Successful missile test is major victory for China
Only the U.S. and the former Soviet Union have shown the same capability.
TORONTO GLOBE AND MAIL
BEIJING -- With a dramatic display of its power to destroy a satellite in space, China is warning the world that its military arsenal is modernizing much faster than expected and could challenge the United States for global dominance by the middle of this century.
The successful test of China's anti-satellite technology is a major victory for Beijing's military strategy, which aims to use high-tech weaponry and "asymmetric warfare" to bridge the gap between itself and the United States.
China has not confirmed the test, but the reports of the Jan. 11 incident are now widely accepted as accurate. Beijing used a ground-based medium-range ballistic missile to destroy an aging Chinese weather satellite that was orbiting Earth at an altitude of about 540 miles, according to U.S. intelligence reports.
The satellite was only about a yard in length, so its destruction by a ballistic missile was a highly impressive show of precision targeting.
It was the first successful test of anti-satellite weaponry in more than 20 years, breaking an unofficial moratorium that began in the Cold War. It immediately elevated China to the top ranks of space technology, making it one of only three countries (along with the United States and the former Soviet Union) to prove its ability to shoot down an object in space.
Other countries are watching with concern. The test has fueled anxieties about a Chinese military buildup that has already shocked the experts with some remarkable breakthroughs. It could trigger a new arms race in space. And it has exposed a key vulnerability in the U.S. military doctrine, with its mounting dependence on satellite communications and satellite spying.
The test has prompted a wave of protests and concerns from the United States, Canada, Japan, Britain, Australia and South Korea.
The test is certain to give political ammunition to U.S. hawks who support the so-called "Star Wars" technology of space-based weaponry and ballistic-missile defense systems. It raises the specter of a global arms race in space, especially since satellites are increasingly seen as crucial to modern warfare and intelligence operations.
Last summer, the U.S. administration declared space vital to national security. The statement was a strong signal that Washington has no intention of accepting Chinese and Russian proposals for the demilitarization of space.
Shortly afterward, China used a ground-based laser to "paint" a U.S. satellite, showing its space technology to be more powerful than expected. China also surprised many analysts by unveiling the Jian-10 fighter-bomber jet, said to be superior to its Russian counterparts and putting China at the leading edge of military aviation.
China's military budget increased from 31.3 billion in 2005 to 35.9 billion last year, according to official numbers. But its true military budget -- including high-tech research by other government departments -- is at least double this amount, and perhaps more.
China's latest defense "white paper," released by the Central Military Commission last month, contains some ambitious goals for military modernization. With a focus on high-tech "information warfare," the paper proclaims that China must be "capable of winning digitalized warfare" by the middle of this century.