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Chinese Lasers Blind US Satelites 739

Posted by kdawson
from the do-not-look-directly-into-laser-beam-with-your-remaining-eye dept.
SniperClops writes, "China has fired high-power lasers at U.S. spy satellites flying over its territory in what experts see as a test of Chinese ability to blind the spacecraft, according to sources." The article mentions the reluctance of the U.S. administration to talk about this "asymmetric" effort by the Chinese military.
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Chinese Lasers Blind US Satelites

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  • So that idea about.. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by clickclickdrone (964164) on Thursday September 28, 2006 @07:19AM (#16227077)
    grounding all the Blackbirds and relying on Satallites was a really good one.
    To be fair though, I'm guessing there are SR-71 replacements (Aurora?) busy doing a similar job but we just don't know about it yet.
  • by joe 155 (937621) on Thursday September 28, 2006 @07:19AM (#16227087) Journal
    partly I agree, but how far up does China own the space above it? If Mars is over the UK at the moment does the Queen own that too? At what point does it stop belonging to the earth and start belonging to everyone/everything in the universe? What if these satelites were above that point?
  • by Spiked_Three (626260) on Thursday September 28, 2006 @07:24AM (#16227139)
    The SRs didn't stay grounded very long. I lived near dulles airport in VA (newar DC) where they brought one out for the new air and space museum. Less than 6 months later it went back into service.

    BTW, I have been led to believe the Aurora is at least 2 generations old now :) Maybe about 3 more generations and it will be declassified like the blackbirds.
  • by vtcodger (957785) on Thursday September 28, 2006 @07:34AM (#16227235)
    It's not too widely known, but the Russians apparently did something similar to a US IR detecting Early Warning sattelite several decades ago. That one got about a paragraph on page A-26 of a few large newspapers.

    The big deal here is that this is yet another message to the folks who want to spend hundreds of billions on satellite weapons. Put 'em up there, and someone will spend a lot less money to disable them when the need arrises.

    Space based weapons systems are not "siezing the high ground". They are more like climbing a tree with a sack full of rocks. They have some advantages, but overall against a serious opponent, they are a poor and expensive strategy.

  • by mprinkey (1434) on Thursday September 28, 2006 @07:40AM (#16227315)
    ...which are likely left as decoys for the other dozen or so invisible ones...the reconnaissance version of a honeypot. The US has had stealth technology for a long time...aerodynamics is what took so long to build the F117. Since aerodynamics doesn't matter in space, I think it is likely that the satellites put up in the 70s where probably stealthy. Highly directional, bursty, spread spectrum downlinks would make it very difficult to detect. Again, that's 70s-era technology.

    The $500 billion dollar annual defense budget is being spent somewhere. I would hope some of it was put into spy satellites that are awful easy to overlook.
  • BFD (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SengirV (203400) on Thursday September 28, 2006 @07:46AM (#16227395)
    I know this will turn into an anti-American thread, but what is the big deal? This was a dance the US and USSR carried on for decades. If anything, it will now force the US scientists back to the drawn table to come up with a different solution to accomplish the same thing.

    If anything, your reaction to this story should tell you where you stand with respect to the US.

    More power to China, I know this will force the US to improve/upgrade it's space efforts. And that, to me, is a good thing.
  • A solvable problem? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 28, 2006 @08:04AM (#16227641)
    Filters. Laser beams, as all geeks know, shine at a particular and very narrow frequency. Yes, "tunable dye lasers" can shift frequency across a range, but they don't have the power ratings of a CO2 laser. So suitably filter-equipped spy satellites should be able to cope.
  • by hey! (33014) on Thursday September 28, 2006 @08:14AM (#16227787) Homepage Journal
    Well, by that logic, sovereignty extends in an ever expanding projection to the end of the universe, sweeping various astronomical objects into and out of the soveriegn control of nations. Sometimes our national boundaries cross the face of Neptune at greater than the speed of light, since at a bit more than 4 billion km, that's the speed those boundaries are "moving".

    Setting aside absurd fantasies, lets ask this: how far should national bounaries extend into space, or into the core of the Earth? After all, sovereignty doesn't even extend to the middle of the ocean. Strictly speaking, it only goes out 12 nautical miles. There's an exclusive economic zone that extends out 200 nm, but it's not sovereign territory. You can't declare part of the EEZ off limits to navigation and sink ships travelling through it.

