well informed

  • Joel

    Hah! You do realize, of course, that Trump absolutely lives to troll any and everybody who doesn’t like him with intentionally outrageous statements, and then watch the ensuing outrage while munching popcorn?

    Not saying it’s the wisest course of leadership, or that he some of his outrageous aren’t more reflective of what he thinks than others, but I’d rank the plausibility of this being one of them somewhere south of ‘we never went to the moon’ and barely north of ‘the earth is flat’. 😀

  • Robert G. Oler

    that is the kindest interpretation of it…it is however likely he believes those statements which is truly scary

  • Joel

    Meh, I’ll grant you a possibility for ‘I would have made a very good general’. But I can’t buy somebody who’s done so well doing everything ‘so wrong’, so successfully, really ranks his expertise above the Generals in their own domain. 😀

  • Joel

    Politically successfully, that is.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Trump is a guy who got a lot of money from his parents, conned a lot of people along the way, caused most of them to go under and appeals to a base that is really an easy mark for con people.

    all of his base likes to think that they are good with guns, good in the military, great patriots blahblah blah and most of them are well duck dynasty wantabees….except how the Ducks made money was conning people like them.

  • Joel

    He’s also a guy who flouted every rule of political conduct all the way to the Presidency, in the face of opposition from( much of) the conservative media, the liberal media, the Republican party, the Democratic party, maneuverings during the convention, a Democratically supported third party effort to force and then draw out a recount for as long as possible, accusations of sexual assault, and accusations of Russian conspiracy, on the back of an extremely sophisticated and media aware campaign that raised money primarily from small doners outside of the main party base. He’s permanently redrawn the boundaries of the politics of trade, won in places that voted Obama( twice), drew a bump in votes from the African American Community, and has already accumulated a war chest in excess of 200 million dollars for the next go around.

    He baited the media, knowing they would take his comments beyond what he actually said, with a tin ear and without context( his ‘mocking’ of a disabled reporter with gestures and inflections which he’s used when targeting other individuals on multiple occasions, his claim that a judge that others argue – and he certainly might feel, as the subject of the lawsuit the judge is presiding over – was affiliated with a group who seeks the return former Mexican territory to Mexico, was biased against him because he was ‘Mexican’, and on and on), knowing it would drive some fence-sitters to his side, and on the business principle that no publicity is bad.

    He played the media like a fiddle, all the way to the White House, and he’s raising major cash AGAIN, from largely small, sub-200 dollar donations. And you STILL choose to underestimate him. I’m not making a statement for the man or his politics, but come on man – unlikely success born of calculated, contrarian strategy talks1

  • Robert G. Oler

    LOL

    he beat a very very weak GOP field, faced a very weak Dem candidate…and barely won the electoral college and lost the popular vote by a rather massive number…contrast his EC win with Al Gore’s loss and the popular vote.

    He has accomplished little…except raise the deficit, left us crushing debt and has a constant popularity rating of under 40. the election in 18 was a bone crushing defeat…and as it stands now the only people who suport him are the stupid, the folks who like to be lied to, and the foolish

    anything is possible in the 2020 election but the joy is that Trump has made the US ready for far left policies… and thats just fine for me