Due to popular demand, Beyond Deadlines is reposting every Monday the still relevant articles of retired Armed Forces of the Philippines intelligence chief Brig. General Victor Corpus that appeared in his BD’s column, Views from the East.
February 1, 2017
C4ISR stands for command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. In a war situation, C4ISR is a prime target because therein lies the center of gravity of one’s adversary. Neutralizing C4ISR is like cutting off the head of a chicken. It can run around in circles for a while, but will soon collapse and die. The same is true in warfare.
Having the mightiest and most modern armed forces in the world, America prides itself with having the most sophisticated and advanced C4ISR. U.S. military spy satellites can gather intelligence data and disseminate it on a real- time basis. U.S. surveillance and reconnaissance satellites are so sophisticated that their sensors can detect objects on earth as small as five to six inches in size, from several hundred miles above the surface. Satellite sensors can also penetrate clouds and is functional in bad weather and darkness. Some of these spy satellites can also monitor radio or telephone conversations.
Aside from communications, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, satellites are also used for navigation, most especially in guiding ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, aircraft and other smart weapon systems to their targets. Without satellite guidance, such “smart” and precision weapons turn into “dumb” bombs and directionless missiles.
The advances in C4ISR are rapidly revolutionizing warfare. Gathering, processing, disseminating, and acting on intelligence is now made possible on a real-time or near real-time basis on a global or regional level. Because of these developments, coupled with long-range, stealthy, precision-guided and supersonic weapons, a new war principle is emerging in the modern battlefield: “If the enemy sees you, you are dead.”
The U.S. is far advanced in its C4ISR compared with, for instance, China. China cannot hope to catch up and match the American system anytime soon. So, for China to survive in the event of a major conflict with the U.S., it must resort to asymmetric methods. This means that China had to develop effective means of countering and neutralizing America’s C4ISR, which is highly dependent on space. And that is what China had been working on for more than two decades now.
The “Assassin’s Mace”
The heart of America’s C4ISR lies in its technologically sophisticated space satellites. But this seeming strength in space is also an Achilles heel. Neutralize or destroy the key satellites, and America’s major forces, such as aircraft carrier battle groups, are blinded, muted, and decapitated. This concept is part of China’s strategy for “defeating a superior with an inferior” called shashaojian, or “assassin’s mace”. It is like the spray kept by ladies in their purses, which they use when attacked by a mugger or rapist. They spray irritants into the eyes of an attacker to temporarily blind him, giving the intended victim time to escape.
China now has the capability to identify and track satellites. And, for more than two decades it has been busy developing anti-satellite weapons. The country has been developing maneuverable mini-satellites that can neutralize other satellites. They do their work by maneuvering near a target satellite and neutralizing the target by electronic jamming, electro-magnetic pulse generation, clinging to the target and physically destroying it, bumping the target out of orbit, or simply exploding to bring the target satellite down with it. Such mini-satellites can be launched in batches on demand by road-mobile DF21 or DF31 booster rockets.
Another anti-satellite weapon in the works is a land-based laser that blinds the sensitive sensors of satellites or even destroys them completely. But what surprised Western observers was the anti-satellite missile test conducted by China on January 11, 2007. It shot down its own weather satellite with a kinetic vehicle launched from a medium range ballistic missile, probably the DF21C MRBM. To hit such a small object in outer space at such high speed requires a highly-advanced terminal guidance system. The implications of this demonstration by China on U.S. space assets as well as aircraft carrier battle groups are quite horrifying to contemplate. This minimal Chinese ASAT capability imperils some valuable American military intelligence satellites in low earth orbit (LEO).
Some three months before China’s spectacular anti-satellite (ASAT) test, President Bush signed an executive order creating a new National Space Policy emphasizing that the U.S. “rejects future arms control agreements that might limit U.S. flexibility in space and asserts a right to deny access to space to anyone hostile to U.S. interests.” Asia Times Online, on Oct 20, 2006, reports:
What concerns international observers and America’s potential competitors in space is that the US refuses to negotiate a space arms-control accord. Its rationale is that no such agreements are needed, because there is no space arms race. However, the US Air Force has published a Counter-space Operations Doctrine, which “calls for a more active military posture in space”, and says that protecting US satellites and spacecraft may require “deception, disruption, denial, degradation and destruction”.
America’s space competitors also vividly recall that the current Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld chaired a commission which recommended to Congress that it develop space weapons to protect military and civilian satellites.
In an analysis for Harvard’s Neiman Watchdog, CDI Senior Advisor Phillip Coyle writes: “The Pentagon visualizes space as a platform for prompt global strike capabilities that could threaten the entire world. As explained in the Air Force Space Command Strategic Master Plan for Fiscal Year 2006 and beyond: A viable, prompt global strike capability, whether nuclear or non-nuclear, will allow the U.S. to rapidly and accurately strike distant high-payoff, difficult-to-defeat targets. This capability provides the U.S. with the flexibility to employ innovative strategies to counter adversary anti-access and area denial strategies. Such a capability will provide war-fighting commanders the ability to rapidly deny, delay, deceive, disrupt, destroy, exploit and neutralize targets in hours/minutes, even when U.S. and allied forces have a limited forward presence.”
Two weeks before China’s ASAT test, on December 26, 2006, Anatoly Permikov, chief of Russia’s Federal Space Agency, said that Russia is not going to transfer space technology to China. “The Chinese are still some 30 years behind us, but their space program has been developing very fast,” Permikov said at a news conference. “They are quickly catching up with us…We aren’t transferring any technologies to China now. This issue has been under special control of the government.” The 2006 Annual Report to Congress on the Military Power of China by the Pentagon likewise underestimated China by stating that “China can currently destroy or disable satellites only by launching a ballistic missile or space-launch vehicle armed with a nuclear weapon”.
On September 2008, China conducted its first spacewalk together with the launch of a 40kg nanosatellite designated as BX-1. Some analysts saw the test as a demonstration of China’s advances in its ongoing anti-satellite (ASAT) program. Experts categorized the BX-1 as a co-orbital ASAT weapon. A co-orbital ASAT shares the same mean orbit with its target satellite.
There is a famous saying that goes: actions speak louder than words. China’s answer to U.S. and Russian pronouncements on space dominance was to demonstrate what it can do. And it has shown that it can shoot down the eyes and ears of its adversaries. It would have been to China’s advantage if it resisted the temptation to show off its ASAT capabilities, as Deng Xiaoping advised the Chinese leadership while he was alive to “hide our capabilities”. But China could not resist the urge to puncture the ballooning egos of the two superpowers in space.
With China’s demonstrated capability to neutralize U.S. C4ISR in a major conflict, America would be likened to “a blind man trying to catch fish with his bare hands”, to quote Mao Zedong. In short, America would be brought to its knees by a successful attack on its C4ISR.
This is the first half of China’s “assassin’s mace.”
* The opinion of this author is his/hers alone. It is not necessarily the views of Beyond Deadlines.