The land of the dragon has been significantly advanced in terms of innovation and creating self-sustaining technologies of civic and military importance. Leading nations of the West still need to understand the advancements the dragon land has made in technologies and what potential threats it poses on an international level.
Int on Dragon Land
According to a leaked US intelligence study, China is developing powerful cyber weapons to “seize control” of adversary satellites and render them worthless for data communications or surveillance during combat.
According to the US, China’s effort to build up the capacity to “deny, exploit, or hijack” hostile satellites is critical to controlling information, which Beijing views as a crucial “war-fighting domain.”
The CIA-marked document, one of hundreds purportedly given by a 21-year-old US Air Guardsman in the most influential American intelligence leaks in over a decade, was released this year and has yet to be disclosed before.
This kind of cyber capabilities would be significantly superior to what Russia has used in Ukraine, where electronic warfare troops have used a brute-force strategy to little avail.
How were the capabilities discovered?
According to a top-secret US dossier, China could use its cyber capabilities to “take control of a satellite, making it inoperable for support of communications, weapons, or intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance systems.” The US has never acknowledged having a comparable or superior capability.
By broadcasting related frequencies from truck-mounted jamming systems like the Tirada-2, these attacks were first developed in the 1980s to block communications between low-orbit SpaceX satellites and their on-ground terminals. China’s more ambitious cyberattacks are designed to imitate the signals that adversary satellites’ operators send out, tricking them into malfunctioning or being entirely taken over at critical points in a battle.
Implications of such military capabilities
The south Chinese island nation of Taiwan is attempting to develop a communications infrastructure that can withstand an attack from China after observing how crucial satellite communications have been to the Ukrainian military.
According to a January 2023 article in the Financial Times, it is seeking investors to launch its own satellite provider while testing with 700 non-geostationary satellite receivers around Taiwan to ensure bandwidth in the case of conflict or natural calamities. Similarly, a Russian cyber strike rendered thousands of Ukrainian military routers from US-based Viasat inoperable in the hours before it launched its invasion last year, demonstrating how important satellite communications have become in contemporary wartime. This attack was deemed to be catastrophic by the Ukraine officials as it broke down the communication between the Ukraine army and the govt.
Additionally, several hundred wind turbines in Germany, Poland, and Italy were impacted, which cut off service to thousands of Viasat users in those countries. Even though it was complex, the Viasat hack required accessing the business’ computer systems and then sending commands to the modems that made them break.
How significant is the threat?
According to the leaked assessment, China’s objectives are much more sophisticated and focused towards the future. According to analysts, they would aim to disable satellites’ ability to interact with one another, relay signals and orders to weapons systems, or give back visual and intercepted electronic data. Satellites often work in interconnected clusters and remain unmanned, thus preventing the scope of proper surveillance. Officials from the US military have warned that China has made substantial advancements in creating military space technologies, particularly satellite communications. Beijing is vigorously pursuing counter-space capabilities in an effort to realise its “space dream” of being the dominant force outside of the Earth’s atmosphere by 2045.
Threat to India?
As China aggressively invests in technology meant to disrupt, degrade, and destroy our space capabilities, a potential threat remains on the Indian satellites and spaceships. The complexity of the communication network and extended distance from the Earth can point towards a high number of vulnerabilities for the Indian Space program. Still, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has been working tirelessly, and as of 1st January 2022, India has 21 operational satellites in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and 28 operational satellites in Geostationary Orbit. In 2021, ISRO launched one PSLV-DL variant (PSLV-C51) mission and one GSLV-MkII variant (GSLV-F10) mission. GSLV-F10 could not accomplish the mission successfully. In 2021, India placed five satellites and 1 PSLV rocket body (PS4 stage) in Low Earth Orbits. India placed 65 rocket bodies in orbit from the first launch, of which 42 are still in orbit around the Earth, and 23 have re-entered and burnt up in the Earth’s atmosphere. The break-up event of the 4th stage of PSLV-C3 in 2001 generated 386 debris, of which 76 are still in orbit.
The space race is the new cold war, all nations are working towards securing their space assets while exploring new elements in outer space. It is pertinent that the national interest in space is protected, and a long awaiting space treaty for the modern age needs to be ratified by all nations with a presence in space. The future of space exploration is bright for most nations, but the threats should be eradicated, and an all-inclusive space should be promoted to maintain harmony in space.
Author : Mr. Abhishek Singh, Lead – Policy and Advocacy, CyberPeace