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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Wikileaks cables show:
U.S. warned of military response
to China's satellite killer tests
China's successful testing of satellite killer rocketry prompted Washington to warn Beijing in 2007 that if Chinese rockets drew near U.S. satellites, the United States was prepared, if need be, to respond with military measures, according to secret State Department cables cited by Norway's Aftenposten.

"This is a very serious issue for the entire international community," said U.S. diplomats, who went so far as to warn the Chinese that any attempt to approach U.S. satellites could be met with "a variety of means, both diplomatic and military," wrote Pers Anders Johansen of Aftenposten. The paper is mining the 250,000 cables, first obtained by Wikileaks, for stories skipped by those other media having the same access.

Johansen gives further detail:

China, in apparent defiance of international agreements, has conducted at least three secret missile attacks on satellites. In response, the United States
altered the orbits of several satellites in order to avoid debris from the Chinese explosions. In addition, the International Space Station changed course in order to avoid clouds of shrapnel orbiting through space.

Control of the skies is vitally important in the new era of GPS and advanced satellite surveillance, the paper observes, noting that the Chinese successes created alarm in Washington and set off a diplomatic effort to curb further such tests. With satellites essential to America's military advantage, China's tests were viewed with great concern, according to secret embassy cables

The Chinese responded to U.S. concerns by asserting that the purpose of the tests was to pressure Washington for negotiations on the elimination of weapons in outer space.

China gave the United States no advance notice of the first test, which first came to light when a Chinese SC-19 missile appeared on U.S. missile warning system screens.

"We have already introduced preventive measures for U.S. satellites to maneuver in order to reduce the likelihood of collision with the waste," according to a secret cable. "Our experts estimate that to avoid collisions with the waste from China's tests, the International Space Station will have to do maneuvers that otherwise would not have been necessary."

"The Americans have since begun to protect themselves better," said one expert. "But it is difficult. It is cheaper and easier to build a rocket that shoots down a satellite, than it is to construct satellites with better protection."

When David Sedney, a deputy defense secretary, took up the issue with Liu Jiey, China's assistant foreign minister, in December 2008, Liu cut Sedney off:  "How long will the U.S. continue to raise this question?  Such requests are simply meaningless."

Spy orbiter huddle bared
The fact that the Hiros satellite project was to be controlled by German intelligence is mentioned in an embassy cable saying that the German government's "primary customer" for Hiros is "the German intelligence service (BND)." Notes of a U.S.-German meeting made clear that the BND was pushing for a joint U.S.-German venture to develop the advanced surveillance system. A U.S. diplomat expressed enthusiasm for the plan, which the Germans were selling to the public as a civilian program.

Another cable reported, "On 28 January 2009, Dr. Andreas Eckardt, DLR Head of Optical Sensors and Electronics, told EconOff that absolutely no cooperation with France nor any other EU country is planned for the Hiros project, but that he saw cooperation with the U.S. firm Digital Globe (DG) as a real possibility."

On 8 April 2009, officers from America's National Geospatial Intelligence Agency met with BND and other German intelligence officials to discuss Germany's plans for "expanded nationally operated overhead reconnaissance resources," a secret cable reorts. The embassy went on to advise that a joint venture with the Germans would be "critical" for intelligence and profitable in terms of U.S. jobs.

Specifically, the Germans wished to procure U.S.-origin control motion gyroscopes (CMGs) and radiation-hardened integrated circuits (ICs) from U.S. vendors, but were worried that International Traffic in Arms Restrictions posed too much of a risk. Northrop Grumman (CMGs) and Fairchild Semiconductor (ICs) were mentioned as desirable sources of Hiros components. If necessary, the Germans would buy from the French, an idea they didn't favor.

However, the cables on Aftenposten's site do not show that arms control waivers had been granted or that a U.S. partnership had been nailed down. 

Cables used for Aftenposten's story on Germany's proposed Hiros satellite project are found here: 

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