    Space, by convention, starts at 100km above sea level, or 53 nautical miles -- four times more distant than the territorial claims over navigable waters. The 100km mark is somewhat imprecise, but roughly it can be used to divide modes of travel between aeronautical and actual space travel. Does this distincction bear on claims on national sovereignty?

    I think it does, and I think I can justify this.

    The standards of national sovereignty over territorial waters are set on pragmatic grounds. Clearly, a sovereign nation needs to exercise some control over its adjacent seas. On the other hand, allowing it to own out to the middle of the ocean presents such problems for both air and sea navigation that normal commerce between nations becomes impractical.

    In a way, we can see a form of what Robert Nozick calls the "Lockean Proviso" at work here. John Locke was interested in this question: if there is private property, where does it come from? He thought that this came from mixing your labor with a resource which is shared by everybody. This was a necessary condition, but is it sufficient? The answre is yes, but with a proviso: you must leave "as much or better" for everyone else. Imaging a village with a common. On the common is a well. Anybody is free to pick up rocks from the common and take them home to build walls; the rocks become their property because they mix their labor with it, and there are still plenty of rocks left. Now suppose somebody takes those rocks, and builds a nice wall and roof over the common well. He has mixed his labor with the well, so can he claim it as his property? The answer is no, because there aren't any other wells in the village.

    In other words, you can claim jurisdiction over a thing so long as it does not place an undue burden on the community. While the proviso does not fit the territoriality issue exactly, I believe this underlying principle applies. A nation can claim jurisdiction over territrial waters because it does not hinder the rest of humanity unduly.

    The division of the area over nations into aeronautical and astronautical space is highly relevant. In aeronautical navigation, friction and the physics of fluid flow are the dominant factors. In order to fly, you must continually expend energy; your movement is governed by the interaction with the fluid over your control surfaces. In other words it takes effort to fly into somebody's air space. Incursion into air space is not something another nation has to make an effort to avoid while using the air space over their own territories, on the contrary. It's hard to do and easy to avoid in aeronautical navigation. So no other nations are hindered in the use of their own air space by your claiming your air space, satisfying the Lockean proviso.

    In astronautical navigation, inertia is the dominant factor. It is possible to make slight adjustments to your flight path, but large ones take impractical amounts of energy and reaction mass. Unless you are stationing a satellite in geosynchronous orbit (which may be an exception under this reasoning), you pretty much have to fly over the entire Earth's surface. To claim terri
  • by cyberon22 (456844) on Thursday September 28, 2006 @08:39AM (#16228179)
    People were saying the same things about India and Pakistan before those countries both aquired nuclear weapons. And about the Soviet Union and China before that.

    The last thing one wants is to have nuclear weapons in the possession of unstable regimes either unable to control the devices or demonstratively irrational. But do either North Korea or Iran really meet those conditions? I personally don't think so. It is also somewhat understandable why these states are intersted in possessing them given the sort of armchair militarism that passes for IR analysis in much Western punditry.

    The invasion of Iraq was a huge disaster, if only for destroying the credibility of international organizations like the United Nations as a restraint on the unilateral militarism of its members. The proliferation of nuclear weapons through the Middle East may be the only thing capable of stabilizing the region at this point.

    This isn't an easy case to argue either way.
  • by Zygote-IC- (512412) on Thursday September 28, 2006 @08:48AM (#16228321) Homepage
    If I swing at your face, and hit you hard enough to swell your eye shut, is that an attack?
    After all, I'm just disabling your eye -- temporarily at that.

    I'm pretty sure the authorities would disagree with me when they hauled me off to the pokey as I screamed, "It wasn't an attack! I was just disabling him, or perhaps blinding would be more fitting!"
  • by aplusjimages (939458) on Thursday September 28, 2006 @09:02AM (#16228561) Journal
    No a better analogy would be if you shined a laser in my eye. You don't ever physically touch me. Punching me is attacking. Shining a light in my isn't.

    What if I was looking through your bedroom window from a public sidewalk as you and your boyfriend made sweet love. Then to prevent me from seeing this lovefest you shined a laser in my eye.

