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Thursday, March 13, 2014

AFSC Commander: Suspected Chinese ASAT Weapon could threaten GPS

As reported by GNSSThe head of Air Force Space Command (AFSC) told lawmakers today (March 12, 2014) that the GPS system could be put at risk by what appears to be a new anti-satellite (ASAT) weapon being developed by China.

“The November 2013 U.S.–China Economic and Security Review Commission (report) raises concerns about China’s efforts to militarize space and develop an anti-satellite weapon capability,” Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, ranking member on Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, told hearing attendees.

Sessions asked Gen. William Shelton, commander of Air Force Space Command, if he agreed with the commission’s assessment that available data on a May missile launch “suggest it was intended to test at least the launch vehicle component of a new high-altitude ASAT capability,” despite Beijing’s claims it was a high-altitude scientific experiment.
“‘If the launch is part of China’s ASAT program,’” Session continued reading from the annual Commission report, “‘Beijing’s attempt to disguise it as a scientific experiment would demonstrate a lack of transparency about its objectives and activities in space. Furthermore, such a test would signal China’s intent to develop an ASAT capability to target satellites in an altitude range that includes U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS) and many U.S. military and intelligence satellites.’”
“Is that accurate to your knowledge?” Sessions asked Shelton. “Is it a concern to us?”
“Senator, at this level all I can say is we’re concerned about all orbits now,” said Shelton. “We are concerned about low Earth orbit because we saw the 2007 Chinese ASAT test, which was a success. We’re concerned about work that we have seen since then that includes all the way up to geosynchronous orbit. Some of our most precious assets fly in geosynchronous orbit.”
Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Indiana, had the following exchange with Shelton:
Donnelly: “If China is conducting tests targeting objects like up to 12,000 miles away from the surface could this affect our GPS capabilities — our GPS satellites?”
Shelton: “Yes Sir.”
Donnelly: “In a significant way?”
Shelton: “Yes Sir.”
Donnelly: “Would their efforts, if they do this, indicate a significant improvement in China’s space weapon capabilities as well?”
Shelton: “No question.”
Sessions wanted to know if there were ways to deter potential adversaries from attacking American spacecraft, saying the U.S. needed to be direct about the consequences of attempts to harm its space assets.
“What do we consider (an attack on a satellite) to be?” Sessions asked Shelton. “Is it the equivalent of shooting down a military plane or attacking a ship? How do we respond to any potential attack on our satellite capability and shouldn't we make that clear now?
“Those are policy questions that we are addressing right now,” Shelton said, deferring to panel member Doug Loverro, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy. “I’ll tell you from a technology point of view,” Shelton added, “we are addressing that very issue.”
“Sometimes ambiguity encourages aggression, as many people stress,” Sessions said to Loverro. “So, should we have a clear position with regard to the consequences of aggression against a satellite of the United States?”
“Our national policy makes it clear that we view U.S. space assets as our sovereign assets,” Loverro said, who served as director of the GPS Joint Program Office from 1999 to 2002. “And an attack on them is equivalent to an attack on any sovereign asset. So, we have stated in our DoD space, in our national space policy, that we intend to go ahead and defend those assets in times and places of our choosing, because we do view those as critical to U.S. national security.”