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Report: Iran targets U.S. military satellites with lasers, China with missiles

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Paul Bedard,Washington Secrets,The Pentagon,United States,China,Electromagnetic Pulse,Technology,Space

A worrisome new memo from the Council on Foreign Relations indicates that China, without warning, is poised to knock out U.S. satellites, especially those used by the Pentagon.

"The threats to U.S. space assets are significant and growing," said the "contingency planning memo" titled "Dangerous Space Incidents." It also cited Iran, North Korea, space junk and electromagnetic pulse as threats.

Around since 1921 and co-founded by former President Herbert Hoover, the Council on Foreign Relations is a thoughtful group, making its warnings about an attack on U.S. satellites a real concern.

As President Obama visits Asia this week, the memo suggests that he push his diplomatic team to cut deals with China and others to keep low earth orbit where most satellites fly a war-free zone.

The memo said that there are several indications from China, Iran and North Korea about a coming attack. "Warning indicators would suggest that a dangerous space event is forthcoming," said the council memo.

And that includes EMP, possibly from a sun burst, that would zap high-tech machines in space. Concern about EMP has recently reached Washington where the Senate is considering ways to prevent a shutdown of critical electric lines and transformers.

Author Micah Zenko puts China at the top of the threats, revealing that it has conducted “at least six” anti-satellite tests since 2005 without warning. He also said that People's Liberation Army Air Force publications “argue that shooting down U.S. early-warning satellites would be a de-escalatory and stabilizing action in a naval encounter with the United States.”

Iran, meanwhile, “undertakes more purposeful interference” with U.S. satellites using lasers and jammers. “Although these actions have not resulted in irreparable damage to U.S. assets, this practice increases the possibility that the United States will misinterpret unintended harm caused by such interference.”

China’s threat doesn’t have to be premeditated, he added in the memo. He described how China is filling the low earth orbit with space junk with its anti-satellite tests. Just one test, said the memo, boosted the amount of space garbage 40 percent.

How big is the threat? Some 75 percent of global space funding is done by the United States, and 43 percent of all active satellites are U.S. owned.

Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at pbedard@washingtonexaminer.com.