China’s space warfare capabilities, including anti-satellite missiles and directed-energy weapons, pose growing threats to U.S. national security, according to a think tank report made public Wednesday.
“China’s zero-sum pursuit of space superiority harms U.S. economic competitiveness, weakens U.S. military advantages, and undermines strategic stability,” says the report, produced for the congressional U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.
“In short, it represents a threat to U.S. national security.”
The report details a projected 15-year buildup of multiple counterspace systems capable of destroying or disrupting U.S. satellites, including directed-energy weapons, satellite jammers and anti-satellite (ASAT) missiles, with some systems already deployed.
The report was written by four China experts with the Project 2049 Institute, a think tank, and Pointe Bello, a strategic intelligence company.
The study says military units in the People’s Liberation Army have begun training with anti-satellite missiles.
“On the non-kinetic side, the PLA has an operational ground-based satellite electronic countermeasures (ECM) capability designed to disrupt adversary use of [satellite communications], navigation, [search and rescue], missile early warning, and other satellites through use of jamming,” the report said.
The ground-based jammers were acquired from Ukraine in the late 1990s, and China has developed domestic satellite jammers since then.
The jammers can “disrupt, deny, deceive or degrade space services,” the report said, adding that “jamming prevents users from receiving intended signals and can be accomplished by attacking uplinks and downlinks.”
The jammers are being upgraded to target satellite communications over a large range of frequencies, including those used for dedicated military signals.
Advanced cyberweapons also are deployed with the PLA that would be used in space warfare attacks.
“While the PLA capabilities have improved, the U.S. is assumed to maintain a lead in counterspace,” the report said.
Other Chinese space warfare tools include small, maneuvering satellites that can grab or damage orbiting satellites.
As reported in this space March 19, the military’s new Space Command has deployed its first offensive space weapon: an electronic jammer that can disrupt satellite communications called the Counter Communications System Block 10.2.
The U.S. Air Force abandoned an air-launched anti-satellite missile that was tested in the 1980s. A modified Navy SM-3 anti-missile interceptor was used in 2008 to shoot down a falling satellite, showing some anti-satellite missile capability.
Air Force Col. Stephen Purdy, programs director for the Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base, said the jammer is an important weapon.
Beijing’s military buildup for space warfare is being assisted by U.S. technology, talent and capital.
The report recommends tougher policies prohibiting U.S. government departments and agencies, national labs, universities, companies, fund managers and individual investors from supporting China’s military space program and activities.
The report also recommends that Congress pass legislation aimed at better educating the public about China’s capabilities, adding that the Pentagon should produce an annual unclassified report on Beijing’s space weaponry.
DATA SUGGESTS LEAK AT WUHAN LAB
An open-source intelligence study using cellphone data and other information from Wuhan, China, reveals that the suspect Wuhan Institute of Virology may have been the source of a leak of the coronavirus that caused the global pandemic.
“The analysis of commercial telemetry data in Wuhan suggests the COVID-19 pandemic began earlier than initially reported,” said the study, produced by a private company with connections to the U.S. technology industry called E-PAI Odin. E-PAI stands for electronic publicly available information.
“Additionally, this supports the release of COVID-19 at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.”
The study was briefed to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence recently, and U.S. intelligence agencies also are studying the report, according to a U.S. official.
The analysis was based on activity of electronic communications devices in and around the Wuhan institute, and specifically the National Biosafety Laboratory, in October and November.
Other data used included traffic patterns based on device activity in the area of the institute in October and “pattern of life” analysis of devices known to frequent the institute.
Wuhan’s National Biosafety Laboratory, China’s sole Level 4 laboratory, was built by a French company to conduct work on deadly bat coronaviruses — like the one behind COVID-19.
The report’s analysis of cellphone activity showed extremely light vehicle traffic around the lab in October and November — an indication that a “hazardous event” took place at the facility sometime between Oct. 6 and 11.
“During this time, it is believed that roadblocks were put in place to prevent traffic from coming near the facility,” the report said.
A study of websites and social media postings was used to identify a unique cellphone in Wuhan that was traced to a member of the Emerging Infectious Diseases team and Duke-National University of Singapore from Nov. 24 to 30.
“During this time, the device was observed at the WIV BSL-4 [laboratory] and another unidentified building near the WIV,” the report said.
The first case of COVID-19 was reported in Wuhan on Dec. 1. By Dec. 31, as many as 40 cases were known.
The open-source intelligence analysis suggests that the virus may have escaped the laboratory in October.
Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, appeared to refer to the report in a recent tweet.
“Would be interesting if someone analyzed commercial telemetry data at & near Wuhan lab from Oct-Dec 2019,” Mr. Rubio stated. “If it shows dramatic drop off in activity compared to previous 18 months it would be a strong indication of an incident at lab & of when it happened.”
SUSPICIOUS DEATH OF VACCINE RESEARCHER
A Trump administration official said the recent death of a Chinese national engaged in extensive U.S. research into developing a vaccine for the coronavirus is suspicious, although police in Pittsburgh ruled it a murder-suicide.
Bing Liu, the Chinese national, was part of a team of researchers at the University of Pittsburgh medical school working to fast-track development of a vaccine to prevent COVID-19.
Liu was found dead on Saturday at his home in Ross, a suburb of Pittsburgh, with seven gunshot wounds.
The body was discovered by Liu’s wife.
“We have found zero evidence that this tragic event has anything to do with employment at the University of Pittsburgh, any work being conducted at the University of Pittsburgh and the current health crisis affecting the United States and the world,” Ross police Sgt. Brian Kohlhepp said in a statement.
A naturalized Chinese national named Gu Hao was found dead in a car some 200 yards from Liu’s home, and police believe he took his own life after shooting Liu.
Both Liu and Gu were married, and police said the shooting was the result of a dispute over a shared love interest.
The murder of a key researcher comes as pharmaceutical companies in the United States, China and around the world are racing to find a vaccine for the virus.
The FBI and DHS-based Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) issued a notice on Wednesday warning that China is seeking COVID-19 research.
“PRC-affiliated cyber actors and nontraditional collectors have been observed attempting to identify and illicitly obtain valuable intellectual property (IP) and public health data related to vaccines, treatments, and testing from networks and personnel affiliated with COVID-19-related research,” the notice said.
“The potential theft of this information jeopardizes the delivery of secure, effective, and efficient treatment options.”
A senior administration official said it is not known if the death was linked to China’s government. “But China’s determination to develop and monopolize the world’s vaccines is unquestionable,” the official said. “That’s why they blocked the U.S. from getting virus samples and why they are hacking vaccine researchers.”
Liu worked at the university’s computational and system biology department and was studying the infection mechanism of the virus, Ivet Bahar, director of the department, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Gu was a chief software architect at Eaton Corp. a power management company in Ireland.
The FBI and Chinese Consulate were notified about the case, according to Sgt. Kohlhelpp.
Investigators are still reviewing evidence in the case, although they do not expect any charges.
• Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @BillGertz.
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