Jeffrey LewisReactions to the Chinese ASAT

I wanted to draw your attention to some of the discussion about the Chinese ASAT in the expert blogosphere. Pavel Podvig, Hans Kristensen, Noah Shachtman, the anonymous China Hand, and Cheryl Rofer all have great submissions.

I’ve linked to most of those folks before, but I wanted to draw your attention to Robot Economist over at the Arms Control Otaku :

The test itself was pretty controlled:

1) The satellite’s flight path was predictable

2) It passed very close to the launch site

3) The target was emitting a trackable signal

4) Modifications were made to the satellite’s flight path to line it up with the kill vehicle launcher

As space interceptions go, the Chinese had a pretty good handicap on this test. It is unlikely that this success will translate into any sort of immediately fieldable capability. If the spotty record of our ground-based missile interceptors demonstrate anything, it is the difficulty of intercepting even predictable space targets. Although last week’s success was impressive, we should hold off judgment until the Chinese can produced multiple, sequential successes.


Ironically, the success of this [decidedly last gen threat] presents two important facts:

1) There is truth to claims from the intelligence community that the Chinese have significantly improved the circular-error probable of their ballistic missile guidance systems. I have no idea what the Chinese used in this test, but my guess is that they supplemented the missile’s normal guidance package with a radiation seeker. Even if this true, the performance of the DF-21 or DF-3 guidance package must have been improved significantly to get the kill vehicle close enough for a homing mechanism to work.

2) This is a continuation of recent trends in the innovative application of older weapons technology for new disruptive purposes. The Chinese will undoubted benefit from both the capability itself and the fact that the United States will divert R&D resources to ASAT countermeasures from other R&D programs. In essence, this situation has the potential of becoming the next big Katyusha rocket or IED challenge.

I don’t mean to wander too far away from the ASAT issue, but doesn’t this raise even bigger questions about U.S. transformation efforts than it does about Chinese capabilities? Questions such as, is the Air Force’s Transformational Satellite Communications System really transformational if it can be crippled by such a last-gen threat?


  1. China Hand (History)

    China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs finally made a formal public statement on the ASAT test in its Jan 25 press briefing. I posted the transcript on my site: