I’ve seen reports that China had three unsuccessful or non-intercept tests before the January 11th shootdown of FY-1C:
MCINTYRE: According to U.S. government officials, after three misses, China last Thursday succeed in shooting down one of its own aging weather satellites with a medium range ballistic missile fired from the ground. U.S. [s]ensors tracked the satellite as it disappeared from its polar orbit 537 miles above the Earth and was reduced to hundreds of pieces of space debris after impact with a kill vehicle carried by the missile.
(I recall reading another description that suggested previous attempts might not have been non-intercept tests rather than misses, but I can’t seem to find that right now.)
Anyway, NORAD’s interest in FY-1C spiked three times in the past 18 months, suggesting launches on November 30, 2006, April 20, 2006 and October 26, 2005.
I mention this because National Security Adviser Steve Hadley said something peculiar in an interview with the New York Times. He suggesting that the most senior leaders in China might not have been aware of the testing:
In an interview late Friday, Stephen J. Hadley, President Bush’s national security adviser, raised the possibility that China’s leaders might not have fully known what their military was doing.
‘’The question on something like this is, at what level in the Chinese government are people witting, and have they approved?’’ Mr. Hadley asked. He suggested that the diplomatic protests were intended, in part, to force Mr. Hu to give some clue about China’s intentions.
‘’It will ensure that the issue will now get ventilated at the highest levels in China,’’ he said, ‘’and it will be interesting to see how it comes out.’’
Well, that’s all and good, demarching them now to produce high-level intervention. But—if Hadley thinks the PLA was out ahead of the senior leadership—shouldn’t we have called Hu’s attention to this before the successful test?
Or, maybe, if we were so interested in getting this issue “ventilated” at the highest levels, we could have offered the Chinese a code of conduct that prohibited debris creating ASAT tests in Geneva, or agreed to issue a no first deployment of weapons in outer space pledge as the Russians did.
I have my doubts about whether this really came as a surprise to the central leadership, but then Hadley is the frickin’ National Security Adviser.
Oh, I was being somewhat elliptical when I referred to the Russian proposal not to be the first to deploy “space weapons” (a term that I loathe). The operative part—to “ventilate” ASAT policy issues among the senior Chinese leadership—would have been a moratorium on, obviously, ASATs … something the inelegant Russian definition clearly includes. A better formulation might be along the Richard Garwin’s “not to be the first to test or deploy space weapons or to further test destructive anti-satellite weapons.”