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The Limits of Chinese Anti-Satellite Capabilities and the Resilience of U.S. Space Power

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This brief is drawn in part from research done as part of the author's dissertation,"Debating Space Security: Capabilities and Vulnerabilities."

The U.S. military exploits space capabilities better than any other nation, resulting in an asymmetric advantage to its armed forces on a global scale. Given this advantage, several analysts posit that China might find it prudent to directly attack U.S. satellites—executing a space “pearl harbor” that would cripple U.S. military capabilities for years. Without its eyes and ears in space to provide early warning and real-time intelligence, they argue, the U.S. would be in a painfully awkward situation should China put direct military pressure on Taiwan. However, the argument that U.S. armed forces are vulnerable to disruption from Chinese attacks rests on untested assumptions—primarily that China would find attacking U.S. military satellites both operationally feasible and ultimately desirable. This policy brief challenges those assumptions by critically examining the difficulties involved in executing a direct attack and the limited potential benefits such an action would yield for China. It then provides policy recommendations for the U.S. decision makers to pursue that would dissuade China from pursuing an anti-satellite capability.

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