NEWS AND ANALYSIS:
Chinese satellite test
China recently conducted a space test involving two satellites that rendezvoused several hundred miles above Earth in a maneuver analysts say will likely boost Beijing’s anti-satellite weapons program.
The U.S. Strategic Command, the military nuclear warfighting command whose mission includes ensuring freedom of acton in space, tracked the two satellites but has not heard from the secretive Chinese military that runs Beijing’s space program, including its anti-satellite missile system.
“Our analysts determined there are two Chinese satellites in close proximity of each other,” a defense official told Inside the Ring. “We do not know if they have made physical contact. The Chinese have not contacted us regarding these satellites.”
There were concerns that a collision of the two orbiters would cause them to break up and create debris that could threaten other satellites and spacecraft.
China in January 2007 fired a ground-based anti-satellite missile that destroyed one of its orbiting weather satellites. The test created a debris field of thousands of pieces of metal that is expected to be a damage risk for satellites and spacecraft in that orbit for decades.
The defense official said the Pentagon wants all nations to “act responsibly in space to help prevent mishaps, misperceptions and mistrust.”
Strategic Command publishes data on satellites and debris in orbit on a website, www.space-track.org, specifically for “this effort to be a responsible actor in space,” the official said.
Military specialists say maneuvering close to satellites is a key capability for space warfare. The capability can be used for repairs, intelligence gathering, or during military operations for jamming, capturing or destroying satellites.
The Pentagon is closely watching China’s space weapons program, which is considered a strategic asymmetric warfare tool to be used against U.S. commercial and military satellites in a conflict. The military uses satellites for everything from guiding missiles to navigating at sea. Officials said that China, using less than two dozen ASAT missiles, could cripple the U.S. military electronically with satellite attacks.
Internet news reports from Russia, China and the United States first reported last week that the two Chinese satellites conducted a close inspection of each other in near-Earth orbit on Aug. 22. One satellite identified as SJ-12 carried out a series of maneuvers in its rendezvous with an older satellite called SJ-06F.
After the encounter, the orbit of second satellite changed, indicating it may have been bumped by the maneuvering one. The Strategic Command data indicated that the satellites came as close as 200 meters from each other just before a possible collision.
Asked about the rendezvous, a second defense official referred to the Pentagon’s latest annual report on China’s military that warns Beijing is boosting its space warfare capabilities.
“China is expanding its space-based intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, navigation, and communications satellite constellations,” the report said. “In parallel, China is developing a multi-dimensional program to improve its capabilities to limit or prevent the use of space-based assets by potential adversaries during times of crisis or conflict.”
James Oberg, a space affairs analyst, said the rendezvous appears linked to the military, which is in charge of the all space programs in China.
“If the successful rendezvous is real — and there are growing indications it was — China’s continuing secrecy about it is a distressing repudiation of the transparency needed to assuage our anxieties about some potential applications of this new capability,” Mr. Oberg said.
Additionally, Mr. Oberg said an “alarming aspect” of the satellite test was how space watchers in the West completely missed it. The test has “blown away their comfortable assumptions about Beijing’s intentions and capabilities,” he said.
Covert Kandahar war
The commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan said on Wednesday that the covert phase of the major military operation to retake the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar has been under way for weeks and has inflicted heavy casualties on the Taliban.
It involves the use of intelligence and special operations forces in a covert war against the Islamist militia.
“The special-ops campaign of intelligence-led precision operations in Kandahar province began in earnest over three months ago,” Army Gen. David H. Petraeus told Inside the Ring. “It has featured a very high optempo and has taken a significant toll on the enemy.” Optempo is shorthand for the pace of operations.
“Nonetheless, planned ‘clear and hold’ operations will be necessary in certain areas of the province that we’ve recently learned have been sanctuaries for five or more years,” he said.
A military official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said “the operation in Kandahar is in the intelligence phase.”
“That involves finding the cells and networks and then taking down the leaders,” the official said.
