Foreign Threats to National Technological Information

In 2010, China announced that it has conducted a missile defense test. The announcement was brief:

BEIJING, Jan. 12 [2010] (Xinhua)—China’s missile interception test Monday [January 11, 2010] accorded with its defensive military strategy, said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu on Tuesday.

China conducted a test on ground-based midcourse missile interception technology within its territory on Monday.

“The test was defensive in nature and targeted at no country,” said [Spokeswoman Jiang Yu] Jiang, adding it was in line with the defensive national defense policy that China had always pursued.

China had always taken the road of peaceful development and its strengthening of national defense construction was for the maintenance of national sovereignty and security, she said.

The test would neither produce space debris in orbit nor pose a threat to the safety of orbiting spacecraft.

What are the implications for U.S. security? In April, 2015 the U.S. announced its tripling of spending on offensive space control and “active defense” weaponry since 2013.[1] It would seem that the Chinese test, as well as indications of Russian ASAT development caught the US flatfooted. This was supported by an interview on CBS Sixty Minutes segment, “The Battle Above.”[2]with what CBS calls “The Air Force’s top ‘space geek,’” Gen. John Hyten, the head of Air Force Space Command.

According to Air Force Lt. Gen Jay Raymond, “We’ve known for some time that China conducted an anti-satellite test, July 23 last year [2014], but we learned today [April 14, 2015] that the test was “successful” even if it didn’t destroy anything.”

In reality, no nation really wants a war in outer space. Satellites are, to be sure, highly vulnerable, not only to a variety of measures of attack, but to solar flares and especially space junk. One might ask, “Isn’t there an ASAT treaty?”

Actually no. No single treaty fully specifies which space activities are allowed an which prohibited,, and existing agreements do not apply uniformly to all countries. Some states are party to the 1967 Outer Space Treaty[3]. The US and the Soviet Union agreed bilaterally in the context of SALT I (the ABM Treaty[4]. Was the US “at ease in Zion” given these treaties, and surprised by the successful test by the Chinese?

One must note that for most of the space era, it was assumed that our geosynchronous satellites, about 22,500 miles up from Earth’s surface, were invulnerable to killer satellites, or ground-based missile attack. They were so far out it seemed unlikely that any weapon could reach them well enough to target them. That is now highly in question, given the ongoing tests by China and Russia.

Geosynchronous satellites are the eyes and ears of the world. All countries rely on these satellites for GPS information. From cell phones, to defense. The current constellation of satellites providing GPS consists of 24-28 operational satellites. What are the implications of threats to satellites?

It’s not as far-fetched as it might sound. Eighteen of the 28 satellites in the GPS constellation are operating past their intended lifespan or suffering from equipment failure. There have been three launch incidents in the past five years, and the Air Force, which maintains the 20-year-old network, is overburdened with competing space priorities.

Given the circumstances, planners are concerned with the system’s health. “If GPS were to fail completely, the cost would be incalculable,”[John] Petersen [Director of the Arlington Institute, a scenario-planning outfit in Virginia] says. “Civil aviation, trucking, shipping, and telecommunications would be worst hit, but countless other industries would be affected.” Internet activity would slow to a crawl, because many backbone operators rely on precise GPS time stamps to route data. Agribusiness and commercial fishing could be blinded, causing food prices to skyrocket. The $12 billion market for GPS devices would be sent reeling, and the arrival of location-based wireless services would be set back years.[5]

To avoid just this one kind of disaster (there are others with loss of satellites) scientific and technical intelligence must be kept abreast of emerging science and technology as is possible. Thus we begin looking at Technical Intelligence for Security.

[1] Colin Clark, “US Presses Russia, China On ASAT Tests; Space Control Spending Triples,” Breaking Defense (April 16, 2015).

[2] CBS News “Sixty Minutes: The Air Force’s top ‘space geek.’” Produced by Andy Court, producer, David Martin, correspondent.

[3] “Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, ” 18 U.S,T. 2410; T. I.A.S. 6347. “’Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapon Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space and Under Water, “14 U. S.T. 1313, T. I.A. S. 5433.

[4] “Treaty Between the United States and the U.S.S.R. on the Limitation of Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems,” Oct. 3, 1972, 23U.S.T. 3435, T. I.A.S. 7503.

[5] Andrew Zolli, “Oh, Nooo! What If GPS Fails?” Wired (May, 2003)