The Chinese dictatorship is working to take out US surveillance satellites, no doubt to facilitate its conquest of Taiwan. That’s dumb – China has little chance of suppressing US space assets, so its forces will likely star as victims in a 21st Century Marianas Turkey Shoot.
The Battle of the Philippine Sea was an air-sea battle of the Pacific Campaign of World War II fought between the U.S.Navy and the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) on 19 and 20 June, 1944, off the Mariana Islands. The action was a disaster for the Japanese forces, who lost almost all of their carrier-borne aircraft and a third of the carriers involved in the battle. After the battle, the aircraft carrier force of the IJN was no longer militarily effective.
Here’s why there’ll be a rerun.
US Military Space Assets
These assets are highly secret – the NYT hasn’t gotten to them yet – but there’s a plausible description here.
US imaging satellites are essentially big Hubble telescopes facing earthwards. Others use infrared and radar. All transmit real time data back to NORAD and its backups via a separate high-bandwidth satellite network. Plus, there are the 24+ satellites in the GPS network.
How to Kill Satellites
Satellites are easy to track from the ground, since they move predictably, are in plain view, and can’t afford to carry much propellant to dodge about. Low orbit ones are easy to reach and hit, high orbit ones are much harder.
Assorted bad guys – including the Chinese – have been trying to blind US imaging satellites with lasers. That’s dumb, since to do damage you need a tight beam – about 1 yard diameter at the target – and the beam has to be come from precisely where the camera is looking.
To avoid his system being blinded, the satellite operator just has to image at an angle. Combined with the burnout protection satellites use to avoid damage from looking at the sun, this makes lasers a paper tiger.
Then there are really high energy beams, but nobody has gotten them to work (except possibly the US), since they need vast power to drill through a hundred miles of energy-absorbing atmosphere.
Nukes detonated in orbit work quite well, but the collateral EMP is too messy except in existential wars.
That leaves anti-satellite (ASAT) missiles with kinetic or HE warheads, and the US has had these for 20 years – the best known is air launched by an F-15.
What China Wants
To successfully invade Taiwan, China has to prevent detection of a prolonged invasion buildup (probably 500,000 troops, 500 air transports, 1000 ships, 1000 attack planes, and 1000 medium range rockets). Then, to achieve tactical surprise on D day, it has to keep the location of its ships and planes secret as they to head to Taiwan (30 hours by ship, 2 hours by transport plane).
China also has to blind US satellites that might spot its subs, so they can get close enough to knock out US carriers without starting a major war. The subs would use wake-homing torpedoes to take out the carriers’ propulsion systems (without propulsion, the carriers couldn’t launch their planes).
Such an attack would inflict minimal US casualties, and the Chinese dictators would reasonably calculate that the US wouldn’t escalate with 10,000 US sailors as sitting ducks.
The Chinese Plan
Hence the recent Chinese test:
A kinetic kill vehicle launched by a medium range ballistic missile destroyed an inactive Chinese weather satellite. The Chinese Feng Yun 1C (FY-1C) polar orbiting meteorological satellite had been launched in 1999. The ASAT was launched from or near the Xichang Space Center, and intercepted the target at an altitude of variously reported as either 530 or 537 miles. This altitude is consistent with the operational altitudes of American and Japanese imagery intelligence satellites.
Why It Won’t Work
1. Too Many Targets
By the time China invades – probably after 2009 – there will be about 20 imaging satellites it needs to target. These will be in different orbits, and exponentially harder to kill than an old weather satellite. And if China misses just one, it gets the Turkey Shoot treatment.
2. Guaranteed Warning
By attacking US satellites, China gives excellent early warning of its intentions, enabling US carriers to fly off their planes to Taiwan..
3. Guaranteed Retaliation
The Chinese attack can’t be covert since the US imaging satellites will track the ASATs being launched from China then heading towards them – their final images will be nice pictures of Chinese kinetic warheads.
Even the UN, NYT, France, and Russia couldn’t oppose the US and its allies retaliating against such a blatant attack (just kidding).
The obvious US response would be to take down every Chinese military satellite.
It would also take down the EU’s Galileo GPS system, if it’s flying by then. This is part owned by the Chinese, and gives them GPS guidance for their missiles and bombs that’s independent of the US. Taking out half of Galileo’s 30 satellites would cripple it. The Euros could hardly complain about US self-defense against such clearly documented aggression (kidding again).
3. Even If Chinese ASATs Work, Their Forces Can’t Hide
Taiwan is deploying UAVs, which in an invasion can keep track of the Chinese mainland and the air and sea invasion fleets. So loss of satellite coverage isn’t a terminal failure. In fact UAVs have advantages over satellites – they’re more flexible and can fly below cloud cover.
In conclusion, a Chinese communist ASAT capability won’t dent the US ability to help Taiwan defend itself.
However dictatorships are unpredictable and they might try their luck, poor fools.