Chinese military engineers have developed a space-based method of overwhelming sophisticated missile-defense systems, according to a local media report. The tactic has yet to be tested in real life, where scientists warn it could lead to unintentional nuclear war.
In a computer simulation, researchers with China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) launched a ballistic missile into space, where it released three small spacecraft high above the Earth’s atmosphere. These spacecraft then sent false signals back to ground-based missile warning radars, spoofing them into thinking that many more missiles were inbound.
The radar stations responded by launching interceptor missiles toward the non-existent warheads.
The research paper was published in the Chinese-language Journal of Electronics and Information Technology earlier this month, the South China Morning Post reported on Monday.
The team of scientists said that they designed their spacecraft to fool multiple radar stations at once, by operating within these sites’ margin of error. The simulation could be easily scaled up to include more spacecraft, they said, which could overwhelm a sophisticated missile defense network and open an adversary up to a follow-up attack with real missiles.
“There are many more details we do not discuss in this paper,” the team wrote.
The breakthrough comes despite Beijing’s repeatedly stated position that it opposes the militarization of space. The Chinese government has accused the US of “stonewalling” a “space arms control initiative” led by China and Russia, and of “further aggravating the trend of turning outer space into a weapon and a battlefield.”
Unlike the US, however, China does not formally designate space as a “war-fighting domain,” and the latest research is unlikely to ever be used against a peer-level adversary such as the US, a space scientist in Beijing told the South China Morning Post.
“This phantom space force is never likely to be put to use against a powerful opponent,” the scientist said, citing the risk of nuclear retaliation as radars show fake warheads raining down. Instead, he claimed, “it will serve as strategic deterrence.”
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