On 25 September 2013 China launched another earth observation satellite into orbit. The spacecraft, identified in Chinese press reports as the Kuaizhou 1, is a small earth observation satellite that will be used for disaster management and will be operated by China’s National Remote Sensing Center. But the launch had a second purpose: to test a new solid-fueled launch vehicle the Chinese military plans to use to provide a rapid ability to replace Chinese satellites that might be damaged or destroyed by an enemy attack.
The United States military refers to this capability as Operationally Responsive Space (ORS). Having this capability would allow both militaries to rapidly replace satellites that might be damaged or destroyed in an anti-satellite (ASAT) attack with small but “good enough” satellites able to restore at least some of the functions of the satellites lost. The Pentagon’s ORS office, like the Chinese military, is also using non-military satellite launches for non-military partners to develop its ORS program. For example, the Pentagon’s ORS office is currently working with the University of Hawaii to launch a small imaging satellite called the HiakaSat.
For more than a decade, U.S. analysts and observers of China’s military space activities have claimed China is pursuing an “asymmetric” military strategy in space that may include plans for a “space Pearl Harbor” attack on U.S. space systems. These U.S. interpretations of Chinese strategy, which were repeated in a recent report from the Stimson Center, are based on the assumption that because Chinese space capabilities are less developed, and supposedly less important to the Chinese military than those of the United States, China has less to lose from making space a battlefield.
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