China and India pursue anti-satellite kill technology

Published 13 January 2010

The space arms race accelerates, as China and India announced the development of hit-to-kill anti-satellite weapons; the United States has been developing this technology for years – but since the U.S. military and economy are much more dependent on satellites, the United States becomes more vulnerable as more countries acquire anti-satellite capabilities

Anti-satellite weapon // Source:

India and China are forging ahead with technology that could be used to kill satellites. An official from India’s Ministry of Defense announced on 3 January that the country is developing a “kill vehicle” with laser vision that could home in on and destroy satellites in orbit.

David Shiga writes that on Tuesday, China announced it had carried out a successful missile defense test the previous day. China did not release details of the test, but said it involved a missile interceptor.

The Chinese test came three years to the day after it fired a missile in a test that destroyed one of its own satellites in Earth orbit, creating thousands of pieces of high-speed debris that continue to continue to threaten other satellites.

As Jeffrey Lewis, an analyst for the New America Foundation based in Washington, D.C., points out, there is not much difference between missile defense and anti-satellite technology. Both involve missiles, sometimes called “kinetic energy” interceptors, that can be precisely targeted at fast-moving objects in order to slam into and destroy them.

The Indian announcement made that link explicit, describing the work on anti-satellite technology as part of the country’s own missile defense program, carried out against a backdrop of military tensions with Pakistan.

Shiga writes that as for the Chinese missile defense test, it is natural to wonder whether it was intended at least in part as a continuation of its work on anti-satellite technology.

Though the spotlight is on India and China this week, Lewis points out that these two countries are not acting in isolation. “The U.S. has pioneered [hit-to-kill] technology — and encouraged its spread to allies like Israel, Japan and Taiwan among others,” he writes. “Now China and India are racing to join the club.”