china space weapons cyberattack satellites
Leaked congressional report reveals fears of so-called counterspace weapons targetting US satellitesUS Air Force

Details of China's space-weapons program have been revealed in a draft of a forthcoming congressional report. It is predicted that China could use a combination of counterspace weapons to take out US satellites and space infrastructure, ranging from missile-loaded satellites to cyberattacks.

The documents, obtained by The Washington Times, are set to be published next month by the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission and allege that Chinese hackers were most likely behind a string of cyber attacks against US space assets in September 2014.

What countries are developing anti-satellite weapons?

Countries believed to be working on anti-satellite technology include the US, Russia, China, India and Israel.

"China is pursuing a broad and robust array of counterspace capabilities, which includes direct-ascent anti-satellite missiles, co-orbital anti-satellite systems, computer network operations, ground-based satellite jammers and directed energy weapons," the late draft of the commission's report states. "China's nuclear arsenal also provides an inherent anti-satellite capability."

One of the most intriguing space-based weapons thought to be under development is co-orbital anti-satellite weapons. These consist of satellites loaded with weapons that can crashed into target satellites, or even grab onto them with a robotic arm. Simulations of such attacks have already taken place, according to the report, when a Chinese imaging satellite passed within 28 miles of the International Space Station.

The reports authors also fear that cyber attacks directed at satellites could be devastating for both US military operations, as well as national infrastructure. By hacking into the microwave signals emitted by satellites, China could potentially take control of US computer networks.

"If executed successfully, such attacks could significantly threaten US information superiority, particularly if they are conducted against satellites with sensitive military and intelligence functions," the report states. "For example, access to satellite's controls could allow an attacker to damage or destroy the satellite; deny, degrade, or manipulate its transmissions; or access its capabilities or the information, such as imagery, that can be gained through its sensors."

China's production of anti-satellite weapons has thought to increased in recent years, largely as a response to the US's own endeavours to increase their military presence in space. Earlier this year, the Xinhua news agency reported that China's president Xi Jinping told the military to increase its space defence capabilities.

At the time, the deputy editor-in-chief of Aerospace Knowledge magazine in Beijing, Wang Ya'nan, said: "The United States has paid considerable attention and resources to the integration of capabilities in both air and space, and other powers have also moved progressively toward space militarisation. Though China has stated that it sticks to the peaceful use of space, we must make sure that we have the ability to cope with others' operations in space."