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Old 05-01-2011, 05:24 PM
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Read West alert on China anti-satellite missiles

Updated at: 1134 PST, Wednesday, January 05, 2011
BEIJING: Australian and United States intelligence agencies believe a Chinese anti-ballistic missile test last January has marked a significant advance in the development of an anti-satellite capability directed against United States and other Western space capabilities.

The secret assessment of China's increasingly sophisticated missile capabilities has revealed the very close relationship between US and Australian intelligence agencies monitoring Chinese military and space activity.

Leaked US embassy cables detail how the State Department on January 9 instructed embassies in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom to forewarn their host governments that US intelligence anticipated China would shortly conduct an intercept flight test using an SC-19 missile to destroy a medium-range ballistic missile launched from a separate site within China.

An SC-19 missile had previously been used in China's controversial anti-satellite test on January 11, 2007, destroying a Chinese weather satellite and generating clouds of hazardous space debris.

According to the cables, provided exclusively to The Age by WikiLeaks, the US embassies were asked to ensure that "all necessary officials in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and New Zealand have timely and complete information regarding China's activities''.

"The need for such close coordination was underscored in the aftermath of China's first successful [satellite intercept test],'' the State Department advised.

"Although UK analysts had provided key contributions to monitoring this program, UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Cabinet Office officials said they had been 'personally unaware' that China had been developing an [anti-satellite system] until they were informed by Embassy London on January 14, 2007, three days after China's flight-test.''

In order to protect "sensitive intelligence 'sources and methods,' as well as enable intelligence collection on the event, the United States decided not to raise the issue with Beijing prior to the expected flight-test.

The US embassy in Canberra reported on January 11 that Deputy National Security Adviser Angus Campbell had advised that prime minister Kevin Rudd was "concerned and following the issue closely''.

The US embassy also briefed the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and the director of the top secret Defence Signals Directorate Ian McKenzie who was overseeing defence intelligence in the absence of Defence Deputy Secretary Steve Merchant who was on leave.

According to Cameron Archer, the head of DFAT's Defence and Strategic Policy section, "DFAT and the Australian intelligence community have been closely monitoring the developments at Chinese flight centres.''

The US Embassy reported that "Archer said that the GOA's (government of Australia's) diplomatic response to a flight test would depend on the actual events - a direct ascent anti-satellite test would be of extreme concern, but an anti-ballistic missile test conducted within Chinese airspace would mean that Australia's approach to China would likely focus more on transparency and advance notice for ABM tests.''

Mr McKenzie told the Embassy that the Australian government would be "keeping a close eye on developments, and agreed to pass the information… to colleagues in the intelligence community.''

China conducted a successful ballistic missile intercept test on January 11 with the SC-19 missile intercepting its target. The State Department quickly notified the embassy in Canberra that "US missile warning satellites detected each missile's powered flight as well as the intercept, which occurred a … at an altitude of approximately 250 kilometres. No debris from this test remains on-orbit.''

The US intelligence community assessed to test "to have furthered both Chinese ASAT and ballistic missile defense (BMD) technologies.''

"Due to the sensitivity of the intelligence that would have to be disclosed to substantiate the US assessment, the US Government in its demarche to the PRC Government will not associate the January 2010 SC-19 intercept flight-test with past SC-19 [anti-satellite] flight-tests.''

The US embassy briefed National Security Advisor Duncan Lewis on the test on January 12.

After the meeting, the embassy reported "Lewis thanked us for the technical detail on the test itself and agreed that it indicated a major 'next step' towards development of a functioning and effective anti-satellite capability.''

Lewis said he would brief prime minister Kevin Rudd and other senior ministers, and suggested that there would be no problem in calling in Chinese ambassador Zhang Junsai and asking Beijing "to better understand the motives for the test.''

The results of any Australian inquiries are not recorded in the leaked US cables. However a cable from the US embassy in Beijing reported to Washington that Chinese officials were insistent that the test was ''defensive in nature, not targeted at any specific country,'' and ''consistent with China's national defense policy.''
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