Beijing secretly fires lasers to disable US satellites
Beijing secretly fires lasers to disable US
By Francis Harris in Washington
China has secretly fired powerful laser weapons
designed to disable American spy satellites by
"blinding" their sensitive surveillance devices, it
was reported yesterday.
How it works
The hitherto unreported attacks have been kept secret
by the Bush administration for fear that it would
damage attempts to co-opt China in diplomatic
offensives against North Korea and Iran.
Sources told the military affairs publication Defense
News that there had been a fierce internal battle
within Washington over whether to make the attacks
public. In the end, the Pentagon's annual assessment
of the growing Chinese military build-up barely
mentioned the threat.
"After a contentious debate, the White House directed
the Pentagon to limit its concern to one line,"
Defense News said.
The document said that China could blind American
satellites with a ground-based laser firing a beam of
light to prevent spy photography as they pass over
According to senior American officials: "China not
only has the capability, but has exercised it."
American satellites like the giant Keyhole craft have
come under attack "several times" in recent years.
Although the Chinese tests do not aim to destroy
American satellites, the laser attacks could make them
useless over Chinese territory.
The American military has been so alarmed by the
Chinese activity that it has begun test attacks
against its own satellites to determine the severity
of the threat.
Satellites are especially vulnerable to attack because
they have predetermined orbits, allowing an enemy to
know where they will appear.
"The Chinese are very strategically minded and are
extremely active in this arena. They really believe
all the stuff written in the 1980s about the high
frontier," said one senior former Pentagon official.
There has been increasing alarm in parts of the
American military establishment over China's growing
Military experts have already noted that Chinese
military expenditure is increasingly designed to
challenge American military pre-eminence by investing
in weaponry that can attack key systems such as
aircraft carriers and satellites.
At the same time, China is engaged in a large-scale
espionage effort against American high-tech firms
working on projects such as the multibillion-pound
DD(X) destroyer programme.
Several spy rings have been cracked and the FBI is
increasing the number of counter-intelligence staff
tracking the Chinese effort.