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U.S. military: China threat grows in both spaces

The U.S. military painted China on Tuesday as posing a growing threat to the United States and others in space and cyberspace.
/ Source: Reuters

The U.S. military painted China on Tuesday as posing a growing threat to the United States and others in space and cyberspace.

China is "aggressively" honing its ability to shoot down satellites along with other space and counter-space capabilities, said Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Horne of the U.S. Strategic Command.

Such know-how has big implications for Beijing's potential to curb access in the Taiwan Straits "and well beyond," he told the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a congressionally created advisory group.

Horne, deputy head of the Strategic Command's joint component for space, said recent Chinese People's Liberation Army writings suggested China might target an enemy's spy satellites along with navigation and early-warning spacecraft "to blind and deafen."

China's unannounced destruction of one of its own defunct weather satellites in January 2007 showed the PLA's ability to attack satellites operating in low-Earth orbit, he said.

The United States and the old Soviet Union demonstrated such anti-satellite capabilities of their own, initially in the 1980s.

Horne did not spell out the implications for any U.S. response to any Chinese attack on Taiwan.

Beijing deems the self-ruled island of 23 million people a breakaway province to be brought back to the fold, by force if necessary.

Horne said United States must "proactively protect our space capabilities."

Among arms makers eyeing this market are Lockheed Martin Corp, Boeing Co and Northrop Grumman Corp, the Pentagon's top three contractors by sales.

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Another Strategic Command officer described cyber attacks as perhaps the most significant 21st century threat and said China was boosting its capability to carry them out.

Col. Gary McAlum, chief of staff of the command's Joint Task Force for Global Network Operations, quoted approvingly from a new report by Kevin Coleman of the Technolytics Institute.

China aims to achieve global "electronic dominance" by 2050, including the ability to disrupt information infrastructures, he cited the report as saying.

McAlum added to the commissioners: "I think we could discuss that date offline," by implication, suggesting he viewed it as a nearer-term threat than mid-century.

"Several Chinese advances have surprised U.S. defense and intelligence officials and raised questions about the quality of our assessments of China's military capabilities," he told the panel.

In a third presentation to the commissioners, a State Department official depicted China's nonproliferation record as mixed.

Chinese companies have kept on shipping weapons to Iran, despite evidence Tehran is supplying insurgents in Iraq and Islamist groups, said Patricia McNerney, principal deputy assistant secretary for international security and nonproliferation.

"Inevitably, some of this weaponry has found its way to insurgents and militants operating in Iraq, as well as Hizbollah terrorists," she said.

But the Chinese government's proliferation policies have improved.

"Working together, we can build upon our shared commitment to ensure an end to such proliferation activity," McNerney added.