The intelligence phase is part of the broader military campaign plan for the strategic southern city of about 500,000 people.
After the Taliban cells and networks are eliminated, the next phase calls for beefing up civilian infrastructure and public services, and helping make sure the Kabul government finds reliable Afghan officials to take charge of the local government, which is considered a difficult challenge.
The operation is being called “Hamkari Baraye Kandahar,” or “Cooperation for Kandahar,” and is an unconventional military offensive involving about 25,000 NATO and Afghan troops in the city and surrounding countryside.
Gen. Petraeus told NATO TV on Tuesday that the Taliban’s momentum in some areas of Kandahar has been reversed, “but clearly there’s a lot more work to be done.”
“The Taliban are fighting back very hard because this is Mullah Omar’s hometown, if you will, this is the iconic place of the Taliban, and so it’s very important to them and that will be tough,” he said, noting the Taliban’s leader.
The Pentagon confirmed this week that the aircraft carrier strike group led by the USS George Washington will not join the U.S.-South Korean joint exercises set for this month in the Yellow Sea. The absence of the carrier comes amid protests from the Chinese military that a carrier presence in the sea would threaten China.
Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell rejected suggestions that Chinese military statements opposing deployment of the carrier to the Yellow Sea war games had anything to do with canceling its participation.
“The USS George Washington won’t be going into Yellow Sea in September, but it has nothing to do with China,” Mr. Morrell told Inside the Ring. “It has to do with the nature of the next [anti-submarine warfare] exercise. That said, you and others can rest assured that the GW will be in Yellow Sea again soon, when appropriate and on our terms.”
The carrier strike group is currently in the South China Sea.
The Ring first reported July 29 that the carrier visit was canceled and that the decision coincided with statements like those from Chinese Maj. Gen. Zhu Chenghu, who warned in July that “if the United States truly wants to take into account the overall interests of the Sino-U.S. relationship, then it must on no account send its USS Washington to the Yellow Sea.”
Mr. Morrell then stated Aug. 5 during a press briefing that the carrier “will exercise in the Yellow Sea” but he declined to say when.
Asked about the comment, Mr. Morrell said, “I never said the GW would be part of the next exercises, only that it would be back in the Yellow Sea as part of this series of exercises.”
Bill Hawkins, a consultant specializing in Asian affairs said: “Failure to send the George Washington carrier group into the international waters of the Yellow Sea because of Chinese protests sends a signal of weakness rather than resolve in terms of U.S. support for South Korea.”
Talk about a spy coming in from the cold.
When the air outside starts to get a bit frosty this November, former CIA Director Michael Hayden will be enjoying warm sea air in the Caribbean, along with dozens of other former spies.
Mr. Hayden has signed on as the top attraction for the “SpyCruise,” an annual charity boat trip begun in 2002 to raise money for the CIA Officers Memorial Foundation and the Scott Vallely Soldiers’ Memorial Fund.
“I think the one tie that binds our passengers together and spurs them to sail with us is a continued interest in national security matters, a desire to listen to and learn from real experts and without a doubt, patriotism,” former CIA officer Bart Bechtel, who serves as “spyskipper,” told special correspondent Rowan Scarborough.
Spies as celebrities seems to draw a cruise crowd.
“To many passengers, this is a great opportunity to meet and network with experts and like-minded individuals and businessmen while discussing national security matters, as well as relaxing on a Caribbean cruise after the November elections,” Mr. Bechtel said.
Cost ranges from $1,000 to $2,700 per passenger, depending on the stateroom selected. Speakers receive expenses only.
Another former CIA director, Porter Goss, also will be on board. His lecture: “Radical Fundamentalism and (Judeo-Christian) Western Civilization Are Irreconcilable.”
Mr. Hayden’s lecture will be “Iran’s Pursuit of Nukes and War on Terror: Continuity, and Change Between the 43rd and 44th Presidents.”
“This is the first with such high-level folks,” Mr. Bechtel said.