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China Counters U.S. Snooping

New laser technology employed to blind our satellites

By Mike Blair

The respected military publication Jane’s Defense Weekly reports that the
Chinese have been using powerful lasers to blind U.S. reconnaissance satellites as they pass over the Chinese mainland.

This presents a serious problem as the U.S. military attempts to monitor the Chinese military’s efforts to expand its ground, naval and air forces, which are transforming the once primitive nation into a powerful state capable of challenging America’s super-power status.

Says Jane’s, the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) has used high-energy lasers “to interfere with U.S. satellites, according to a U.S. Army space-warfare specialist.” Chinese laser testing has been previously reported but it is now confirmed that the laser attacks are effective.

At the Strategic Space and Defense Conference in Omaha on Oct. 12, U.S. Army Command Sgt. Major David Lady of the Joint Functional Combat Command for Integrated Missile Defense reported that attacks have been detected after U.S. satellite operators made some alarming discoveries.

They found that U.S. spy satellites, which can monitor minute details of ground military activity, have occasionally failed to perform over Chinese territory.

“There had been times when we wondered at the sudden decline in effectiveness as the satellites passed over China,” Lady told Jane’s.

The satellites were being tracked at the Reagan Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll in the South Pacific and were tasked with observing any unusual phenomena.

“We sensed the projection of beams against the spacecraft and could identify the streams of photons [the laser beams],” Lady said.

These revelations come on the heels of a report in Defense News that the Chinese had used a ground-based laser to “paint” (render ineffective) an American satellite.

Gen. James Cartwright, head of the U.S. Strategic Command, disagrees, claiming “we really haven’t seen any interference with U.S. satellites.” However, Donald Kerr, director of the National Reconnaissance Office, confirmed that it has “happened at least once.”


Whether or not the Chinese were countering U.S. spy satellites with high-energy laser beams became a moot point, however, with the revelations by Lady at the later Omaha conference.

The ability of lasers to interfere with the operation of reconnaissance satellites was confirmed as long ago as October 1997 when a laser was tested by the United States against a U.S. satellite at an altitude of 350 miles. It was determined that the spacecraft was in fact vulnerable to such attacks.

According to the Center for Nonproliferation Studies, “In recent years, some U.S. politicians and analysts have claimed that China’s reported efforts to develop anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons pose a direct threat to U.S. space assets [and thus U.S. space dominance].”

Some reports further indicate that the Center for Nonproliferation Studies believes that Russia is providing laser and missile interceptor technology that could be incorporated into Chinese ASAT programs.

Development of high-powered lasers has been a priority in China. Extensive work is being done on high-powered ground-based lasers, including specific links to ASAT applications.

(Issue 49 & 50, December 4 & 11, 2006)

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Updated December 2, 2006