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HOME > REGIONS > Asia, Pacific Rim      
U.S. Satellite Transfers to China: Addressing the Latest Contentions
Jul 07, 1998
AUTHOR: Henry Sokolski
US Satellite Transfers to China-Addressing the Latest Contentions (PDF) 16.67 KB

US Satellite Transfers to China: Addressing the Latest Contentions

Contention: Although some are claiming that China is using their satellite launcher systems to perfect missiles, no other nation ever has.

Truth: Russia currently uses its SL 8 space launch system to test modern warhead packages for its modern ballistic missiles. New, sophisticated warhead delivery systems are mounted on the SL 8, fired on a short-range, high altitude trajectory, and blasted downward toward earth by the launcher's final stage to achieve high reentry speeds. This allows test results similar to that would otherwise be gained from a full range shot but makes it more difficult for other nations to get at the telemetry information and reduces the risks of accidents that otherwise would be run downrange. India's space launch programs are also suspected of assisting in India's development of long-range missiles.

Contention: Given that the Russians will be present at the launch of a U.S. spy satellite at Cape Canaveral and that Russia has launched U.S. commercial satellites in Russia, it is unreasonable to be so concerned about the U.S. sharing commercial satellites with China. Truth: No, what is being shared with the Chinese is potentially much more significant. Russians will be present at Cape Canaveral because Russian engines are being used in the first stage of a rocket that will lift a U.S. spy satellite. The Russians, however, will not be allowed to learn anything about what is on top of the final stage of the booster system. This is in sharp contrast with the successful Chinese launching of U.S.-made satellites, which requires that the Chinese learn how to integrate U.S. commercial satellites with their entire propulsion system. As for the commercial satellites Russia is launching for the U.S., the State Department has warned Russia not to share what it might learn from such launches with China, a nation, which unlike Russia, has not yet developed MIRVs or advanced military satellites.

Contention: The multiple satellite-dispensing technology China mastered in launching U.S. Iridium satellites is unrelated to its development of multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs) to deliver warheads.

Truth: MIRVs and precise satellite dispensers are interchangeable technologies: U.S. MIRVs, in fact, were derived from commercial multiple satellite dispensers and the Russians' current multiple satellite dispensers (including for Iridium launchings) are derived from its MIRVs.

Contention: Whatever help U.S. satellite technology might be to China's development of missiles is minor (as one as is six) as compared to the growing access to technology such as GPS navigational signals and equipment.

Truth: As useful as GPS may be in increasing long-range missile accuracy, it is of little utility in the development or enhancement of a rocket system's attitude and engine controls, perfecting load coupling analysis (critical to launch fragile payloads), or the development of upper stage technology (needed to launching satellites and warheads precisely or in numbers that might challenge future missile defenses). U.S. satellite technology transfers, in contrast, can be helpful in all of these areas.

Contention: Because China had over 10 launch vehicle successes from l984 to l990, China's last 10 launch successes since l996 are hardly significant.

Truth: In fact, what was required of the Chinese to achieve their earlier string of launch successes was far less than what the last ten successes required. Thus, China's earlier successes involved two of its crudest (and earliest) Long March launcher systems -- the Long March 2 and 2C -- launching the most primitive (relatively small and rugged) of Chinese payloads. In contrast, the recent string of launch failures that followed these successes involved more sophisticated Long March rocket variants launching larger, more fragile U.S.-made commercial satellites. It is significant that failures involving such relatively advanced systems ended with the last Hughes failure in l996 and that since then even the most complicated launchings involving dispensing of multiple U.S. communications satellites have been accomplished with a 100% success rate.

Contention: Because China has used five different launch systems since l996, it's wrong to suggest that its last 10 successes are related to one another.

Truth: In fact, the Long March 2D and 2D/SD, 3, 3A, and 3B -- the launchers China has used since l996 -- are all variants of the same Long March rocket system designed and manufactured by Chinese entities who freely share performance data relating to their launch of U.S.- made commercial satellites. Technology that might be transferred or mastered in the launching of one U.S.- made satellite

on any of these Long March variants can and is used to assist in the enhancement of the others.

Contention: The only substantive military transfer concern with the l996 Loral accident -- the probable theft of the satellite's encryption cards -- is at best a minor, short-term technical irritant to our national security.

Truth: In fact, China's probable theft of these cards constitutes a serious long-term security problem. This is so even if possible duplication of the cards turns out to be technically less significant than what some experts fear. Certainly this much is clear: We chose not to make the incident public or to insist on getting the cards back before transferring additional satellites, and this timidity is only likely to embolden the Chinese to take additional steps to divert protected U.S. technology in the future.

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