NEWS AND ANALYSIS:
A forthcoming report by the congressional U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission provides new details of China’s space-weapons programs, dubbed counterspace arms, that are aimed at destroying or jamming U.S. satellites and limiting American combat operations around the world.
“China is pursuing a broad and robust array of counterspace capabilities, which includes direct-ascent anti-satellite missiles, co-orbital anti-satellite systems, computer network operations, ground-based satellite jammers and directed energy weapons,” a late draft of the commission’s annual report states. “China’s nuclear arsenal also provides an inherent anti-satellite capability.”
China military planners expect to use a combination of kinetic, electronic and cyber attacks against satellites or ground support structures in a conflict.
Two direct-ascent missiles capable of hitting satellites in both lower and higher orbits are under development, the SC-19 and the DN-2. Anti-satellite missile tests were carried out as recently as last year.
The high-orbit DN-2 can hit U.S. Global Positioning Satellites but appears more suited for blowing up U.S. intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance satellites. The DN-2 could be deployed in five to 10 years.
For space-based weapons, China is developing co-orbital anti-satellite weapons.
“These systems consist of a satellite armed with a weapon such as an explosive charge, fragmentation device, kinetic energy weapon, laser, radio frequency weapon, jammer or robotic arm,” the report says.
The co-orbital arms maneuver in space close to satellite targets and then deploy weapons to disable or destroy them. They also can crash into satellites or grab them with a robotic arm.
In 2008, a Chinese miniature imaging satellite passed within 28 miles of the International Space Station with no notification, in what the report said was a simulated co-orbital anti-satellite attack.
The commission report, to be publicly released next month, says China’s People’s Liberation Army believes demonstrating capabilities that can damage or destroy satellites is important to deterring adversaries, and that the anti-satellite threat is a more credible deterrent than nuclear arms.
“The PLA assesses U.S. satellites are critical to the United States’ ability to sustain combat operations globally,” the report says. “PLA analysis of U.S. military operations states that ‘destroying or capturing satellites and other sensors will deprive an opponent of initiative on the battlefield and [make it difficult] for them to bring their precision-guided weapons into full play.’”
The PLA estimates 50 U.S. surveillance satellites, along with drones and manned aircraft, provided 70 percent of battlefield communications in the 1990s operations in Kosovo.
China is also planning military cyberattacks that can take control of satellites by hacking into the microwave signals used by satellites. Chinese military researchers have written that during a conflict, the PLA will “attempt to conduct computer network attacks against U.S. satellites and ground-based facilities that interact with U.S. satellites,” the report says.
“If executed successfully, such attacks could significantly threaten U.S. information superiority, particularly if they are conducted against satellites with sensitive military and intelligence functions,” the report says. “For example, access to a satellite’s controls could allow an attacker to damage or destroy the satellite; deny, degrade, or manipulate its transmissions; or access its capabilities or the information, such as imagery, that can be gained through its sensors.”
The report said Chinese hackers probably were behind several computer attacks against U.S. space assets, including a September 2014 hack of National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration satellite and weather service systems.
China also has acquired a number of electronic ground-based jammers for use against satellites, and in 2006 China fired a high-powered laser that temporarily disrupted a U.S. satellite, the report said.
Beijing’s nuclear forces also could be used against satellites. A nuclear detonation in low-earth orbit would create a damaging electromagnetic pulse that could disrupt unshielded satellites.
A copy of the draft report was obtained by Inside the Ring and is the latest publicly available draft. The final report will be released next month.
New Russian cruise missile operational
Russia conducted a flight test of it newest long-range cruise missile on Sept. 11, a month before firing the missiles from the Caspian Sea into Syria as part of Moscow’s campaign in support of President Bashar Assad‘s regime.
The Sept. 11 flight test of an SSN-30A missile, known by NATO as Kalibr, demonstrated capabilities similar to the U.S. Navy’s Tomahawk cruise missile. The Kalibr test missile traveled some 2,000 kilometers, according to defense officials familiar with the test, or about 1,200 miles.
The missile was tested earlier in August when U.S. officials said it was nearing deployment. The new missile is regarded as a major threat and can be armed with either nuclear or conventional warheads.
Less than a month after the test flight, the Russians on Oct. 7 fired 26 Kalibr missiles against Syrian rebel bases in northern and eastern parts of the country. Four of the missiles reportedly malfunctioned and landed in Iran.
But the 22 other missiles struck what Moscow said were 11 targets in Syria traveled over 1,000 miles, and traversed through both Iraqi and Iranian airspace, showcasing a new long-range strike capability by the Russian military.
Under President Vladimir Putin, Moscow is engaged in a major military buildup of mainly new nuclear weapons and missile delivery systems.
The first use of the Kalibr in combat operations has prompted NATO military intelligence analysts to upgrade its status to “deployed.”
There are concerns within the alliance Russia is using the missile strikes on Syria as a not-so-subtle message to NATO that it could also use the missile against Eastern European targets, including members of the Western alliance.
Russian officials have issued veiled threats over NATO’s plans to bolster military forces in the east, specifically Poland and the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.
Admiral: China cyberattacks rob U.S. blind
The commander of the U.S. Northern Command bluntly described Chinese government cyberattacks on U.S. information systems as having the effect of “robbing us blind.”
Northcom commander Adm. William Gortney said in remarks to the Atlantic Council he does not expect the recent agreement reached between President Obama and Chinese leader Xi Jinping to work. China’s industry is heavily dependent on Chinese cyber economic espionage, he said.
“They’re robbing our intellectual capital blind, the Chinese are,” Adm. Gortney said. “They can’t keep their industry moving without robbing our intellectual capital from our private industry. And they’re robbing us blind.”
Asked if the informal U.S.-China agreement banning cyber economic espionage will work, the admiral replied: “They’re going to have to show me that they’re going to stop. I just don’t see that happening.”
The draft report of the U.S.-China Economic Security Review Commission states the worldwide annual economic cost of cybercrime and espionage ranges between $375 billion to $575 billion.
The report lists nine major cyberattacks originating from China, including the case of six U.S. companies involved in nuclear power, metals and solar power that led to the indictment of five PLA officers, and a U.S. Postal Service cyberattack in November 2014 that compromised Social Security numbers of 800,000 postal workers.
Other Chinese cyberattacks involved the Anthem health care attack where hackers pilfered medical records on 80 million customers; cyber attacks in April on U.S. websites involved in defeating Chinese Internet censors and journalists and dissidents; and the Office of Personnel Management attack that stole sensitive data on some 22 million federal workers.
In May, the Chinese hacked university engineering schools at Penn State, Johns Hopkins, Carnegie Mellon, MIT and Berkeley. Also in May, United Airlines was hit by Chinese hackers.
• Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @BillGertz.