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China ready to counter US space plans
Updated: 2005-05-23 09:56

China takes U.S. plans to boost its space military capabilities very seriously and is likely to respond with energetic counter-measures of her own, a leading expert on the Chinese space program told United Press International.

Chinese experts and leaders fear if the United States achieves absolute military and strategic superiority in space it could be used to intervene in China's affairs, such as the Taiwan issue, Hui Zhang, an expert on space weaponization and China's nuclear policy at the John F, Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University told UPI.

He was discussing issues he had presented earlier this week in a paper to a conference on space weaponization at Airlie, Va., organized by the Washington-based Nuclear Policy Research Institute.

Chinese leaders have noted that the Taiwan issue was included as a hypothetical threat in the 2001 Rumsfeld Commission report on space weaponization. Also, in a January 2001 U.S. war-gaming exercise China was taken as an assumed enemy, Zhang said.

Hu Xiaodi, China's veteran senior negotiator on space weaponization, expressed Beijing's fears at a Committee on Peace and Disarmament panel on October 11, 2001.

"It is rather the attempt toward the domination of outer space, which is expected to serve to turn the absolute security and perpetual authority (many people call this hegemony) of one country on earth," he said. "The unilateralism and exceptionalism that are on the rise in recent months also mutually reinforce this."

Chinese strategists believe that U.S. missile-defense plans pose a great threat to China's national security, Zhang said. They believe such defenses could be used to neutralize China's nuclear deterrent and give the United States more freedom to encroach on China's sovereignty, including on Taiwan-related issues, he said.

Washington's readiness to conclude an agreement on cooperative research and the development of advanced Theater Missile Defense with Japan has fed such fears, he said.

The Chinese were also concerned about the Bush administration's 2002 Nuclear Posture Review that called for the United States to develop the ability to target mobile missiles. "A U.S. demonstration of the linkage between long-range precision strike weapons and real-time intelligence systems may dissuade a potential adversary from investing heavily in mobile ballistic missiles," it said.

Zhang said such weapons would pose a huge threat to China's future mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles.

But China would not stand passively by and do nothing if the United States pushed ahead with its ambitious plans to develop new weapons for force projection from and through space, Zhang said.

"Historically, China's sole purpose for developing its nuclear weapons was to guard itself against the threat of nuclear blackmail," he said.

"China first (intends to) pursue an arms control agreement to ban space weaponization, as it is advocating now," Zhang said. However, "If this effort fails, and if what China perceives as its legitimate security concerns are ignored, China would very likely develop responses to neutralize such a threat."

These responses would depend on the specific infrastructure of the U.S. missile defense and space weaponization programs, Zhang said. But they could include producing as many as 14 or 15 times as many ICBMs with a range of more than 7,800 miles that are able to threaten the United States, he said.

Currently, China has about 20 liquid-fueled, silo-based ICBMs with single warheads. But if the United States deployed a Ground-Based Missile Defense system with 100 to 250 ground-based interceptor rockets, China would probably be willing to build and deploy anything from 100 to almost 300 more warheads and the missiles necessary to carry them, Zhang said.
Chinese scientists and engineers would also work on passive countermeasures against missile defense, Zhang said. These could include deploying decoys and anti-simulations and reducing the radar and infrared signatures of nuclear warheads during the midcourse phase of their flights.

"These cheaper and effective countermeasures are accessible to China," Zhang said.
China also had options to protect its ICBMs from interception and destruction during their first and most vulnerable boost phase of their flights, Zhang said. These include deploying fast-burn boosters, lofting or depressing the ICBM trajectories and spoofing the interceptor missiles' tracking sensors, he said.

China could also react to boost-phase interceptors by seeking to overwhelm them through the tactic of simultaneously launching several ICBMs from a compact area, Zhang said.

Another option would be to protect the missile's body with reflective or ablative coatings. Or the missile could also be rotated in flight, he said.

"Given the inherent vulnerability of space-based weapons systems (such as space-based interceptors or space-based lasers) to more cost-effective anti-satellite, or ASAT, attacks, China could resort to ASAT weapons as an asymmetrical (defense) measure," Zhang said.

Another option would be to develop ground-based kinetic-energy weapons such as miniature homing vehicles or pellet clouds," he said.

"China should be able to develop these low-cost and relatively low-technology ASATs," he said.

However, Zhang emphasized that China would only adopt these more aggressive counter-measures if the United States pushed ahead with its own ambitious missile defense and space weaponization plans first.

Beijing still adhered to the policy set out in its 2000 national defense white paper that continued nuclear disarmament and the prevention of an arms race in outer space were preferable strategic options for both China and the United States, he said

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