WASHINGTON China is attempting to take the high ground in what the U.S. military considers a race to dominate outer space.
In its annual report to Congress on Chinese military power, Defense Department analysts highlighted China's "space and counterspace" capabilities in the aftermath of a successful anti-satellite test in January. The broader focus on military space stems from China's January 2007 anti-satellite test, which Pentagon officials claimed was not only provocative but also generated unprecedented amounts of space debris.
In a briefing on the report last Friday (May 25), Pentagon officials who would not allow their names to be used called China's space efforts a "robust, multidimensional counterspace program."
According to the annual report, "China's continued pursuit of area denial and anti-access strategies is expanding from the traditional land, air, and sea dimensions of the modern battlefield to include space and cyber-space." The report also noted that China's political leadership has highlighted its growing space launch capabilities, its manned space program and plans for a space station, but "it remains silent on the military applications of China's space programs and counterspace activities."
Despite the new warnings, U.S. military officials appear divided on the significance of China's January anti-satellite test. U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley told a military space conference in April that the implications of the test were as far-reaching as the Soviet Union's Sputnik launch in 1957. But other U.S. officials responded to Moseley's assessment by cautioning against reading too much into the Jan. 11 test.
Still, China's space capabilities continue to grow. Last month, China launched its second navigation satellite for a network designed to rival the U.S. Global Positioning System. China's "Compass" network is expected to become operational in 2008.
Overall, a DoD official said, "This year's report reflects our view that China is an emerging regional political and economic power with global aspirations."