    Now if China shot a rocket into space and blew up the satilite or damaged it, then that's an attack. Otherwise you could call what the US is doing to China an attack.
  • by Foobar of Borg (690622) on Thursday September 28, 2006 @09:15AM (#16228799)
    Yeah, we call it "the Bible belt."

    Remember, these people sincerely beleive that 2/3 of the world's population is going to burn in hell for all eternity.

    Oh, much more than that. They not only think all non-Christians are going to Hell, they think most other Christians are going to Hell (since they are not *real* Christians, i.e. Southern Baptists or similarly kookky people). Try being a Catholic, or even an Episcopalian, in the Deep South. They'll even ask you point blank "Why do you want to go to Hell?" And, while they've heard of Jews and Buddhists (well, about 20 years ago they hadn't even *heard* of Buddhists), they think of them more as some far off, mythical creatures, like unicorns. Hell, some of them still think they can start up the Civil War again, what with all their Confederate States t-shirts and hanging of Confederate flags out of their windows and on their cars (I still see this when visiting relatives).

    Having had the misfortune of growing up in the old Confederacy, it scares the hell out of me to see all the Pat Robertson worshipping freaks running things. Perhaps we should politely ask them to secede again :-).

  • by norman619 (947520) on Thursday September 28, 2006 @09:26AM (#16228993)
    hmmm... did you forget the "Convert or die" thing? First, Iran's president is not the leader of Iran. That honor is held by the supreme leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei. The Iranian president has not power at all. What the Ayatollah says goes. Period. Second, Iran has made threats that we need to take seriously. A nation that calls for the irradication of Israel is not one we should be allowing to have nuclear weps at all. Third, we are talking about a radical theocracy. Again the whole "Convert or die" thing comes to mind.... Plenty of nations don't like us. But we know they will not think of launching a nuke our way because that would mean their own destruction. That whole MAD thing. It has kept the world fairly safe from a nuclear war for decades. Now we are talking about a nation who's goverend by religion. A religion in which it is an honor to die killing the infidel. So they wouldn't care very much that a nuclear strike on any nation would mean their own swift destruction. THIS is the problem the western world and some Islamic nations have with Iran haveing the ability to make nuclear arms. The world is much too complicated to use the "If we can have they should too" reasoning. No matter what you have been taught, what's good for the Goose is not always good for the Gander.
  • by operagost (62405) on Thursday September 28, 2006 @09:44AM (#16229367) Homepage Journal

    Rosie O'Donnell, is that you?

    Next time a Christian blows himself up in a shopping mall to "send us to hell," let me know.

    What's crazier: thinking that 2/3 of the population is unsaved (by the way, no Christian actually claims to know who's unsaved so your 2/3 figure is bogus); or thinking that the universe is made of strings, the 70% of the mass we can't account for must be "dark matter" rather than a flawed model, or that all matter is made of tiny particles called quarks? And we give them cute names like top, bottom, strange, charm, up, and down. In both cases, we're relying on others to relay us second-hand information.

    By the way, I believe in both redemption and science, because I have no reason not to.
  • by Pontiac (135778) on Thursday September 28, 2006 @09:48AM (#16229439) Homepage
    We have been hitting mirrors left on the moon by apollo astronauts since 1969.
    http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/science/2006071 3-9999-lz1c13laser.html [signonsandiego.com]

    http://sunearth.gsfc.nasa.gov/eclipse/SEhelp/Apoll oLaser.html [nasa.gov]

    Thats 239,000 miles hitting an 18 inch square target.
  • by arthurpaliden (939626) on Thursday September 28, 2006 @09:59AM (#16229625)
    If the lens is not open then they cannot hit the camera. Only open the lense to take a picture. The shutter need not even be mechanical it can be electrical. Not even the Chinese can muster enough power to keep a laser active and on a target for as long as the target is in their 'air space'. "Nothing to see here".
  • Hype indeed... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Savage-Rabbit (308260) on Thursday September 28, 2006 @10:15AM (#16229953)
    The blurb says that they did blind the US satellite, whereas the article says they merely attempted to and that "It remains unclear how many times the ground-based laser was tested against U.S. spacecraft or whether it was successful." Good old hype.

