ASAT program of the People's Republic of China

ASAT program of the People's Republic of China

The People's Republic of China's Anti-Satellite (ASAT) Program has been under development since 1964.[1] The ASAT program has since been moved from Program 640 to Program 863, the General Armaments Department and the State Administration for Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense (SASTIND, formerly known as COSTIND).[2] Since its inception, the ASAT program has made progress on the development of three ASAT capable Systems: Direct Fire, Directed Energy, and Micro-Satellites. Tests of these systems have either been directly acknowledged by the PRC, or reported on as ASAT capable.



The People's Republic of China has worked on technologies applicable to Anti-Satellite (ASAT) weaponry since the 1964. For much of the 1960s and 1970s the majority of funding and development of ASAT capabilities were run through Program 640.[1] The initial purpose of Program 640 was to develop anti-ballistic missiles and SAM sites, but in 1970 Program 640 began an ASAT program.[3] The program's progress was hampered by the effects of the Cultural Revolution, because many of the prominent scientists associated with the program were among those purged by the younger generation. A review of the scholarly articles from China in the 1970s demonstrates that one prominent scientist wrote the majority of information regarding ASAT systems.[4]

In 1980, Program 640 was abandoned. The projects under Program 640 were not publicized until 1986, when Program 863 was introduced as the PRC's newest technological research and development program.[2] Program 863 has since been closely tied to the operations of the General Armaments Department's Project 921 and COSTIND (now known as SASTIND) of the People's Liberation Army.


Three kinds of ASAT systems have been under development and/or active tests by the PRC. The systems are not acknowledged by the PRC as being strictly ASAT, but they are capable of destroying or disabling a satellite.

Direct Fire Systems

A Direct Fire System refers to the instrumentalities required for a land or vehicle based missile to strike a satellite. A Direct Fire System is a kinetic kill system designed to physically destroy or damage a satellite, instead of electronically disrupting its orbit or mission. The PRC demonstrated its ability to launch a land-based kinetic kill vehicle into a satellite when it fired a SC-19 missile into an aging Fengyun series satellite and destroyed it on January 11, 2007. No known tests of a vehicle-based Direct Fire System have occurred, but it has been reported that the new Jin-class submarine will have the ability to launch the SC-19 or a similar type of missile.[5]

Directed Energy Weapons

A Directed Energy Weapon is a high powered laser or microwave weapon designed to either disrupt or electrically damage a satellite. It is not yet considered a kinetic kill system because Directed Energy Weapons cannot physically destroy a satellite. These weapons are part of the PRC's New Concept Weapons program.[6] One Directed Energy Weapon, a high powered laser, has been under development since 1995 and was tested on orbiting US satellites in 2006.[7]


A Micro-satellite is defined as any object orbiting the earth that has a mass greater than 10 kg and less than 500 kg.[8] This includes man made satellites and natural satellites, like debris. While man made micro-satellites are primarily peaceful, they are easily weaponized. Because of a satellite’s high relative velocity to another satellite, any collision would destroy both satellites, and micro-satellites have the advantage of being cheaper, more maneuverable and harder to track. In 2001, a Chinese newspaper stated that the PRC was testing a parasitic micro-satellite that could latch onto another satellite and destroy it on command.[9] While no evidence has been found to demonstrate the development of such a parasite system, in 2008 the BX-1 micro-satellite released by the PRC passed dangerously close to the International Space Station at a relative speed which would have destroyed both objects had they collided.[10] This close call raised awareness of the PRC's ability to use micro-satellites as a kinetic kill ASAT system.

Associated Government Organizations and Personnel

General Armaments Department

The General Armaments Department (GAD) of the PRC, established in 1998, has three major responsibilities. The first is to develop, maintain, and distribute all weapon systems in the PLA. The second is to manage the nation’s nuclear program. The third is to oversee all space programs. The GAD has authority over all weapons development programs, including ASAT weapons. It also is responsible for space related activities, such as Project 921 (the manned spaceflight program) and the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre.[11] Every ASAT program developed by the PRC must be developed and tested by the GAD. The GAD also includes the development branch of SASTIND, and oversees the operations of Program 863.

Chen Bingde

General Chen Bingde was the Director of the GAD in 2007 during the first successful test of the Chinese Direct Fire ASAT System. Being the head of all of the PRC's military involvement in space, Bingde would have overseen the development of the SC-19 and authorized its deployment on January 11, 2007. Shortly after the system’s success, Bingde was promoted to Chief of the General Staff.[12]

Chang Wanquan

General Chang Wanquan was promoted to the position of Director of the GAD after General Chen Bingde accepted the position of Chief of the General Staff. Wanquan has been in charge of development and tests of the PRC's ASAT since mid 2007.[13]


The State Administration for Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense (SASTIND, formerly known as COSTIND) is the scientific branch of the PRC's military and was absorbed into the GAD when it was formed in 1998.[11] The institution has changed over the years, and continues to change, but there are five major responsibilities within their jurisdiction.

  • To provide policy recommendations on anything regarding science, technology, and industry for national defense.
  • To organize the structure of the science, technology, and industry community in regards to national defense.
  • To research and develop new technologies for national defense.
  • To manage the safety regulations, quality standards, technical reports, and promotion of all national defense projects in the area of science, technology, and industry.
  • To deal with foreign interactions in the realms of science, technology, and industry.[14]

Since ASAT technology is considered a tool of national defense, SASTIND is responsible for the development of ASAT programs, and all matters regarding policy recommendations, safety regulations, organization and the projects’ global images.

