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  • Dragon Week: Orbiting Dragons

    At the 2009 Sino-American summit, President Obama committed the US to dispatching the head of NASA to China, in return for a reciprocal visit by his “appropriate Chinese counterpart,” i.e., a player to be named later. A year later, NASA Administrator Bolden has visited China (although it remains unclear to what end), yet there is no sign that an “appropriate Chinese counterpart” has even been designated.

    This should be a warning sign, since China’s presence in space has been steadily improving. In 2010, China launched a record 15 satellites, the first time since the Cold War that any state has matched the rate of American launches in a year. In 2011, China will launch the Tiangong-1, a spacelab, and engage in docking maneuvers with their Shenzhou spacecraft. Meanwhile, China is striving to complete its indigenous Beidou navigation satellite system, a rival to the American GPS system, and is steadily outpacing Europe’s moribund Galileo program. And China’s network of Yaogan remote sensing satellites, capable of providing essential military intelligence, is also progressively expanding.

    In light of the development of China’s anti-ship ballistic missile system, which PACOM Commander Admiral Robert Willard has said is now at initial operational capability (IOC), this space capability is of growing concern, since space systems are a key means for detecting and tracking US carrier battlegroups. Meanwhile, China’s greater international footprint, typified in its multi-year anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden, are likely to increase its reliance on space-borne communications.

    At the same time, the ability of the United States to be able to undertake sustained surveillance of China is of growing importance, not least because China is steadily modernizing its nuclear as well as its conventional forces.

    In this light, the Administration must act to safeguard its superiority in space. Chinese (and Russian) efforts at space arms control are often blatantly one-sided (such as forbidding space-based anti-satellite weapons, but not ground-launched systems such as the one China tested in 2007), and should be viewed with appropriate skepticism.

    As the Administration looks beyond the summit with President Hu, it must recognize that not only will the United States and China interact on Earth, but increasingly it will do so in the heavens. American security has long rested on the ability to retain freedom of action in space; that will only become more pressing as China’s space presence increases.

    Posted in International [slideshow_deploy]

    6 Responses to Dragon Week: Orbiting Dragons

    1. George Colgrove, VA says:

      Must be nice to have money!

      China has a strong fiscal plan that includes taking advantage of the stupidity that goes on in the United Stated federal government. They know in a very short timeframe, the US will be paying for over half of their defenses. (If we do not default.) With their fiscal conservative spending policies and mature approach to governance, they spend only 1 dollar for defense for every 7 dollars the US spends. The per capita cost of defending China ($75) is practically non-existent to the $2,250 per person the US spends.

      It is no wonder they have the resources to fulfill their desires to invest in space. When the US debt becomes classified as JUNK Status, just look what we will not be able to do.

      Are we still interested in increasing the debt ceiling?

      How about some serious cutting instead?

    2. blinded1 says:

      Unless US colonizes every corner of the world and enslaves people of every country, it cannot hold its world dominance forever. Eventually, some one is going to emerge and challenge the ‘sole superpower’.

      Americans have eaten their future by over-consumption. Borrowing money has no way to keep one to be the leader in every aspect, not to mention soon or later a leader to any aspect.

      It is said ‘don’t bite the hands that feed you’. We have no choice but to bite any thing close to us, no matter it is a hand that feed us, or a smelly toe or ass. We are keeping borrowing money and have no way to pay back. Soon no one is going to lend us money, what we are going to eat if not biting?

    3. Edward Wright says:

      Space systems may be more than "a key means for detecting and tracking US carrier battlegroups." China is known to be developing a military spaceplane, called "Divine Dragon." If fully developed, such a spaceplane could be capable of attacking US carriers anywhere in the world. (Such a mission was, in fact, envisioned for the MiG-105/Spiral military spaceplane that was under development by the Soviet Union during the Cold War.)

      Unfortunately, the US Military Space Plane (MSP) program has languished. (The recent, long-delayed flight of Boeing's X-37 test vehicle not withstanding.) The Bush Vision of Space Exploration ignored the military, as well as commercial, uses of outer space, choosing to concentrate solely on reenacting the Apollo missions to the Moon.

      Based on public information, it's impossible to say how serious China is about developing Divine Dragon. Perhaps it's a paper tiger. Perhaps the CIA has information to suggest there's nothing to worry about — but should we count on that, given the record of past intelligence failures? One thing is certain, the first nation to field a fully operational military space plane will have absolute control of outer space. Let's hope that nation is the United States and not China.

    4. Pingback: » Financial News Update – 1/18/11 NoisyRoom.net: The Progressive Hunter

    5. Jeff, Bethesda MD says:

      Dean writes that 2010 was "the first time since the Cold War that any state has matched the rate of American launches in a year". In fact, Russia has routinely exceeded the American launch rate since the end of the Cold War. In 2010, while the US and China each had 15 launches, Russia had 31.

    6. Dean Cheng Dean, Washington DC says:


      You are correct. I drew my information from a news article, and assumed that it was accurate. My fault for not double-checking. Thanks for the correction!

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