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|Subject: WikiLeaks: US vs China in battle of the anti-satellite space weapons Thu Feb 03, 2011 8:53 am|| |
The US and China shot their own satellites out of space WikiLeaks: US vs China in battle of the anti-satellite space weapons
On the night of Feb 20, 2008, Robert Gates, the US Defence Secretary, was on a plane to Hawaii when his telephone rang.
By Tim Ross and Holly Watt 9:00PM GMT 02 Feb 2011
It was a conference call from the Air Force General, Kevin Chilton, the
head of US Strategic Command, and Marine General James Cartwright, the
vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
They told him the conditions were “ripe” to launch what can now be
disclosed was a secret test of America’s anti-satellite weapons,
Washington’s first such strike in space for 23 years. That night, the US
navy’s Ticonderoga-class cruiser, USS Lake Erie, scored a direct hit on
an American spy satellite, known as USA 193. The missile used, a highly
sophisticated SM-3, took about three minutes to climb 150 miles above
the Earth, where it flew past the satellite before turning back and
destroying the target at an impact speed of 22,000mph.
The strike came about a year after the Chinese government had launched
its own satellithe attack, which started a secret “space war”, The Daily
Telegraph can disclose. For months the two super powers had been
engaged in a private and increasingly acrimonious row over China’s use
of weapons in space – an international taboo since President Ronald
Reagan abandoned the “star wars” programme in the 1980s.
The clash began on Jan 11, 2007, when Beijing shocked the world –
including George W Bush’s White House – by destroying a Chinese weather
satellite with a ballistic missile.
The strike, 530 miles above the Earth, dramatically demonstrated China’s
new ability to destroy the satellites of enemy nations. The threat was
obvious. Without navigation or spy satellites, much of America’s
military would be vulnerable.
Led by the White House, the West reacted with outrage. Leaked US embassy
files disclose that Clark Randt, the American ambassador in Beijing,
delivered a strongly worded protest to He Yefei, the Chinese assistant
foreign minister, on Jan 15, 2007.
The documents show that the scale of American concern over the test was
far greater in private than was admitted publicly. By January 2008,
Condoleezza Rice, the Secretary of State, raised the prospect of
“military” action to protect American space systems. In a “secret”
complaint to the Chinese, she said: “Any purposeful interference with US
space systems will be interpreted by the United States as an
infringement of its rights and considered an escalation in a crisis or
conflict. The United States reserves the right, consistent with the UN
Charter and international law, to defend and protect its space systems
with a wide range of options, from diplomatic to military.”
Washington was particularly concerned about the 2,500 pieces of debris –
and 100,000 smaller fragments – from the destroyed Chinese craft. Some
of the pieces would remain in orbit around the Earth for the next 100
years and pose a risk to the US Space Shuttle and the International
Space Station, Miss Rice said. She also pointed out that America had not
tested an anti-satellite weapon since 1985. Just a month later this had
changed. In February 2008, Mr Gates – with the backing of Mr Bush –
decided that diplomacy was not enough. The missile was fired.
In public, the Bush administration denied that the strike, which cost an
estimated $30 million, was anything except a safety measure. A broken
US spy satellite was falling towards the Earth and posed a risk to human
health from its toxic fuel tank, officials said. Destroying the craft
in space was the safest option, they claimed. Most satellites are left
to burn out as they re-enter the atmosphere.
The leaked embassy cables disclose that Washington’s decision to shoot
down spy satellite USA 193 caused private “anger” and anxiety in
Beijing. The Chinese “repeatedly emphasised that the United States
should provide information on the planned satellite interception prior
to releasing the information to CNN”, according to a secret memo sent
from the Beijing Embassy on Feb 22, 2008.
Crucially, the cable also confirms that the US government always appeared to regard the strike as a military “test”.
The file, marked “secret”, states: “On Feb 21 (Beijing time), Post
received direct confirmation of the results of the anti-satellite test
directly from PACOM [US Pacific command], and with Admiral Keating’s
permission, Post immediately informed AFM [Assistant Foreign Minister]
In January 2010, American intelligence detected a fresh Chinese
anti-satellite test. This time Beijing destroyed one of its own
missiles, rather than a satellite, 150 miles above Earth. The Americans
regarded the move as an “anti-satellite test”.
Hillary Clinton, President Barack Obama’s newly installed Secretary of
State, sent a fresh protest to the Chinese government, demanding to
know: “What is the direction of China’s BMD [Ballistic Missile Defence]
The State Department told US diplomats in Beijing that the Obama
administration shared President Bush’s fears over China’s plans. “US
objections to China’s direct-ascent anti-satellite testing,” Mrs
Clinton’s officials wrote, “are still valid and reflect the policy of
the United States.”