Stimson in the News

Dylan Rebstock in Space News on China’s Space Dependency and Vulnerability

in Program

Some worry that U.S. military dependency on satellites for
communication, navigation, intelligence, targeting and other purposes
could lead to a “space Pearl Harbor.” In this scenario, China or another
country not nearly as invested in the military uses of space might
carry out an attack in this domain. These concerns have grown after a
test by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in 2007 demonstrated a
successful capability to target and destroy a satellite, and have been
reinforced by subsequent Chinese tests, ostensibly for ballistic missile
defense and proximity operations, that could have anti-satellite
applications. Because China has less to lose in space – or so this
argument goes – Beijing might carry out crippling anti-satellite
attacks, leaving the Pentagon unable to respond in kind. Even if the
Pentagon were able to respond, China would not be similarly
disadvantaged by American counterattacks in space. 

This worst-case scenario is becoming more implausible every year –
not because of U.S. anti-satellite tests, but because of China’s
ambitious and rapid military modernization programs that increase the
PLA’s reliance on space. 

As David Gompert and Phillip Saunders have noted in “The Paradox of
Power: Sino-American Strategic Restraint in an Age of Vulnerability,”
Beijing has already invested over $10 billion in current, operational
space assets – about one-sixth of U.S. spending – a roughly proportional
amount to the United States, given disparities in gross domestic
product (GDP). Chinese dependency on space is growing at a faster rate
than its GDP. China is planning to launch 10 satellites per year,
compared with an average of 17 U.S. launches.

To read the full op-ed, click here

 

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