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Feb. 23, 2023
Notes from the Pentagon

Space Force leader warns of China threat

By Bill Gertz
A senior U.S. Space Force general is warning that China is emerging as a major threat to satellites and military operations in space.

Space Force Gen. B. Chance Saltzman, chief of space operations for the service, cited the threat from anti-satellite missiles, ground-based directed energy weapons and orbiting robot satellite interception capabilities. The four-star general said that “a whole mix of weapons” for space warfare is being produced by U.S. strategic competitors.

“We have to account for the fact that space as a contested domain has fundamentally changed,” Gen. Saltzman said on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference last week. “The character of how we operate in space has to shift, and that’s mostly because of the weapons [China] and Russia have tested and in some cases operationalized.”

The Pentagon’s most recent annual report on the Chinese military states that the People’s Liberation Army continues to acquire and develop a range of space warfare systems, including non-explosive anti-satellite missiles, ground-based lasers and orbiting space robots. The weapons are supported by expanding surveillance systems that can monitor objects in space and guide weapons to those targets.

“The PLA views space operations as a means to deter and counter third-party intervention during a regional military conflict,” the report said. “Moreover, PRC defense academics suggest that reconnaissance, communication, navigation and early-warning satellites could be among the target of attacks designed to ‘blind and deafen the enemy.’”

A Defense Intelligence Agency report last year said Russia is employing electronic warfare, directed energy, anti-satellite missiles and cyber weapons in preparation for a future war in space. In 2020, the Russian military tested a space-based anti-satellite weapon and also has orbiting robot killer satellites, the report said.

Moscow’s test of the ground-based Nudol anti-satellite missile in November 2021 created over 1,500 pieces of trackable space debris that threaten all spacecraft in low-Earth orbit, the report said.

“Adversaries are leveraging space … targeting and extending the range of their weapons,” Gen. Saltzman said. “That’s really the change that happens inside the domain.”

Gen. Saltzman indicated that he is pursuing the Biden administration’s arms control-centered approach to dealing with space threats. The policy seeks to create “norms” of behavior in space, a policy that so far has gained little traction from adversary militaries.

“There is a proper way to behave in space, that is not debris-generating, that does not interfere, that has safe distances and safe trajectories, and we communicate when we have problems,” he said.

As space becomes more congested with orbiting satellites, Gen. Saltzman said, “if we can operate with a clear understanding of what the standards are, we are going to be a lot safer.”

But skeptics say China and Russia have shown little interest in holding talks with the United States on establishing norms of behavior in space. Instead, both nations have sought arms agreements that they expect will limit U.S. space warfare capabilities as they pursue their own space weapons unimpeded.

China’s military doctrine advocates unrestricted warfare in all domains to achieve victory over militarily stronger foes.

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced this week that Moscow will no longer abide by the terms of the New START arms treaty, amid calls by the State Department that Moscow is violating the agreement.

Chinese state media accused Gen. Saltzman of hyping the China military threat to get more funding back home.

“The U.S. military is clearly demonizing China and hyping its military capabilities so that it will have imaginary enemies — China and Russia — to justify its increase of budget to build an even stronger space force,” military expert Song Zhongping told the Chinese Communist Party-affiliated Global Times.

The outlet said space warfare is “almost inevitable” but criticized the United States for seeking hegemony in the domain.

Maoist-style attack on U.S.
China’s Foreign Ministry this week issued a lengthy political attack on the United States, accusing Washington of fomenting “color revolutions” and “spreading false narratives,” a Chinese propaganda specialty.

Chinese state-controlled outlets have accused the United States of starting the COVID pandemic and the war in Ukraine.

The release of the ministry report appears timed to coincide with Wednesday’s meeting in Moscow between Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The ministry statement said the United States uses a “hegemonic playbook” to back revolutions in countries around the world, claiming it is promoting democracy, freedom and human rights. Washington is clinging to a “Cold War mentality,” the report said — even though the end of the Cold War was marked by U.S.-China intelligence cooperation targeting the Soviet Union.

“This report, by presenting the relevant facts, seeks to expose the U.S. abuse of hegemony in the political, military, economic, financial, technological and cultural fields, and to draw greater international attention to the perils of the U.S. practices to world peace and stability and the well-being of all peoples,” the report said.

The Biden administration may produce a rebuttal to the report.

The Foreign Ministry report appears to be a retrenchment by the Chinese Communist Party of its aggressive “wolf warrior” diplomacy, a hallmark of the neo-communist policies instituted under Chinese President Xi Jinping. Beijing had appeared to be stepping back from those policies in recent months in a bid to garner international support for its ailing economy.

But the shift in tone appears to have ended after the Pentagon shot down a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon off South Carolina coast, an incident that set off widespread criticism of China in the U.S.

A former State Department policy planning specialist on China, Miles Yu, said the Foreign Ministry report reflects the ruling Communist Party’s hard-line approach to relations with the United States.

“If anyone still has any doubt about the CCP’s Marxist-Leninist ideological hostility toward the U.S., read this PRC Foreign Ministry’s Maoist diatribe published today, against the evil imperialist U.S. that is bent on sabotaging the CCP’s glorious communist cause,” Mr. Yu said in a Twitter post

Report: China hypersonic missile breakthrough
Chinese military researchers have made a breakthrough in developing a prototype “air-breathing” engine that uses solid fuel to power ultra-high-speed hypersonic missiles.

The Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post said the advances were disclosed in a report from the National University of Defense Technology in Changsha, a city in China’s south-central Hunan province. The new engine demonstrated a fuel efficiency of 79% while traveling at six times the speed of sound.

The engine is expected to expand the operational range of China’s hypersonic missiles by doubling the missiles’ lethality.

“Such efficiency was considered ‘remarkable’ — nearly doubling that of a traditional scramjet engine working in similar conditions,” said Ma Likun, who led a team of researchers at the university.

According to the report, the engine can slow the intake of air to less than the speed of sound before it enters the combustion chamber. This reportedly allows the fuel to burn more completely.

The prototype scramjet engine was tested during a ground simulation test that mimicked flight at a height of 15.5 miles and a speed of Mach 6, or 4,600 miles per hour. The 79% fuel efficiency achieved in the test is nearly twice that of a traditional scramjet engine, the report said.

The fuel for the new engine is boron powder, which burns rapidly once in contact with oxygen. Researchers introduced boron powder into the combustion chamber using nozzles that produced shock waves that slowed the air intake.

The result was greater thrust that enabled the engine to cruise farther and longer than earlier engines.

“A solid scramjet engine has numerous advantages, such as simple structure, high volume-specific impulse, high flame stability, and the potential to work in a wide speed range,” Mr. Ma’s research team wrote in the paper.

Boron-powered hypersonic missiles could produce greater maneuverability en route to targets and a greater ability to evade current missile defenses.

China’s suspected spy balloon that traversed the United States earlier this month is believed by some military analysts to have been taking atmospheric samples for use by the Chinese military for a potential strike on U.S. missile fields by hypersonic missiles in a conflict.

China has deployed the DF-17, a hypersonic missile with an estimated range of 1,550 miles, and in 2021 tested a hypersonic missile called a fractional orbital bombardment system that flew nearly 25,000 miles before striking a ground target.

The Pentagon’s latest annual report on the Chinese military said the PLA’s first hypersonic glide vehicle was fielded in 2020 with an advanced scramjet engine that will likely be used in hypersonic cruise missiles.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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