    A lot of modern western military tactical thinking revolves around spy satellites, communication satellites, navigation satellites, UAVs (most of them remote controlled or semi autonomous at best) as well as battlefield information exchange and coordination networks (basically tanks, planes and ships connected by a kind of WIFI-on-steroids). Since the Americans gutted their network of human intelligence assets in favor of satellites and ELINT in general over the last few decades they must be pretty worried by this even if this Chinese effort only targets one segment of their information gathering and command apparatus. Keep in mind that US satellites have previously been more or less unassailable to anything except perhaps hacker attacks on their command and control links. People keep citing conflicts like the Iraq war as an example of how a modern war is fought but in reality the US forces (and NATO forces in general for that matter) have never gone up against an equally strong, technologically advanced, worthy enemy. The most resourceful and tech savvy enemy they have come across so far in a real honest to goodness shooting war were the Serbs who performed an improvised re-organization of their mostly obsolescent air defenses and communications system thus creating a a new distributed system. The various system elements were highly mobile, often interconnected over the telephone infrastructure which precluded jamming and also made locating the system elements by their radio traffic harder and the Serbs also used a massive amount of decoys. All of this combined to cause US and Nato forces major problems when it came to locating and taking out military assets or suppressing the Serb air defenses. One is tempted to theorize that if western forces ever come up against an enemy that fields top of the line air, naval and ground assets and into the bargain engages in electronic warfare in a big way i.e. jams battlefield networks, UAV remote control links, GPS, Communications, Radar etc in a big way in addition to blinding their spy satellites and even shooting them down the US/NATO military will be in trouble.
  • by khallow (566160) on Thursday September 28, 2006 @10:37AM (#16230343)

    There is considerable merit to this argument. I think however that using nukes is different than using hundreds of kilotons in an urban area. The proposed US tactics would employ nukes in the range of several kilotons explicitly for the purpose of taking out targets hardened against conventional attack. I gather that it is claimed or perhaps suspected that the US doesn't have conventional weapons capable of taking out some of the tougher Iranian targets. It is highly doubtful that Iran or North Korea would have such capability for decades, if ever. So while using tactical nukes will lower the inhibitions to using nukes, it's not deliberate targeting of civilian areas with weapons capable of killing tens of thousands or more. Which would be more in line with the capabilities that these countries are trying to acquire.

    And the US would might use nukes if a large enough terrorist attack were to occur in the US. Such an attack frankly to me seems rather likely over the long term. There's just too much to gain from say nuking Manhattan. Someone will do it sooner or later.

  • by Yvanhoe (564877) on Thursday September 28, 2006 @10:40AM (#16230405) Journal
    So, what about listening to messages transmitted in China from a listening post in the US? Are you saying that we have to not listen? Or do they have the right to bomb us if we listen?

    While a common practice, spying of another country is a gray zone. A caught spy is usually condemned by the spyied country unless he/she has a diplomatic status.

    International law (you know, the thing that applies to the US but no one else) says that a nation owns only 100 miles up, and beyond that they can lay no claims. So, if this is to be believed, a the Chinese military just attacked the US military while the US military was in international waters. That is an act of war. If the US acknowleges it, we have to acknowlege it as an act of war.

    The same treaty makes space a military-free zone. So tell me, what was a US milmitary item doing in orbit ?
    I don't like the chinese govt and such news give me a cold feeling in the back but I would consider that, regarding current laws and treaties, it is only fair game. They treat the spy satelite more gently than a spy : they didn't destroyed, didn't ask for it to be removed, they just blinded it temporarily.
  • Re:Hype indeed... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 28, 2006 @10:56AM (#16230727)
    As a Serb, I must tell You that You are giving our forces too much credit. They managed to survive, that is true, but when the bombing shifted to strategic targets, there was not much they could do about it (without blowing their covers). If the war continued they could had been a nuisance to NATO, but best they could do in the end would had been to put a high price on our skin. The surrender ("truce") came when, allegedly, Ahtisaari, accompanied with Chernomirdin delivered the message that in next phase there will be a carpet bombing of settlements (targeting the Serb civilians). Of course, (almost) none would ever know about it or, if they did, believe in it, or if they did, even think it was wrong (on the similar basis as 1945 A-bomb defense argument). Well, some things you can hide, but you can't hide just everything!

    Contrary to what You said, Iraq was always much better equipped then Serbia, or any Yugoslavia for that matter, both in weapons' numbers as well as their generations. Saddam's Iraq is probably the top tech western oponent in real combat so far and probably (as well as hopefully... any higher up the ladder and we'll see nuclear warfare) for quite some time in the future.

