Could China initiate Star Wars in a future not so far away?
Beijing is currently fueling an already quickly-developing space program, which some security analysts say has a suspicious emphasis on military applications.
This year alone, China plans to lead 20 space missions including testing new rockets, putting new satellites into orbit, and launching a habitual module of a space lab.
China is already enhancing anti-satellite technology including surface-to-air missiles that could strike targets in orbit. It’s also dabbling with experimental lasers and signal jammers that could disable satellites. This technology is of particular concern for the US, which heavily relies on satellites for a range of civilian and military implications. These include communications, intelligence gathering, weapons targeting, and even piloting unmanned aircraft.
Sometime in the first half of the year, China intends to launch the Tiangong 2 space laboratory.
While it’s not intended for long-term habitation, the space lab will serve as a building block toward something like the International Space Station. China plans to have its fully-operational space station in orbit by 2020. Many security analysts fear this craft will have military implications.
“U.S. military and commercial interests maintain a far greater presence in orbit and thus have the most assets to lose there,” wrote technology reporter Clay Dillow in an article for CNBC.
In the last 15 years, China has rapidly been shrinking the gap it shares with its US and Russian counterparts in terms of space technology and expertise. However, it still lags behind both countries.
“If the Chinese hit all the milestones they’ve set for themselves, they’ll still be where the U.S. and Soviets were three decades ago, but they’ll also have ticked many of the boxes on the modern space-power checklist,” said space-policy expert Dr. John Logsdon.
Another major concern is the uncertainty of how deeply China plans to embed its military ambitions into its space program.
“There are a lot of avenues to go after satellites, and what worries people is that the Chinese are pursuing all of them,” said James Andrew Lewis of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.” The question becomes: If they’re so into peace, why are they building so many weapons?