Pentagon: China threatens space and cyberspace
Commies get nukes, sat-kill lasers, 'electromagnetic dominance' virus units
A Pentagon report into Chinese military capability says that the People's Republic "is expanding from the traditional land, air, and sea dimensions of the modern battlefield to include space and cyber-space."
The "ANNUAL REPORT TO CONGRESS: Military Power of the People’s Republic of China 2007," was released by the Office of the Secretary of Defense on Friday, though elements of it had been leaked earlier.
In it, the US military warns that the Chinese communists are developing new nuclear weapons, spy satellites, anti-spacecraft laser beams and "information warfare units to develop viruses."
The Pentagon analysts suggest that China is seeking to update its relatively small, old-fashioned nuclear arsenal. Beijing at present has just 20 proper ICBMs able to hit targets worldwide, and eighty or ninety other missiles which would only be useful for nuking things in its own backyard. The ICBMs are in traditional, fixed land silos - vulnerable to a stealthy pre-emptive strike. (China does have a single, elderly nuclear-missile submarine, but this isn't seen even by the most hawkish as a serious threat.)
Twenty fixed ICBMs is a bare-minimum deterrent force, putting China very much at the bottom of the major-power nuclear league table behind France and even the UK. The USA might, in the near future, be able to largely disregard such an arsenal. The US missile defence effort, combined perhaps with a pre-emptive American strike, might offer a scenario in which the chance of any Chinese nuke reaching the US mainland was low.
Unsurprisingly, the PRC is moving to upgrade its nuke armoury, in particular by acquiring new ICBM-firing submarines. Once these are in place, China can feel sure once more of its ability to nuke the continental US.
That doesn't mean that the Chinese will do so; indeed the PRC has declared that it will never be the first to use nukes, a stance which the US itself doesn't always take.
But the Pentagon says that "China’s assertion of a nuclear 'no first use' policy ... is ambiguous."
Even so, the main advantage of having submarine-based weapons over ones in land silos is that you don't need to open fire at the first sign of enemy action, for fear of losing your missiles. A calm China with sub-launched nukes is arguably safer for America than the old twitchy PRC with its vulnerable land silos.
Many in the Pentagon don't agree, however. In particular, there seems to be some worry that China plans to dominate outer space.
"In January 2007," the military analysts write, "China successfully tested a direct-ascent [anti-satellite] missile demonstrating its ability to attack satellites operating in low-Earth orbit. The direct ascent [anti-satellite] system is one component of a multi-dimensional program to generate the capability to deny others access to outer space."
The report also says that "UHF-band satellite communications jammers acquired from Ukraine in the late 1990s and probable indigenous systems give China today the capacity to jam common satellite communications bands and GPS receivers ... China is also developing other technologies and concepts for kinetic (hit-to-kill) weapons and directed-energy (e.g., lasers and radio frequency) weapons for [anti-satellite] missions ... China is improving its ability to track and identify satellites – a prerequisite for effective, precise physical attacks."
According to the Pentagon, this "poses dangers to human space flight and puts at risk the assets of all space faring nations."
And the inscrutable Chinese are also developing an "information warfare" force capable of "computer network attack," to achieve "electromagnetic dominance."
The People's Liberation Army, apparently, "has established information warfare units to develop viruses to attack enemy computer systems and networks."
Any reader of William Gibson's classic Neuromancer will by now be dimly remembering the Kuang Grade Mark Eleven penetration program, the "user friendly Chinese icebreaker" that was "real friendly, long as you're on the trigger end."
If the Pentagon analysts are right, it'll be the PLA on the trigger, and Taiwan or maybe even America looking down the wrong end of the Kuang Elevens of the future.
Commenting on the report, US Defense Secretary Robert M Gates said "I don't think it does any arm-waving. I don't think it does any exaggeration of the threat."
Maybe just a little.®