By Frank Fang
China could overtake the United States in terms of space capabilities by 2030 if America doesn’t speed up its development, warned Gen. David Thompson, vice chief of space operations for the U.S. Space Force.
“The fact [is] that in essence, on average, they are building and fielding and updating their space capabilities at twice the rate we are,” said Thompson during a panel discussion at the Reagan National Defense Forum in California on Dec. 4.
“If we don’t start accelerating our development and delivery capabilities, they will exceed us. And 2030 is not an unreasonable estimate.”
Thompson added the United States is now in a “strategic competition with China” in many areas in space.
“I have no question that we’re fully capable of succeeding in this competition,” he added.
This is not the first time that a Pentagon official has warned about China’s advancement in space capabilities.
U.S. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall warned in September about China having the potential to strike targets on earth from space. He added that Beijing could pursue a Soviet-era concept called “fractional orbital bombardment system” to guide its missiles to avoid missile defense systems.
During the Cold War, the Soviet Union developed the system of launching missiles with nuclear warheads into low Earth orbits before flying them to hit targets in the United States.
In April, Army Gen. James Dickinson, commander of U.S. Space Command, told a Senate hearing (pdf) how U.S. satellites could become vulnerable to China’s space technologies.
One particular threat was posed by a Chinese satellite named Shijian-17 with a giant robotic arm, he said, which could be “used in a future system for grappling other satellites.”
“China also has multiple ground-based laser systems of varying power levels that could blind or damage satellite systems,” Dickson said.
In brief, Dickson said, “China will attempt to hold U.S. space assets at risk while using its own space capabilities to support its military objectives and overall national security goals.”
The Pentagon, in its annual report for Congress published in November, also highlighted China’s space and counterspace capabilities.
“The PRC [People’s Republic of China] continues to develop counterspace capabilities—including direct ascent, co-orbital, electronic warfare, and directed energy capabilities—that can contest or deny an adversary’s access to and operations in the space domain during a crisis or conflict,” the report states.
One operational space technology in China’ arsenal is a ground-based anti-satellite (ASAT) missile, according to the report. In January 2007, China fired an anti-satellite missile against one of its inactive weather satellites drawing international concern.
“China probably intends to pursue additional ASAT weapons capable of destroying satellites up to geosynchronous Earth orbit,” the report states.
Also during the panel discussion, Thompson said he was not surprised by China’s alleged test of hypersonic weapons over the summer but said the test was a concern.
China allegedly tested two hypersonic weapons this summer, according to reports by the Financial Times. The Chinese regime has denied the tests took place.
The first test involved launching a rocket carrying a nuclear-capable hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV) into low Earth orbit, before launching two missiles midflight in the atmosphere. Details of the second test haven’t been reported.