February 02, 2007 (the date of publication in Russian)

Maxim Kalashnikov


China challenges US supremacy in space

In January, the Chinese People's Republic astonished the universe with a new sensation: a successful elimination of a target space satellite with a middle-range missile. The target was hit at the height of 865 kilometers. By this act, the Chinese challenged the US plans of militarization of space – not verbally but practically. They dared to do what the USSR didn’t have the heart to do in mid-1980s.



Speaking from India, Russia's Defense Minister Sergey B. Ivanov suggested that China's report about the successful targeting is not more than a propagandist trick, as China has not got technical capabilities for construction of anti-satellite missiles.

Propagandist rumors about new types of weapons have really been successfully used in wars for the purpose of psychological pressure on the adversary. Shortly before World War II, Nazi propaganda demoralized the French by displaying a test sample of a super-speed fighter Xe-112, claiming that the miraculous aircraft is going to be multiplied in thousands. In fact, the design of the fighter was never been launched into serial production. The Chinese could derive recommendations of propagandist bluff even from ancient treatises on military affairs: take at least the canons of strategy outlined by the great Sung-Tsu, who used to say that "the path of war is a path of cheat".

However, the fact of the successful space test appeared to be true: that was not a banzai attack but a real achievement.

Certainly, the test involved an element of propaganda. After all, the Chinese military struck their own satellite with a well-calculated trajectory. Still, successful targeting at a huge altitude speaks for itself.

Details are unavailable, as China is keeping them top secret. Still, bare technical logic suggests that the missile was carrying either an unmanned fighter aircraft in its nosecone, or a unique self-homer capable of locking onto the target in space and coursing a missile. From the earth, management of a jet projectile, targeting a satellite, can be only rough and approximate.

The experience of both the USSR and the United States includes precedents of successful interception of satellites. Between 1970 and 1983, the Soviet side achieved success in destruction of orbital targets. The role of a fighter aircraft was played by an apparatus dubbed IS ("istrebitel sputnikov" which means "destroyer of satellites" in Russian) which followed the target satellites along a lower orbit and destroyed them in two ways: originally, by self-exploding and hitting the target with a frag spray (the so-called "space grapeshot"), and later by means of "space-to-space" missiles, acting as a war plane. The Americans, in their turn, successfully tested the ASAT missile, which slipped off from under the wing of a heavy high-altitude fighter and hit the satellite at a low orbit.

Since those times, electronic and computer science have made breathtaking progress, both in miniaturization and action speed. No wonder if the Chinese have managed to create a super-smart self-homer for space battles. Therefore, the Chinese test is to be treated with utmost attention.



The reasons for the Chinese test are clear. Today, the outline of the future conflict between the senescent superpower of the United States and the rising power of China is showing through more and more distinctly. Undoubtedly, this conflict will involve also the military sphere. Meanwhile, modern war is inconceivable without a contest for near space – in he same way as it was impossible to win in 1930s without domination in the air. The United States possesses an overwhelming advantage before China in nuclear missiles, aerospace and naval arms. However, this might rests upon space satellite systems. Surveillance, data exchange, targeting of precision weapons, accurate localization – all this is concentrated in space systems. The US Air Forces, equipped with radar vigil satellites surveying air, land and water surface, have de facto transformed into Space Forces.

The US anti-ballistic missile system, which is now in the process of deployment, is also focused on space. Today's military strategy of the United States is a network-based strategy. Warfare is to be conducted by a multitude of distributed war units, including aircrafts, helicopters, unmanned vehicles, ships, tanks, armored machinery, artillery batteries and mobile land units, able to encompass the general picture of the battle and share data in a real time mode. How is all this sustained? Again, by means of satellite constellations.

A sensitive blow at the US satellite system would doom the US forces to the plight of Samson, the biblical giant who lost his power when his hair was cut off.



In late 2006, the United States boldly declared abrogation of any treaties restricting military operations in space, proclaiming the right of the US forces to destroy and inspect any suspicious orbital objects. Those "non-peaceful" initiatives of Washington have now echoed with a response from China.