Zhang Yunchuan

Zhang Yunchuan was director of SASTIND from 2003-2007. He received his degree from Harbin Military Engineering Institute, and spent most of his political career as a governor. Shortly after the successful ASAT test in 2007 he was promoted to Chairmen of the People Provisional Congress.[15]

Zhang Qingwei

Zhang Qingwei followed Yunchuan as director of SASTIND from 2007-2009. He received a masters degree in Engineering and has spent most of his career working on the manned space flight program.[16]

Chen Qiufa

Chen Qiufa replaced Qingwei as director of SASTIND in 2009. He has served in a leadership role at SASTIND since the first Direct Fire ASAT test in 2005, and he was also promoted in 2007 after the successful SC-19 test.[17]


All operations listed here have either been acknowledged by the PRC, or reported by a foreign government.

2006 – Directed Energy

In 2006, the United States government reported that the PRC had marked US observation satellites with a high power laser.[7] No significant damage to the satellites was reported, which indicates that the laser was not aimed at the optical lenses of the satellites. If the laser had been directed at the optical lens of the satellites, then the satellites would have either “gone blind” for a short period of time or lost their sight completely.

Direct Fire incidents

Failed Attempts

There were two failed attempts made by the PRC to use a Direct Fire ASAT weapon. The first was on July 7, 2005 and the missile did not get close to the satellite. The second was on February 6, 2006 and the missile got close enough to the satellite for observers to question whether a near miss was the PRC's intent.[18]

2007 – SC-19

From Main Article: 2007 Chinese anti-satellite missile test

The 2007 Chinese anti-satellite missile test was conducted by China on January 11, 2007. A Chinese weather satellite—the FY-1C polar orbit satellite of the Fengyun series, at an altitude of 865 kilometres (537 mi), with a mass of 750 kg[19]—was destroyed by a kinetic kill vehicle traveling with a speed of 8 km/s in the opposite direction[20] (see Head-on engagement). It was launched with a multistage solid-fuel missile from Xichang Satellite Launch Center or nearby.

Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine first reported the test. The report was confirmed on January 18, 2007 by a United States National Security Council (NSC) spokesman.[21] At first the Chinese government did not publicly confirm whether or not the test had occurred; but on January 23, 2007, the Chinese Foreign Ministry officially confirmed that a test had been conducted.[22] China claims it formally notified the U.S., Japan and other countries about the test in advance.[23] The Chinese claim is consistent with a sharp rise in queries from American sites concerning FY-1C on at least one space-related Web site starting about 24 hours before the actual intercept.[citation needed]

2008 – BX-1

In September 2008, the PRC sent two men into space on the Shenzhou-7. During their time in orbit the astronauts released the BX-1 micro-satellite. Within 4 hours of its release the micro-satellite flew within 27 miles of the International Space Station at a relative speed of 17,000 mph. The International Space Station will move if anything gets within 1,000 miles of its position, and the micro-satellite was well within this range and dangerously close to the Station. A collision between the BX-1 and the Station would have destroyed both objects and been fatal to the astronauts aboard the Station.[10] The BX-1 did not strike the Station, but demonstrated China's ability to develop and deploy a micro-satellite with ASAT capabilities.

2009 – SC-19

On January 11, 2009 the PRC directed another SC-19 missile at a moving target and destroyed it. This time the target was a CSS-X-11 medium-range ballistic missile launched from Shuangchengzi Space and Missile Center. While using the same systems as the January 11, 2007 test, it is not clear what the function of the 2009 test was. This test is considered to be a continuation of the PRC’s ASAT testing because it employed the SC-19 system, but because the target was a missile and not a satellite the test may have been directed towards re-purposing the SC-19 missile as an ABM.[24]


  1. ^ a b Chinese Anti-Satellite ASAT Capabilities and ABM Capability
  2. ^ a b National High-tech R&D Program (863 Program)
  3. ^ China 640 Project decryption: the little-known national missile defense project
  4. ^ Anti-Satellite (ASAT) Technology in Chinese Open-Source Publications
  5. ^ Chinese Submarine Launched ASAT Program
  7. ^ a b Satellite Laser Ranging in China
  8. ^ miniaturized satellite
  10. ^ a b Closer Look: Shenzhou-7’s Close Pass by the International Space Station
  11. ^ a b Sino Defense
  13. ^ Vitae of Chang Wanquan
  14. ^ China's Nuclear Facilities
  15. ^ Vitae of Zhang Yunchuan
  16. ^ Vitae of Zhang Qingwei
  17. ^ Vitae of Chen Qiufa
  18. ^ U.S. Knew of China’s Missile Test, but Kept Silent
  19. ^ Nicholson, Brendon (January 20, 2007). "World fury at satellite destruction". The Age. Archived from the original on 2011-02-22. 
  20. ^ Is China's Satellite Killer a Threat? (Tech Talk) Archived 22 February 2011 at WebCite
  21. ^ BBC News (2007). Concern over China's missile test. Retrieved January 20, 2007. Archived 22 February 2011 at WebCite
  22. ^ "China admits satellite shot down". BBC News. 2007-01-23. Archived from the original on 2011-02-22. Retrieved 2007-01-23. 
  23. ^ "China confirms anti-satellite missile test". London: The Guardian. 2007-01-23. Archived from the original on 2011-02-22.,,1996689,00.html. Retrieved 2007-01-23. 
  24. ^ China Taps Antisatellite Weapon for Missile Defense: Cable

See also

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