Saturday, January 20, 2007

China’s ASAT: the Operational importance

This was just going to be another edition of “The Long Game” series; but this is of such importance it need to be a standalone post.
Britain today joined the US, Japan and Australia’s condemnation of China after the communist country used a ballistic missile to destroy a orbiting satellite.
The successful anti-satellite test, the first by any country for two decades, drew attention to China’s military build-up and raised fears of a news arms race in space.
Like Eagle1 and I yelling at the deaf about the fact that there is nothing stealthy about a Graf Spee sized DDG-1000 – there are a few brave and punished voices out there in the Navy yelling that the long-pole in our tent is weak, worm-ridden and exceptionally vulnerable. Network-Centric Warfare and all its various “Transformational” permutations all accept as an assumption that we own the air, space, and the electromagnetic spectrum. I know this has been Red Teamed officially and unofficially, but the truth is so hard to accept that it is often ignored or pushed to the back pages.

Far from being the great foundation for the 21st Century Navy to dominate the seas – our excessive reliance on the electromagnetic spectrum in general and satellites specifically has left us critically vulnerable to emerging science, and an enemy who will not let us fight the war we want to fight.

More than any, that mistake has caused failure on the battlefield. Shaka, Napoleon, Hitler, and the Iraqi insurgency today all used this to their advantage. The Chinese just gave us a great warning if we want to listen to it. If we want to continue to base our defense on networks and satellites that is fine with them. They are more than happy to Cylon-like cripple them and us.

In a benign peacetime Navy, satellites make our life quicker, simpler, more effective and efficient. (Hey, got to love those 2 hr VTC where the Flags dance with each other over 3 continents - snerk). But it is much worse than that. To pay the bill for the outstanding constellation of satellites that we have, we have sacrificed in equipment and training on back-up systems. These systems, from UFO series (UHF Follow-on) to Challenge Athena to the top-shelf EHF – these are all, if you will pardon the pun, China-Doll delicate – and except for EHF MILSTAR – not really ready for full-on war. They are all few and far between. That is about all I can say here.

This is a first step for China. Sure, one MRBM with an ASAT on top isn't all that much to worry about - but when has the first operational test been the end of the road? Not the Chinese. Run this program out 5-10 years then take a pause to think about what capability they may have. Think longer term than the 2008 Olympics.

For a very short review – and a very short post – I want you to consider a few things:
--- When was the last time you were able to send and receive a full-days worth of messages via HF? Can you still do it? Are your ITmen ready to go without satellite communications? Is your servicing NAVCOMTELSTA?
--- Are you ready to fight with your TLAMs without GPS-only missions? Are we?
--- How many of our weapons in the magazine are GPS only? If GPS is compromised, how does that impact your strike capabilities?
---- What percentage of your ships/aircrew can function on long range missions without satellite communications or GPS (navigation and weaponeering)? When was the last time they were trained to do so?
---- Is your N2 shop ready to support the Fleet/Strike Group/Marines without access to updated satellite imagery, access to SIPRNET and higher databases off ship? How much of your work is done via Reachback? Can you do it via HF?
---- In CIC and TFCC are you ready to fight without satellite communications? What does your Communications/N6 team have to say about HF reliability, sustainability, and availability?
---- Speaking of SIPRNET; are you ready to fight offline? How reliant have you become on SIPRNET? Your Ship? Your Strike Group? Your ISIC? Your Fleet? Your Pentagon?

This can go on for hours, and if this was hosted on SIPRNET could get even more interesting.

So, the Chinese have shown us their interest and ability to take out satellites. Intel, communications and GPS all rely on satellites. Sure, we can replace them – but how long will that take? How long does China have to keep us a blind mute in order to allow them to take advantage of the confusion and change the facts on the ground? Do you think they are thinking about that? Silly question, they have already answered it.

Next Captain’s Call, or better yet Admiral’s Call – ask them that questions. Residents of Virginia; ask your new Senator.

More here and here. John over at MilBlogs and OPFOR isn't too impressed - but I think he is wrong to underestimate China. So does this guy:
There is probably no better way to get China's nationalists to demand a Great Leap Forward in military spending than to tell them they are two decades behind the United States.
The American public may now be lulled into a false sense of security by the "been there, done that" attitude prevalent in some quarters; or it may be sent into a panic that a new communist rival is about to replace it as Top Nation. But China's leaders will not be taken in by either myth, and will instead keep a cool eye on what really matters.

Despite appearances, what really matters to China is not whether its military and its space programme can catch up with America's.
Back in the 1950s, the Chinese held the Americans at bay in the Korean War for three years by relying on manpower and patriotic rallying cries. During America's two wars in the Gulf in 1991 and 2003, Iraq tried the same thing and lasted not years, nor even months, but days. So China's generals read the newly published books on asymmetric warfare and decided they could still get America where it hurts.

America might need 12 aircraft carriers to ensure that every ocean under the world is under its control. But all China had to control was the Taiwan Strait - so it bought nuclear submarines.

They looked up and saw America's single greatest strength — the extraordinary satellite technology that enabled it to know where its enemies were and bomb them. And they realized its greatest strength was also its weakness, because while a human can fight back, a satellite cannot.

A satellite, moreover, has many uses. Knocking out a military satellite can deter an army. Knocking out the civilian satellites on which the west - but not the average Chinese peasant - now relies to function can deter a whole nation. Is Taiwan really worth it, to the average American voter?

So it doesn't matter that America is developing its own space weapons and lasers well in advance of last week's missile. The beauty of China's thinking is that it is based on how much more America has to lose: things like aircraft carriers, and elections.

In recent months, China has scanned an American satellite with a laser beam; surfaced a submarine that was apparently trailing a sea-going American battle group without being noticed; and now shown the world its ability to knock out the communications systems on which we all depend.
As for Greyhawks thoughts; forget REO Speedwagon - I am more worried about OMD, I know Chap is.

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