Years before, on June 27, 2002, China – along with the Russian Federation, Vietnam, Indonesia, Belarus, Zimbabwe and Syria – signed a blueprint urging the United Nations to forbid deployment of weapons in space. However, Beijing does not rely only upon diplomacy. In accordance with a Red Army song, “we’re friendly people but we’ve got an armored train on a sidetrack”. That is especially significant since militarization of near space has been unleashed to a full scale. Beijing considers deployment of anti-satellite and space-based ABM systems as inevitable, strenuously shaping up to this perspective.

A missile attack at a satellite is only an element of China's military space program. CPR produces maneuverable micro satellites, able to approach space facilities of the enemy and destroy them by direct attack or by electronic jamming. The Chinese have obviously concentrated on the task of destroying US satellite constellations of today and tomorrow. What is Washington about to do? To revive the project of a "space shield" of small satellites, pursuing ballistic missiles, along with twelve orbital laser platforms? Meanwhile, the Chinese Academy of Space Technologies has invented the so-called parasite satellites. They are designed precisely for attacking space stations, space-based lasers and other space technique. Without any explosive, the parasite – ostensibly on occasion – may collide with a huge and super-expensive enemy device, completely disabling it.

Another issue is China-designed high-power lasers. In its annual report to the US Congress, Pentagon reported that China is developing not only modern inter-continental missiles but also powerful laser devices for blinding and disabling space technique, The Chinese have reportedly irradiated US satellites with a powerful laser set; thus, they reiterated the Soviet experience of 1984, when the Terra localizer, based in Sary-Shagane, "splotched" the US space shuttle. While the USSR refrained from further tricks of this kind after loud protests from Washington, the Chinese are not going to stop. The laser's powerful energy flow is able not just to efficiently injure (flash off) the satellite but also to blind it, i.e. disable its optical and radio-electronic equipment. Considering the role played in the US space surveillance system by four Keyhole satellites equipped with perfect optics, it becomes clear what China is implicitly challenging.

The Chinese are spectacularly continuing the military space efforts of the Soviet Union. Destroyer satellites and lasers were produced by the USSR until late 1980s. In particular, Astrophysica Association specialized in laser cannons and localizers, practically completing construction of Scyph D – a laser-equipped orbital military ship. In its turn, Cometa Institute upgraded the IS system. Soviet plans involved a squadron of MIG-31M aircrafts with anti-satellite missiles, as well as mini war satellites. Announcing the Space Defense Initiative in 1983, US President Ronald Reagan believed that the Soviet side wouldn’t sustain the competition because of economic and technological backwardness. Facts indicate the opposite: the USSR could fairly meet the US challenge and defeat America in a space war by use of cheap but efficient means of elimination of orbital systems.

However, the Soviet establishment refused to pick up the gauntlet, as the surrender to the mercy of the West had been planned long before. Meanwhile, China is not going to follow Gorbachov's path. China has met the space challenge, being committed for a victory. The Chinese have reasons for that, as the program of military developments serves as a powerful impetus for their country's scientific and industrial progress. Though China's military expenses are fifteen times smaller than Pentagon's, a rational strategy, based on economic planning, allows Beijing to sustain the race. It is noteworthy that China saves costs in such unnecessary articles as shareholder dividends and bribes.



In this regard, the ascent of Chinese aircraft industry deserves special analysis. In late 2006, Russia invited China to participate in its project of a fifth-generation fighter. This proposal was made public by Alexander Denisov, then-deputy chair of the Federal Service of Military Technological Cooperation, at the China Air Show in Zhuhai. While the Chinese are thinking, India has already agreed to cooperate in a similar joint program.

Experts believe that China's aircraft industry is not yet sufficiently developed to produce such a kind of a warplane independently. Not YET. It is true that in recent years, China reproduced clones of second-generation MIG-19 machines. However, China's aircraft production is rapidly developing. It is noteworthy that while the Russian Government decided to concentrate the whole capable facilities of aircraft industry in a single monopoly, dubbed Unified Aircraft Corporation (OAK), the Chinese chose a more efficient system of two state-owned companies, in order to diminish stagnation and stimulate healthy competition of designers and producers. Unlike Russia, China already has a good experience in joint designs of warplanes: for instance, China and Pakistan have jointly designed the FC-1 bomber.

Only in 2003, China tested fifteen (!) new-designed aircrafts of military and civil use. This array included Xiaolong FC-1 fighter, ranked between the third and fourth generations. Construction of the high-class Shanying trainer aircraft marked the ascent of China's technologies in trainer aircrafts. Add the ERJ 145 turbo plane, jointly designed by China's Second Association of Aircraft Industry and Brazilian Aircraft Company. The Second Association is now also conducting tests of Zhi 11MB-1 and Zhi 9H-125 helicopters, along with Xiaoying 500 aircraft.

