China’s anti-satellite-interceptor test Jan. 11 is part of a covert space-weapons program designed to cripple the U.S. military in a conflict, defense officials said yesterday as Beijing confirmed it had destroyed one of its weather satellites. China said it had not “weaponized” space.
The anti-satellite weapon was identified by U.S. government officials as a nonexplosive “kinetic kill vehicle,” which destroys its target simply by colliding with it. It was the first success in four attempts by China to destroy an orbiting object in space over the past two years.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said in Beijing that the government briefed the Bush administration on the test and that international fears of Chinese space weapons were groundless.
“This test was not directed at any country and does not constitute a threat to any country,” Mr. Liu said. It was the first official confirmation of the test, which was kept secret in Beijing as well as Washington until the magazine Aviation Week reported it Friday.
“What needs to be stressed is that China has always advocated the peaceful use of space, opposes the weaponization of space and arms races in space,” Mr. Liu said at a press briefing.
The White House said China’s explanation was not sufficient.
China’s public and private “assurances” on the test were welcome but “are incomplete and do not answer many of the questions raised by the international community,” said Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council.
Protests were raised by the governments of Japan, Australia, India, Canada and other states, which saw the test as part of increasing Chinese military power that contrast with Beijing’s public assurances of being engaged in a “peaceful rise.”
“We are concerned about China’s lack of transparency,” Mr. Johndroe said. “For example, China has not explained the intent of this weapons test, nor has it stated whether or not it plans future tests.”
Mr. Liu said he was not aware of plans for an additional test.
Mr. Johndroe also said that China’s government failed to explain how the test “is compatible with its public stance against the weaponization of space,” noting the issue will be pursued further in diplomatic channels.
U.S. officials familiar with intelligence reports said yesterday that three previous tests were unsuccessful. All four tests involved the launch of a commercial rocket booster carrying an anti-satellite (ASAT) warhead that would separate from the booster in space and seek to crash into the satellite about 530 miles above the earth.
Some U.S. policy and intelligence officials have tried in internal memorandums to play down the significance of the ASAT test, saying that the warhead hit a large, low-earth-orbit satellite and that it would be more difficult to hit higher-orbiting and smaller systems.
Other defense officials, however, said the test has raised alarm bells because it exposed a key strategic vulnerability. They also said that there are major gaps in U.S. intelligence about which other space weapons and capabilities China has or is developing that could cripple or disable U.S. satellites, which handle about 90 percent of all military communications, as well as intelligence and missile guidance.
The Jan. 11 test also alarmed military and defense officials because it undermined American intelligence estimates that China’s military trails the U.S. military in terms of weapons and war-fighting capabilities by 10 years.