    The morale of this is that a weapon system doesn't have to work perfectly or even with 50% efficiency. Military commanders don't expect it to, nor they place their bets on that. They just operate with chances and statistics. Of course, the forces on the ground have much more dependence on their gear, but they tend to glorify it more then it deserve anyway. Without optimism, you are a dead meat in advance.
  • by cananian (73735) on Thursday September 28, 2006 @11:07AM (#16230951) Homepage
    This is elementary spy stuff. You want to do something the US won't like. So try out your laser on the satellite to conceal yourself while doing it. There will be some bluffing involved, but over time it will become clear whether the laser works: either because it is actually effective, or because the US so wants you to believe so that it will let you get away with anything you do while the laser is turned on. Either way, it allows you to do things you otherwise wouldn't.
  • by Lehk228 (705449) on Thursday September 28, 2006 @11:41AM (#16231629) Journal
    the invasion of iraq has removed Iran's natural enemy, and the emerging dominant group in Iraq is friendly to Iran.

    time will show The Shrub's War to be an unmitigated disaster.
  • Play misty for me (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Maximum Prophet (716608) on Thursday September 28, 2006 @12:12PM (#16232275)
    Pentagon officials, however, have kept quiet regarding China's efforts as part of a Bush administration policy to keep from angering Beijing,...
    Yeah, right. Spies keep quiet, because well, spies keep quiet. No matter what you say, you let the other side know something about the specifications of your hardware. These satellites are designed to survive nearby nuclear blasts or accidentally being pointed at the Sun. I imagine that the most any ground based laser would do is cause it to momentarily shutdown, then reactivate once the big light has gone away. Now, if the Chinese were to blast it with another satellite based laser, they could poke holes in the thing, *that* would be a problem.

    I'm sure the Chinese government realizes that spy satellites that you know about are a stablizing influence. Things, like nukes, are destablizing. Bring on the satellites. (as per Arthur C. Clarke)
  • by majortom1981 (949402) on Thursday September 28, 2006 @12:12PM (#16232283)
    Wouldn't you see a lazer beam being shot into space at asatelite. Especially one stron enough to blind or damage one in space? i would think that other U.S. satelites would see it wouldnt they ?
  • Re:Hype indeed... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 28, 2006 @12:25PM (#16232551)
    As a Serb, I must tell You that You are giving our forces too much credit. They managed to survive, that is true, but when the bombing shifted to strategic targets, there was not much they could do about it (without blowing their covers).

    Perhaps I gave that impression but I didn't intend to. I recently read an article in a publication on military theory that dealt with the air raids following the Kosovo conflict and what emerging trends it had revealed. What this article basically said was that given the limited resources and the obsolescent state of the Serb forces it was quite impressive what they achieved even if the Serbs never came close to winning. After the Kosovo war NATO was really unpleasantly surprised at the fact that analysis revealed they had destroyed a lot less of the Serb forces than they thought they had. An awful lot of civilian infrastructure was completely wrecked, that is true but a lot of the Serb military survived when Nato was convinced they had crippled it. The point is that if the Serbs, unlike Saddam's forces during the 1st Gulf War, could conserve so much of their forces under fire what could a country like China with proper resources and modern technology achieve? The whole "Shock and awe" concept (Ullman claims it wasn't impemented properly in Iraq during GW1)of blinding the enemy by taking out his communications and sensor systems with massive precision air raids and then flattening his disoriented and fragmented forces is slowly coming apart because future defensive and communications systems will be highly adaptable distributed systems in a constant state of flux which makes it practically impossible to destroy them completely. You will be able to cause big damage to the civilian infrastructure but not the military. Serbia did it's part to demonstrate this in practice. You can see the same thing if you examine the recent Israeli air operations against Hezbollah in S-Lebanon. The Israeli air raids took out a whole heap of civilian infrastructure including hundreds of bridges and large segments of the electrical grid but that did surprisingly little to stop or even slow down Hezbolla's military forces, even when it came to Hezbollah's ability to operate heavy equipment like rocket-launcher trucks. In Israel this has led to some bitter recriminations against the military.

Waste not, get your budget cut next year.

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