Jan 202007

Bannerman noted the news of China’s supposed anti-satellite test with considerable interest. It is becoming increasingly clear that China not only has an efficient and advancing space technology regime, but is also determined that existing technological competitors know about it.

It is interesting to note the overtly distressed angle major news outlets are placing on this snippet. The U.S. and Russia have both had anti-satellite capability for many years now, with the former being so far advanced on competitors in the space technology security sphere as to put any competitors in the shade. Of equal interest is the fact that China has chosen to go the same route as the U.S. in anti-satellite weaponry, in the use of a kinetic kill vehicle, as opposed to beam weapons which are still a long way from perfection as any form of defence.

Of course, the question arises…..defence against what? Weather satellites in low-earth orbit? Hardly. And defence is an erroneous term anyway. Anti-satellite technology is aimed directly at the offensive side of any militaristic operation. Specifically, against an existing or proposed enemy’s surveillance satellite systems in geo-synchronous or low-earth orbit. Most effectively against the latter.

China’s reported test – and reports are coming from sources with vested interests in ensuring high drama and consternation – is merely another in what will be a long line of messages from that emerging major power that it has ambitions. Not essentially aggressive or hegemonic ambitions, but ambitions which will have it recognised as an equal to, say, the U.S. and to a lesser degree, Russia, Japan, India, Israel and any other nation technologically advanced or paranoid enough to have surveillance satellites in orbit.

Will China use this ability, to kill global competitors satellites? Highly doubtful for a number of reasons. Their own satellite surveillance technology isn’t advanced enough yet to challenge anyone. China isn’t in a position, economically or strategically to be playing global hegemon or even challenging the global hegemon. China has much more to gain from assuming the top-of-the-ladder position through trade and economic means, rather than military means. China is merely saying, “We can do this too, so think twice before you fuck with us”.

Of course, the downside of sending this message is the mess left behind. Bannerman notes in several sources the assumed likelihood that any test performed was done so in order to collect data on the aftermath effects, rather than making any political statement. Unlikely, but the scientific harvest from such tests would be extremely valuable. Just how much damage does a KEV leave behind from an impact at more than 10,000m/sec? Sources claim millions of possible pieces of debris ranging from 1mm to 10cm or larger will now be in orbit, a great number of which will not de-orbit for decades. Naturally, any nation deploying a satellite killer in a time of military action, wants to know just how its own satellite resources are likely to be effected by debris left in orbit. Indeed, the point of deploying KEV’s becomes rather moot. One or two of these weapons successfully used could quite easily make those of us on the ground, who depend on satellite technology for our very existence, blind, deaf and dumb to all intents.

All in all, apart from the ‘me-too’ factor of international one-upmanship diplomacy, what purpose does China’s reported test serve? No logical purpose, of that the Bannerman is quite certain.