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Subject: DSP Satellites See Aggressive New Chinese Missile Testing
Softwar    4/10/2007 1:04:59 PM
"" DSP Satellites See Aggressive New Chinese Missile Testing China is beginning an unprecedented surge in the flight test of new ballistic missiles at the same time that the U.S. is starting a lengthy transition of missile-warning satellite systems, critical for providing intelligence on this test activity. The current Defense Support Program (DSP) missile-warning spacecraft and new Space-Based Infrared System (Sbirs) spacecraft, just starting to be launched, have a primary job of attack warnings. But the powerful infrared telescopes on the DSPs are especially providing vital intelligence on new Chinese, as well as Iranian, missiles and tactics. DSP development is managed by the Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) at Los Angeles AFB, Calif. Several U.S. Air Force/ Northrop Grumman DSPs are operational in geosynchronous orbit and the final $400-million DSP spacecraft will be launched this summer (see cover and photo on p. 49). The Air Force and Northrop Grumman granted this Aviation Week & Space Technology editor an unprecedented close-up of this key military spacecraft as it undergoes final launch preparations on a missile-warning and intelligence-gathering mission expected to last until 2022. One can only wonder at the sweeping global military and political changes this 2.5-ton spacecraft will encounter in that period. Judging by what the DSP's powerful infrared telescopes and their dedicated operational teams have witnessed during 37 years of past operations, the differences will be legion. But with an eye on the future, this final DSP is also carrying a special payload designed specifically to detect even extremely small nuclear tests that might be done in space, the kind that could be attempted covertly by Iran or North Korea. The new payload was mandated by a secret late-1993 White House/ National Security Council directive. The 33-ft.-tall DSPs are equipped with long infrared telescopes and Los Alamos and Sandia nuclear detectors. The DSP saga spans decades and was born out of potential conflict with the Soviets in the 1960s. The program has been blessed with diverse characters and cursed by seemingly insurmountable problems. But DSPs have prevailed over the long haul and, more than any other military space system, have been immersed in both war and peace. DSPs helped prevent conflict during the Cold War because the Soviet Union could not launch a surprise attack with DSPs on the watch. And DSPs have monitored the plumes of rocket-fire in every war around the world since the early 1970s. They have detected virtually all medium- or long-range ballistic missiles fired during those conflicts including the intensive missile bombardments of the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. Then they went on to provide attack-warning data on dozens of missiles fired by Iraq at U.S. and allied forces during the 1991 Persian Gulf war. All during this period they have supplied intelligence on thousands of foreign missile tests and space launches and super critical information on Russian and Chinese ballistic missile submarine operations. Many of their orbital parking locations are in fact optimized for the earliest warning of submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) attacks from the Arctic or other key ocean patrol areas. DSPs even report and characterize the static firing of missile propulsion systems during ground testing. And since at least 1989 when advanced DSPs began to be launched, they have also watched for the afterburner plumes of hostile aircraft, possibly headed to attack U.S. aircraft carriers. So the spacecraft provide a degree of limited aircraft attack warning in certain theaters. If, for example, Iranian jet fighters were to take off on afterburner to begin high-speed attacks toward U.S. or British ships in the Persian Gulf, DSPs monitoring that area have the capability to observe and immediately report this from their positions 22,300 mi. in space. But now the accelerating activity in China, coupled with testing by Iran, pose a challenge to U.S. missile-warning operations as the transition begins between the two systems--the aging DSP and the new Sbirs (AW&ST Nov. 20, 2006, p. 22). Russia continues to be watched intensively. "China's missile testing is surpassing anything since the Soviet Union's missile buildup of the 1960s," says John Pike, director of "It's as if China was in near war-time production of missiles . . . in what amounts to the largest missile production and test rate since the Cold War." While recent media focus has been on Iranian missiles, "there is much more going on inside the Chinese missile programs than is generally known to the public," according to another analyst with China's January anti-satellite weapon
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