• Mon. Nov 29th, 2021

Pledging peace in space while rapidly pursuing lethal weapons

ByAmeerah O'Connor

Nov 4, 2021
Pledging peace in space while rapidly pursuing lethal weapons

J. W. Middendorf II, a former Secretary of the Navy, is author of “The Great Nightfall: How We Win the New Cold War.”

While China officially advocates for peaceful use of space and pursues agreements at the United Nations on the non-weaponization of space, it continues to improve its counter-space weapons capabilities.

In August, China tested a hypersonic glide vehicle that entered orbit. Hypersonic weapons descend at more than five times the speed of sound while retaining maneuverability to evade missile defenses designed for the more predictable paths of ICBMs. A weapon based on this vehicle could have essentially unlimited range.

The test should make the U.S. less confident in its estimation of China’s current and future capabilities, according to Air Force Brig Gen. Christopher Niemi, the director of strategy, plans, programs, and requirements for Pacific Air Forces.

“In the past, we put a lot of confidence in our assessment of what an adversary like China will do in the future, and we use that to decide how we want to make our investments,” Niemi said.

“The thing that concerns us with hypersonics is our warning time, and our warning capability as these things launch high and then cruise at a lower altitude than we see our normal ICBMs. So it’s that ability to provide a warning to our national leadership, and what the threat is,” Air Force Col. Kristopher Struve, vice director of operations for North American Aerospace Defense Command, said about the Chinese test.

“China’s capabilities are extraordinary. We have much work to do to make sure that we’re defending the United States of America in the case of potential aggression,” said Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado.

“The test was a routine spacecraft experiment to verify the reusable technology of spacecraft, which is of great significance for reducing the cost of spacecraft use,” Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, explained after the successful launch. Experts in the field discount Zhao’s claim that the test was not a potential weapon but a spacecraft.

China, Russia, and the United States are all actively developing and testing hypersonic vehicles. Russia recently test-fired its new Zircon hypersonic missile from a nuclear submarine for the first time. Hypersonic weapons aren’t the exclusive realm of big global powers, either. As technological trends progress and modern technologies become cheaper and more widely available, North Korean or Iranian ballistic missiles may rival those of China in sophistication, if not numbers. Last month, North Korea tested its new Hwasong-8 hypersonic weapon.

China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea are rapidly improving already formidable proficiencies in making attacks for which we have no defense. We must remain aware of how such threats are evolving and alter our missile defense posture accordingly.

We have stopped short of our space goals, even though the Strategic Defense Initiative Program resulted in tremendous technological advances and benefits. Instead of a comprehensive layered system, we have no boost-phase ballistic missile defense systems and cannot handle more qualitatively and quantitatively advanced ballistic missile threats like those from China or Russia. We must remain aware of how such threats are evolving and alter our missile defense posture accordingly.

This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: Opinion/Middendorf: Pledging peace in space while rapidly pursuing lethal weapons

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