By Jon Dougherty
New commercial satellite photos have identified a secret base in China armed with laser weapons designed to disable or destroy orbiting satellites.
As reported by the Washington Free Beacon, the base is located “in western Xinjiang province, along with other high-technology weapons facilities.”
Retired Indian army Col. Vinayak Bhat, a satellite imagery expert who specializes on China, discovered the base, the Free Beacon noted.
He said that Beijing is using satellite tracking stations located throughout Chinese territory to identify and target ‘enemy’ satellites.
“Once the accurate satellite path and other data is known, directed energy weapons located at five different places can take over the task,” Bhat said, according to the WFB.
Bhat says he’s identified at least four buildings at the base he believes houses high-powered neodymium chemical lasers.
Together with a targeting station at the base, he estimates that China could fire one to three beams at a satellite it seeks to destroy or disrupt.
Bhat’s discovery of the laser base comes on the heels of a report by the Defense Intelligence Agency that was made public in February noting that China is set to deploy a ground-based laser cannon by 2020.
The report noted that China “possibly already has a limited capability to employ laser systems against satellite sensors.”
“China likely will field a ground-based laser weapon that can counter low-orbit space-based sensors by 2020, and by the mid-to-late 2020s, it may field higher power systems that extend the threat to the structures of non-optical satellites,” the report, “Challenges to Security in Space,” says.
What makes the construction of this base significant is that it comes ahead of a likely U.S. decision to build and deploy a new satellite constellation aimed at guiding hypersonic missile defenses the Pentagon is currently developing — as a counter to Chinese and Russian hypersonic missiles.
Space News reported in January:
The Pentagon studied the problem for years and concluded that sensors in space are the only solution to defend the United States from Russian and Chinese hypersonic weapons.
The Space Sensor Layer was one of the headlines from last week’s release of the 2019 Missile Defense Review, the first update to the nation’s missile defense posture in nine years.
“Look for rapid progress on that,” Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Mike Griffin told reporters.
The news site noted that the Missile Defense Agency was awarded $73 million by Congress to begin development of a constellation, though it’s unclear how the Pentagon would protect those assets once deployed from Chinese lasers.
One possibility: Putting anti-missile laser weapons in space, beyond the reach of ground-based laser disruptors. Defense One reported in January:
The Defense Department will study the possibility of space weapons — perhaps particle beams, ray guns, space lasers, or orbiting missiles — that could intercept enemy missiles coming off the launch pad, according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters on the Missile Defense Review, due out on Thursday.
But the Pentagon will forgo actually developing them, for now. It’s part of the Trump administration’s effort to “expand the scope of what we’re postured to defend against,” the official said. …
The new review is a response “to an environment in which we have not just ballistic missile threats but also cruise missile threats and novel types of weapons like hypersonics” — from China, Russia, and even elsewhere, the official said.
- Follow Jon Dougherty on Twitter at @JonDougherty10