China tested an anti-satellite missile this week, according to U.S. officials, following up on a similar 2007 test which drew international condemnation for (among other things) creating the biggest and most dangerous cloud of space debris ever. The AP reports:
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the “non-destructive” test occurred Wednesday. She said a previous destructive test of the system in 2007 created thousands of pieces of dangerous debris in space.Harf said Friday that the continued development and testing of destructive anti-satellite systems threaten the long-term security and sustainability of the outer-space environment that all nations depend upon.
The proliferation of more advanced and long range missiles is changing the battlefield of the 21st century. This has serious implications for U.S. defense spending. As the unit cost and strategic value of individual U.S. military assets has skyrocketed (see: carriers, F-35s, and most notably modern satellites), the destructive threat from missiles becomes a greater liability. For example, China’s so-called “carrier-killer” DF-21D missiles may be punching way above their weight, strategically speaking. That’s because defense analysts do not really know their range or effectiveness, so China’s foes must behave as though the missiles are as dangerous as the most pessimistic estimates say they could be. For the U.S., that means assuming that costly carriers would be under threat during a potential U.S.-China military escalation if they are within a few thousand miles of China.In the age of communications and information technology, the safety of satellites is crucial. As an arms race in space begins to look a little more likely, it is important to remember that the cost of establishing missile defense for satellites would be yet another burden for the already overstretched U.S. defense budget. Anyone hoping that the U.S. will enjoy a “peace dividend” after the end of the war in Afghanistan may be sorely disappointed