China has gained precious experience in developing its J-10 fighter (project 8810), started in cooperation with Israel. A huge impetus was made by purchase of licenses for SU-27 aircrafts from Russia. In several years, China will not verbally but really approach the project of a super-aircraft of the XXI century.



China owes its impressive success in aerospace industry to its political system. The country entered the new scientific era in a good shape: with strong statehood, with a highly capable administrative management, regularly cleaned from corrupt elements. China managed to develop a strong economy, where market mechanisms are combined with a powerful principle of planning and massive state investments in priority national programs. From a liberal fundamentalist standpoint, China is supposed to stay a backward country: it has got neither a textbook democracy with division of power and freedom of expression, nor privatization of state-run industries and land. In this regard, as well as in the social stratification, China is lagging behind the "properly democratized" Russia. At the same time, another fact is obvious: China is going to become the leading economy of the world, while Russia has experienced a disaster in scientific and industrial spheres.

Having established a capable and strong system, China made practical use from USSR's disintegration. The most precious technologies and scientific achievements, as well as the brightest intellect, was absorbed by China. While Russia was destroying its high tech sphere, China was extracting every useful element from the ruins of the great Soviet techno-civilization. Today, according to various sources, 1500-2000 high-class specialists from the Soviet military industrial complex are employed in China. The "Vacuum-cleaner" operation was of great use for China, considering the huge amount of investments of the USSR in its aerospace, electronic, biological and other technologies in early 1980s. Those investments were expected to pay back in 1990s, but Yeltsin's "Belovezhye Russia" threw all this overboard, with utmost possible neglect. This neglect was skillfully exploited by China.

Having absorbed the Soviet heritage, China is now challenging the American superpower. Thus, China is resolutely replacing the Soviet Union in the global balance.



What is Russia supposed to do in these conditions? In today's ruthless world, the weak are beaten, hard and with no mercy. The perspective of a competition between America and China for colonization of East Siberia and the Far East is not fantastic at all.

Today, the Russian Federation can't stay idle, reiterating the same nice arguments against deployment of weapons in space. This will not save our country. Instead, Russia has to introduce its own national program of space weapons.

The "expressions of anxiety", delivered by Russian officials, remind of the protests against air warfare in the early XX century. Were those protests useful?

So, what is at our disposal today? The Soviet-time system of satellite destroyers, frozen in 1983, needs comprehensive modernization; the anti-satellite missile program was suspended in late 1980s, as well as the research in advanced space weapons. Research in military lasers is faintly glimmering in Astrophysica Association, Almaz-Antey Corp. and Soyuz Complex. Research in advanced aerospace systems is curtailed; Mir, a unique orbital station and a prototype of four orbital strike fighters, is destroyed, while national orbital stations have no future. Research in construction of mini- and nana-satellites, distributed arrays of satellites which could serve as technologies of dual use, are still conducted in the Central Machinebuilding Research Institute, in Energy Corp., Orion Association and the Academy of Sciences' Institute of Machinery, but its financial support is miserable. The pilot program of the first aerospace defense district, encompassing Moscow and its suburbs, is proceeding with great difficulties. The whole aircraft producing industry is heavily battered.

Most important space defense programs have been developed in the framework of the Russian-Byelorussian Union State (e.g. Kosmos-SG). These programs represented a real effort of reconstruction of Soviet-time production chains. One more priority program, vital for space research – Nanotechnologies-SG – was in the phase of research. But today, because of the oil and gas bargain, the relations of Russia and Belarus are on the brink of disruption.

In case the leadership of Russia is going to acquire a competitive defense potential, the state program of development of space defense systems should be introduced immediately. However, its implementation suggests a number of related initiatives, such as foundation of a national innovation system; new economic planning; a number of large-scale national development projects. This, in its turn, demands a purge of the state apparatus, a strong system of selection and education of cadres, and new project teams. All this suggests a crucial transformation of today's Russian Federation. The question is whether the Russian establishment, with its manner of acting exceptionally on profit motives, with its greed of gold, is capable of such a change. This is the most crucial question.

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