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Monday, January 22, 2007
China's satellite-killer kicks up widespread dismay, debate
The reported success that China achieved day in destroying its own weather satellite by a `killer' weapon mounted on a ground-based ballistic missile has kicked up a huge debate among military analysts, especially in the United States.

The debate is mainly focused on what message Beijing is trying to send by its `show of strength' and how the US should respond to it.

Defence analysts and experts agree that Beijing might possibly be trying to challenge the US supremacy in space. Washington, they believe,has limited choices to react to the development, which has shocked China's neighbours, including Japan.

For one thing, this is the first time that a ground-based missile has destroyed an orbiting satellite.

The US and the erstwhile Soviet Union has used orbiting `killer' missiles to smash other orbiting satellites, but their attempts to shoot down a satellite from ground-based missiles had failed.

In fact, defence experts could not agree on any specific solution in case China goes ahead with the new programme and also expand it. They, however, made suggestions, including negotiating with Beijing to ban such `killer' weapons and sending to space hundreds of smaller satellites so that that shooting them down becomes impossible.

According to an analysis in the Newsweek magazine, launching a larger number of satellites is an option, but then, producing and stockpiling enough spare payloads and boosters and then getting the payloads activated has proved to be near-impossible vis-à-vis operation and engineering.

The US intelligence agencies believe that China launched the `killer' rocket from its Xichang spaceport and guided it into a high-speed, head-on collision.

However, so far China has neither confirmed nor denied the test.

An article in the New York Times recalled that, at the annual military fair in Zhuhai in November 2006, some Chinese newspapers had carried an interview with an unidentified military official who boasted that China had already completely ensured that it has second-strike capability. He had added that China could destroy satellites in space.

Having a weapon that can disable or destroy satellites is considered a component of China's unofficial doctrine of asymmetrical warfare, the Times said, pointing out that China's army strategists have written that the military intends to use relatively inexpensive but highly disruptive technologies to obstruct the better-equipped and better-trained American forces in the event of an armed conflict, for example, over the issue of Taiwan.

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