Subject:      Chinese ASAT and rates of change
From:         [email protected] (Allen Thomson)
Date:         1995/12/31
Message-Id:   <[email protected]>

On December 19, Henry Spencer had the audacity to say in response to
some questions about N-th country ASATs:

>>   ...Any thoughts as to what would be the pacing factor for development
>>of a Chinese (or Indian) ASAT for use against satellites in LEO?  How 
>>about GEO?  Assuming they decided the need were urgent today, when could
>>they start shooting -- in one year, three, ten...?

>Months.  Weeks if they're clever and in a hurry and don't mind wasting a
>few shots.  If all you want is a good chance of hitting a LEO satellite
>with no more than a few shots, all you need are V-2s with warheads
>comprising a small bursting charge and a ton of buckshot.  The Peenemunde
>rocket team would have been shotgunning for satellites within a week of
>being told to.  Today's military rocket people aren't set up so well for
>fast improvisation, but even so... 

>GEO is harder, but given that the Chinese have GEO launch capability,
>there are things they could do fairly promptly if they didn't mind using
>several launches per kill.

>If you insist on killing things on the first try, then life gets much
>more difficult.  But why bother, when shotguns are cheap?

   I was hoping someone would pick up on this outrageous (and, I 
believe, correct) assessment, but I suppose everyone was too 
busy celebrating the solstice.  Well, the revelry is over now, 
and we need to get serious again.  (This is Usenet, after all, 
and we have standards to uphold.) 

   If Henry is right, and it's hard to see how he could be 
very wrong, the time needed for a country like China (India, 
Japan, soon to include Brazil) to acquire significant space-
denial capabilities is more than an order of magnitude less than 
the time associated with US development of new space systems.  
In fact, it's probably less than the time the US would need to
*replace* an existing satellite if one were to be lost to the

   This is pretty profound stuff, as it means that US military 
space planning, if based on currently known threats to 
satellites or on the belief that there will be plenty of warning 
of developing threats, is likely to be very misguided indeed. 
The Gen. Schwartzkopf of 2001 is going to be unamused if the 
situation goes from "they don't have any ASATs" to "we don't 
have any spysats" over the course of a few months. 

   Since all the indications are that our current lamentably 
vulnerable systems of a few big satellites are slated to be 
replaced by systems of fewer, bigger satellites, it would seem 
as if the foreign ASAT threat still isn't being regarded as 
anything to worry about for at least the next decade. 

   A related question is how long it would take a reasonably 
well industrialized country without an existing space launch 
capability (Iraq, Indonesia) to get a counter-LEO or -GEO ASAT.  
At least in the LEO case, direct-ascent rockets capable of 
lifting a couple of hundred kilograms of payload to 1000 km 
aren't all that large or complex.  Probably guidance and homing 
would be the long pole in the tent, but, again as Henry points 
out, a willingness to take several shots could do a lot to relax 
the demands on ASAT performance.