China’s ASAT Weapons
The PLA has been developing ASAT weapons as a national priority since at least the early1990s. The Pentagon first publicly disclosed that China was developing a direct-ascentASAT missile in its annual report on Chinese military power in 2003. This report alsopointed out that this type of ASAT weapon system was only one part of a larger spectrumof offensive capabilities aimed at vitiating U.S. dominance in space.
It was not longbefore the Department of Defense (DoD) report was proven correct. Starting inSeptember 2004, the PLA reportedly began a series of three direct ascent ASAT tests,which led up to the fourth, this time successful, test that destroyed the FY-1C weathersatellite on January 11, 2007.
Before the launch, Chinese aerospace engineers hadconducted a series of ASAT simulations. Using the euphemism “space interceptor,” resultsof these simulations indicate focus on a 100kg payload boosted by a solid-fueled vehicleon a specialized trajectory.
China’s direct-ascent, kinetic-kill ASAT launch vehicle appears to be a mobile, four-stagevariant of the DF-21 medium range ballistic missile (MRBM), with a ground range of 1,700-2,500km. This ASAT missile, which has been designated SC-19 by U.S. intelligence,
is a variant of the Chinese
-1 (KT-1) or “Pioneer-1” solid-fuelled launch vehicle.This launch vehicle is developed by the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation(CASIC) mainly through its affiliated Space Solid Fuel Rocket Carrier Co. Ltd. (SSRC).
CASIC’s development and manufacturing of KT-1, which occurred ostensibly for thecommercial launch of small satellites, gave planning priority to the military demands of “speed(ing) up the pace of China’s space-based weaponry construction.”
The launchvehicle’s guidance package is aided by ground based radars,
and unconfirmed Chinesesources suggest that the ASAT’s kinetic-kill vehicle (KKV) is a modified HQ-19 warhead.
The HQ-19 is the Chinese designation for the Russian SA-21 Growler surface-to-air missile(SAM) system, which was reported to be a joint development program with China.
TheHQ-19 uses an inertial guidance with command updates and an active radar terminalseeker.
PLA Air Force Engineering Academy engineers involved in China’s ASAT programhave specifically mentioned using the latest Russian air-defense technology in outliningpossible means to meet ASAT requirements.
However, the national-level effort todevelop the means to make space intercepts, the 863-409 program, has also focused onan infrared seeker as the main element of the guidance system. It is possible that China
The Great Game in Space
China’s evolving ASAT Weapons Programs and Their Implications for Future U.S. Strategy