Two U.S. experts say China's destruction of one of its own satellites last month marks a turning point for the United States, in terms of the potential for military confrontation in space. This despite Chinese assurances that the test was not directed against any other country. VOA's Stephanie Ho reports from Washington.
John Pike, of the security research company Global Security.org says China's destruction of a satellite last month was not the first time the Chinese military had tested its anti-satellite capabilities.
"It appears that the test in January was the fourth time it had been tested, the first time that it successfully conducted an intercept," he noted. "They fire the thing up, it runs into the satellite, the satellite's destroyed, and that's the end of it."
Pike interprets China's test as a challenge to the United States, which relies heavily on information gathered from reconnaissance satellites to help project U.S. power around the world.
"We need communications satellites and we need navigation satellites and we need weather satellites and we need signals intelligence satellites," he added.
He says he believes one military scenario where he thinks China may want to counter U.S. satellite abilities is over Taiwan. Beijing claims the democratically governed island as part of Chinese territory and has vowed to retake it by force, if it formally declares independence. The United States does not support Taiwan independence, but has pledged to help Taiwan defend itself if attacked by China.
John Tkacik, of the Heritage Foundation, a research organization, says China is also involved in other regional disputes.
"And of course, the Chinese have, even today, a flotilla in the area of the Senkaku Islands, which is under the administration of Japan,"he said. "The Chinese have warned Korea about their historical claims to the Changbai Mountains, on the Korean border. The Chinese have warned Mongolia not to invite the Dalai Lama to come in, or else we'll cut off your railroad and economic ties with the rest of the world."
Tkacik says U.S. space strategists are especially concerned about China's development of radio frequency weapons that could jam transmission signals, as well as its development of ground-based lasers, which could in effect temporarily blind U.S. spy satellites.
He says another type of weapon under development demonstrates an overall Chinese anti-satellite program that he describes as "broad and sophisticated."
"U.S. space planners are most concerned about the launching of small Chinese satellites into orbits that are very close to key U.S. intelligence, reconnaissance and communications satellites," he added. "Such parasite micro-satellites are presumed to be time bombs that could blind or cripple American military operations, not to mention communications and even U.S. financial communications, any communications, civilian communications."
The Chinese anti-satellite test on January 11 was the first such successful test in more than two decades.
In Beijing's first public acknowledgment of the test nearly two weeks later, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao emphasized that it was not aimed at any other nation.
China says it has no plans to carry out further tests. The Chinese defense minister is reported to have conveyed this message to his Japanese counterpart in Tokyo. Also, the Chinese ambassador to the United States recently made similar public remarks at a London School of Economics alumni gathering in Washington.
But GlobalSecurity.org's John Pike says other countries, not just the United States, should be worried about China's efforts to develop its ability to destroy satellites.
"They are going to be destroying the satellites of any other country that the Chinese might fear would be sharing reconnaissance data with the United States," he explained. "Certainly, Japan. Certainly, Israel. Certainly, Western Europe. And almost certainly, India. So, it's not just going to be the [just] United States."
Meanwhile, the Chinese test has prompted the Pentagon to examine its own capabilities. Also, the budget President Bush sent to Congress for fiscal year 2008 includes a $10-million request for initial studies on what could become the first space-based interceptor missiles.