NEWS AND ANALYSIS:
A senior State Department official said in Beijing this week the United States will oppose a formal treaty banning weapons in space, as both China and Russia recently conducted flight tests of satellite-killing missiles.
Frank Rose, assistant secretary for arms control, verification and compliance, called for arms control in space during a speech at the ASEAN Regional Forum workshop on space security in Beijing Monday, but said the Obama administration will oppose a 2008 Russian and Chinese proposal to ban all weapons in space.
“The most pressing and existing threat to outer space systems is actually terrestrially based anti-satellite weapons, which exist, have been tested and have already damaged the space environment,” Mr. Rose said. “The continued development of such weapons, and their potential use in a conflict, should be of grave concern to all governments. Due to high-impact speed in space, even sub-millimeter debris poses a realistic threat to human spaceflight and robotic missions.”
The U.S. will oppose the Russian and Chinese proposal dubbed the “Treaty on Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space and of the Threat or Use of Force Against Outer Space Objects” or PPWT, because it’s unverifiable, contains no prohibition on developing and stockpiling space arms and does not address ground-based space weapons, such as direct ascent anti-satellite missiles, Mr. Rose said.
Another proposal calling for “No First Placement” (NFP) of weapons in space also is flawed, he added.
“Given the fundamental flaws contained in these two proposals the United States does not support either initiative and does not see them as an acceptable basis for negotiation in the Conference on Disarmament or in any other forum,” Mr. Rose said.
Instead, the U.S. is seeking to promote measures to limit space debris that can cause damage to both satellites and astronauts.
China’s 2007 anti-satellite missile test blew up a weather satellite that left thousands of pieces of orbiting debris that now threatens both manned and unmanned spaceflight.
Coincidentally, five days before Mr. Rose spoke, a U.S. weather satellite mysteriously broke apart in space.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite known as NOAA 16, deactivated last year, unexpectedly came apart during its polar orbit, according to spokesmen for NOAA and the Air Force Space Command. NOAA spokesman John Leslie said the cause of the satellite’s disintegration currently is not known.
The speech in Beijing by Mr. Rose was delivered several weeks after both China and Russia conducted flight tests of new ground-based anti-satellite missiles.
China conducted a test of its Dong Neng-3 anti-satellite missile on Oct. 30. It was the most recent test of three different types of satellite-killing interceptors capable of destroying U.S. satellites in all orbits, according to defense officials.
Russia on Nov. 18 carried out the first successful flight test of a new missile defense interceptor that U.S. officials say also is an anti-satellite attack weapon. The flight test of the missile, called Nudol, was the first successful test in three attempts for the Russians, the officials said.
Commander in Korea still needs advanced missile system
The deployment of advanced missile defenses in South Korea has been held up by the Pentagon — under pressure from China for nearly two years.
The commander of U.S. forces in Korea still wants the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system deployed to protect U.S. and allied forces, his spokesman tells Inside the Ring.
Army Gen. General Curtis M. Scaparrotti, U.S. Forces Korea commander, first requested THAAD batteries in early 2014, but so far “no decisions” have been made on sending the weapons, said USFK spokesman Christopher I. Bush.
“If a decision is made at some time to deploy the THAAD system to [South Korea], it would contribute to a layered missile defense system that would enhance the alliance’s existing missile defense capabilities against North Korean missile threats aimed at” the Republic of Korea, South Korea’s formal name, Mr. Bush said. “A THAAD unit would provide benefits to the defense of the ROK against the North Korean missile threat by augmenting the Korean Air and Missile Defense (KAMD) system and U.S. Patriot systems in Korea.”
Mr. Bush said THAAD, Navy sea-based Aegis missile defenses and Patriot anti-missile systems “are all very different systems, offering a different level of [ballistic missile defense] phased protection.”
South Korea’s government balked at permitting THAAD units after China opposed the deployment, claiming the weapons threaten China’s growing arsenal of ballistic and cruise missiles.
A site survey for a THAAD battery was done prior to the delay, an indication the system is a priority for Gen. Scaparrotti.
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter did not discuss THAAD deployment during two recent meetings with senior South Korean leaders in both Washington and Seoul.
A State Department official said China this week was expected to again voice its opposition to THAAD deployment to South Korea at the ASEAN Regional Forum space conference held in Beijing this week.
“It is possible the Chinese will raise THAAD in bilateral meetings,” said Blake Narendra, a spokesman for Assistant Secretary of State Frank Rose, who took part in the meeting. “If so, Assistant Secretary Rose is prepared to repeat the same, consistent position expressed by senior U.S. officials — THAAD is a purely defensive system designed to counter short- and medium-range regional ballistic missiles. It would not impact Russia or China’s strategic deterrent.”
Pentagon spokesman Navy Cmdr. Bill Urban provided confusing written answers when asked why the defense secretary failed to raise the THAAD deployment issue in his meetings with South Korean defense and military officials.
Cmdr. Urban said Mr. Carter did not discuss the matter with South Korean officials because the Pentagon has not yet made a decision on whether to deploy THAAD, and any discussion would “presuppose a decision.”
The spokesman then stated that “any such decision will be made within the context of the U.S.-ROK alliance, in close coordination with the ROK government.”
THAAD batteries are a high-demand weapon sought by both regional commanders and allies. “We will continue to internally assess how this capability can best support our global defense requirements prior to making a final decision on deployment,” Cmdr. Urban said.
Cmdr. Urban added that the Pyongyang regime presents a growing threat from both its nuclear arms and ballistic missiles.
“Recognizing this threat, we continue to consider a range of options and remain committed to working with the Republic of Korea to develop a comprehensive set of alliance capabilities to address this alliance problem,” he said.
PRC Defense Ministry confirms island military buildup
A Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman has rejected U.S. demands that the People’s Liberation Army halt the militarization of newly created islands in the South China Sea.
Col. Wu Qian, the spokesman, confirmed for reporters in Beijing Nov. 26 that China will have three airfields on the disputed islands, including a major one on Woody Island in the Spratlys that China calls Yongxing.
“China has sovereignty over the features of the [Spratly Islands] and their adjacent waters,” Col Wu said.
“And we have the right to construct civilian facilities and necessary military facilities on our own territory. And the military facilities are purely for defensive purpose and of a limited scale.”
The comment was a rebuke to President Obama, who recently said in the Philippines that China should halt all land reclamation, new construction and militarization on the disputed islands.
Col. Wu then suggested Beijing might impose a controversial air defense identification zone, or ADIZ, over the South China Sea.
“To designate or establish an air defense identification zone is the sovereign right of a country,” he said. “Whether or when to establish an ADIZ depends on whether there are threats to air security and how severe such kind of threats are. And a number of factors need to be taken into consideration before making a decision. We hoped that the U.S. side can do more for regional peace and stability rather than on the contrary.”
The U.S. Navy is expected to conduct a second warship transit within 12 miles of the disputed Chinese islands sometime this month, defense officials said.
• Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @BillGertz.