U.S. Ready to Talk Space With China

By Grace Jean
It was just over four years ago that China tested an anti-satellite capability by blasting one of its weather spacecraft to smithereens, leaving thousands of pieces of debris floating around the Earth. The U.S. Navy subsequently shot down a spy satellite that officials said was falling out of orbit.
Chinese officials recently have signaled an interest in opening up discussion on the responsible use of space, and the Defense Department is prepared to establish a regular dialogue, said a senior U.S. official.
“We are ready to engage in a strategic dialogue with China about space. We think that China is a country that is increasingly reliant on space, not only for its military, but also for its economy,” said Gregory L. Schulte, deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy.
The time frame for the first meeting is still under discussion because officials not only want to address space, but also a range of other topics, including cyber and nuclear security.
China has been making major investments in space capability, particularly in counter-satellite weapons, from jammers to lasers to other technologies, U.S. officials said. Schulte, who briefed the new U.S. national strategic space strategy to Chinese officials late last year, said Defense Department leaders are eager to make progress in talks with China.
“We’re ready to go in to talk about this strategy, to talk about what we think responsible use of space looks like, to talk about ways to create rules of the road and to talk about ways to reduce the risk of mishap or miscalculation,” Schulte told reporters in Washington during a breakfast meeting July 19.
In addition to bolstering the space industrial base, the new strategy lays out measures of deterrence that seek to convince potential adversaries to not attack U.S. space systems. The first step involves the creation of rules of conduct. “Norms by themselves aren’t going to stop a determined adversary. But they are the first layer of deterrence,” said Schulte. The second layer encourages establishing international partnerships in space systems so that an attack on one satellite constellation becomes an attack on multiple countries. The Air Force is developing several satellites in conjunction with allies and partner nations. “These are examples of how you can complicate the decision-making of potential adversaries,” said Schulte. The third layer is ensuring that U.S. forces are capable of operating with degraded space systems. That requires training troops to fight without GPS or satellite communications, Schulte said. Finally, the fourth layer calls for responding in self-defense to any provocation.
“We’re going from theory to practice by working on international norms, by developing international partnerships, by increasing the resilience of our space systems and the services they deliver, and by making clear — publicly and privately — that we consider space a vital asset, that we’re ready to respond to attacks on space assets in self defense as necessary,” said Schulte.
There is already some limited exchange with the Chinese on space matters. U.S. Strategic Command, which issues satellite collision warnings to owners and operators of space systems, delivered almost 150 emergency notifications to China last year. Many of those warnings were for potential collisions between Chinese satellites and the debris resulting from the weather satellite shoot-down in 2007, Schulte pointed out. Warnings are issued when objects are projected to sail within 1 kilometer of each other in low Earth orbit or within 5 kilometers of each other in geosynchronous orbit.
The Defense Department is focusing on reducing such accidents and stanching the creation of new debris. It also is working to give Strategic Command the authority to negotiate agreements with other governments to share space “situational awareness” or information on a routine basis. The goal is to promote an exchange of information among nations about scheduled maneuvers and positioning of their satellites. “One of our strategic objectives is to protect the integrity of the space domain, to keep junk and debris from becoming more of a national security concern,” he said. “That’s why we’re providing that global service. But we want to do it more with others.”

Topics: Space

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