A leading space analyst claims China’s May 2013 space launch was actually testing a new anti-satellite weapon system. “The available evidence strongly suggests that China’s May 2013 launch was the test of the rocket component of a new direct ascent ASAT weapons system derived from a road-mobile ballistic missile,” wrote Brian Weeden, a former USAF space and missile officer, in a new report from the Secure World Foundation. The May 2013 launch, publicly labeled a test related to the country’s space program, was designed to place a kinetic kill vehicle on a trajectory that could reach medium Earth orbit (MEO), highly elliptical orbit (HEO), and geostationary Earth orbit (GEO). This weapon would represent a “significant development” in China’s ASAT capabilities, and signals the country is a new entrant in the decades-old effort to put anti-satellite capabilities into orbit, wrote Weedon, who also cites similar Russian efforts in the 1990s in his report. Much of the development remains shrouded in secrecy, Weeden said, thus making it important for the US to speak out more. “Remaining silent risks sending the message to China … that developing and testing hit-to-kill ASAT capabilities is considered responsible behavior as long as it does not create long-lived orbital debris,” Weeden wrote, which would increase the threat of ASAT proliferation and threats to US assets.
The Air Force will begin its 71st annual Operation Christmas Drop on Dec. 4. The weeklong exercise is a yearly tradition that delivers supplies such as food, fishing equipment, school books, and clothes to remote islands in the Pacific. It is the longest-running Department of Defense humanitarian mission.