China’s military on Monday conducted the first test of a new ground-launched anti-satellite missile that was fired into space and disguised as a space-exploration rocket, according to U.S. officials.
The test was carried out early Monday from the Xichang Space Launch center and was identified by officials as the new Dong Ning-2 ASAT missile.
The ASAT test comes a week after China protested the release of the Pentagon's annual report on the Chinese military buildup that mentioned Beijing's development of anti-satellite weapons.
The Free Beacon first disclosed the existence of the new missile in October and a missile researcher reported in January that a new ASAT missile was being readied for its first test.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei was asked if China conducted an ASAT test during a briefing for reporters in Beijing on Tuesday. He did not deny that it was carried out.
"I am not aware of the development that you described," he said. "China has consistently advocated the peaceful use of outer space and is opposed to militarizing and conducting an arms race in outer space."
Pentagon spokeswoman Maj. Cathy Wilkinson said: "We don't have a comment on it as we don't discuss intelligence."
A U.S. official familiar with intelligence reports said the DN-2, as a high earth-orbit attack missile, is a significant advance for China’s program of developing asymmetric warfare capabilities for use against the United States. Others include cyber-warfare capabilities and anti-ship ballistic missiles.
It could not be learned if the latest ASAT test involved an impact with a target satellite.
A second official said the Chinese apparently disguised the ASAT missile test as a space exploration experiment. The website of the National Space Science Center, part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, reported Monday that a sounding rocket was used in a high-altitude scientific exploration test.
"This experiment used a high-altitude space-exploring rocket, Langmuir probe, high-energetic particle detectors, magnetometers and barium-powder release experimental apparatus and other payload of scientific exploration to test and measure the ionosphere, the high-energy particles and magnetic fields of the near-Earth space strength and structure," the notice said.
China in 2007 conducted its first successful hit-to-kill ASAT test against a weather satellite in low-earth orbit. The impact left tens of thousands of pieces of debris in orbit that continue to threaten both manned and unmanned spacecraft.
Defense officials have said China’s ASAT weapons, including missile interceptors, lasers, and electronic jammers, are designed to disrupt satellite communications and navigation systems used extensively by the U.S. military in conducting joint warfare.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel stated in written answers to questions during his confirmation hearing in January that the United States would seek to avoid engaging in hostilities in space.
However, Hagel revealed that U.S. space policy calls for "the secretary of defense to develop capabilities, plans and options to deter, defend against, and, if necessary, defeat efforts to interfere with or attack U.S. or allied space systems."
The statement was the clearest indication that the Pentagon is preparing to develop "counterspace" weapons in response to Chinese anti-satellite weapons.
"The chances are good this is indeed an ASAT test as it was launched from the Xichang Space Launch Center, the same launch site used for the January 2007 successful SC-19 ASAT interception of a Chinese weather satellite," said Rick Fisher, a senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center. Xichang is located in southern Sichuan Province.
Fisher said Chinese Internet reports stated that the ASAT test of what U.S. official say was a DN-2 may have up to four stages and included one or two liquid-fueled upper stages to provide greater thrust as the missile closed in on a target.
"While there so far has been no report of a successful interception, even a very near miss would serve to validate this new [People’s Liberation Army] ASAT system," Fisher said.
A validated DN-2 ASAT system would provide the Chinese military with the capability to "degrade or severely damage the U.S. Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) system," he said.
"This is not merely a threat against some American military satellites, but a threat to a what has become a vital part of the global electronic infrastructure, affecting global commerce and financial flows, to your personal finances that contribute to personal freedom."
Fisher said China has been "preaching" that other states should disarm while Beijing secretly builds space weaponry at the same time it has denied being engaged in the space arms buildup.
"In the face of such a threat, the United States simply has no choice but to pursue symmetric capabilities to deter Chinese attacks in space, but also to consider its own requirements for space superiority," he said.
The major concern for Pentagon war planners is that China, with an arsenal of around two dozen anti-satellite missiles, could severely disrupt U.S. command-and-control systems, intelligence-gathering satellites, and navigation satellites used to guide precision guided missiles.
Security analyst Gregory Kulacki said in an online posting in January that the ASAT test was expected as early as that month.
"Given these high-level administration concerns and past Chinese practice, there seems to be a strong possibility China will conduct an ASAT test within the next few weeks," Kulacki, a Chinese-language speaker with the Union of Concerned Scientists stated.
Defense officials disclosed to the Free Beacon that the DN-2 test was initially planned for last fall, but was delayed by the Chinese over concerns that the test would upset President Barack Obama’s reelection bid.
While details of the DN-2 are not known, U.S. officials said it is expected to be a high earth-orbit interceptor capable of destroying strategic navigation, communication, or intelligence satellites by ramming into them at high speeds.
The DN-2 is said to be capable of hitting targets in high-earth orbit between 12,000 and 22,236 miles above earth. Many military, intelligence, and commercial satellites orbit at that altitude.
A Pentagon-State Department report to Congress last year on export controls stated that in addition to ground-launched ASAT missiles, China is building high-technology kinetic and direct energy weapons for ASAT use.