Israeli Officials: China Test Shows Need to Protect Space Assets

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  Space News Business

Israeli Officials: China Test Shows Need to Protect Space Assets

By BARBARA OPALL-ROME
Space News Correspondent
posted: 07 February 2007
04:29 pm ET



HERZLIYA, Israel – Israel’s defense minister and air force chief warned that emerging anti-satellite capabilities in the hands of regional adversaries would require Israel to deploy its own defenses against such threats.

 

The potential proliferation of technologies demonstrated in
China
‘s Jan. 11 anti-satellite test underscores the need for
Israel
to protect its growing satellite fleet, said Defense Minister Amir Peretz and Maj. Gen. Elyezer Shkedy, commander of
Israel
‘s Air and Space Force.

 

“We are well aware of attempts by hostile states, especially by
Iran
, to acquire an independent space launch capability,” Peretz said of
Tehran
‘s plans to convert its Shahab-3 ballistic missile into a satellite launch vehicle.

 

“We’re also aware that … only recently a nation like
China
proved its ability to physically strike orbiting satellites. This capability compels us to prepare for the most difficult scenarios, in the event that, in future, enemy states will be able to harm Israeli space assets,” Peretz said.

 

And while experts here said
China
is unlikely to transfer anti-satellite weapons to
Israel
‘s adversaries, they noted that
Beijing
has been a leading supplier of ballistic missile and related technologies to
Iran
and other regional states. “We’re not concerned about direct Chinese sales of complete [anti-satellite] systems, but their proliferation history over the past decade has shown that if the Iranians are willing to pay, they would be willing to provide the relevant technological assistance,” said Uzi Rubin, a former director of the Israeli Defense Ministry’s Missile Defense Organization.

 

In a message to defense and industry leaders gathered at a Jan. 31 conference of the Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies, Peretz endorsed so-called “launch on demand” capabilities as a potential answer to future anti-satellite threats. Referring to ongoing Israeli studies evaluating the use of aircraft to launch very small satellites into low Earth orbit, Peretz said: “This type of capability, which allows for rapid launching according to urgent operational needs, could enable us to deal with future, extreme scenarios in which our space assets could become paralyzed by enemy action.”

 

At the same event, Shkedy offered his operational assessment of capabilities once limited to the
United States
and
Russia
: “We’ve recently witnessed a demonstration of [anti-satellite] capabilities. And without getting into the reasons or intentions behind this act, we cannot shirk our responsibility to deal with [the ramifications],” he said.

 

“No doubt, if one suspects he is threatened from space, he will act in the way he does from the ground, sea or air. All these domains become a legitimate playing field for effective warfare,” Shkedy said. He insisted
Israel
must develop the means not only of maximizing effectiveness in space, but in defending deployed spacecraft against potential future threats.

 

Moshe Bar-Lev, a former executive of Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd., who managed the nation’s Ofeq and Amos satellite programs, said local industry already has the technological ability to defend against blinding lasers and limited forms of spacecraft interference. He declined to provide specifics of existing technologies, yet indicated that such passive defensive measures could be deployed in the near-term for what he termed “minimal investment.”

 

According to Bar-Lev, Israeli defense leaders must decide among two key options: “The first way is to use existing systems and make minor corrections to deal with the threat … which in some cases may only involve small operational or deployment changes. The other route is the development of new systems, or a network of technologies, which is much more ambitious.”

 

In a Feb. 1 interview, Bar-Lev declined to speculate on costs or schedules associated with development and deployment of self-protected satellites. However, he recalled that it took
Israel
‘s defense industries just four years to develop and deploy its first Ofeq spy satellite. “We got the green light from the government in 1984 and by 1988, it was in orbit,” Bar-Lev said.

 

Like Bar-Lev, retired Maj. Gen. Isaac Ben-Israel, a former Israeli director of defense research and development who now serves as chairman of the Israel Space Agency, said
Israel
already possesses the technological capability to defend against satellite-blinding lasers. However, a deployable defense against kinetic threats such as the system
China
tested would require a significant boost to
Israel
‘s relatively miniscule space budget, which he estimated at no more than $60 million per year.

 

According to
Ben-Israel
,
Israel
‘s annual spending on civilian and military space compares with that of
Austria
,
Belgium
and
Denmark
, whose respective budgets run at approximately $6-$11 per person. In comparison, he noted that the
United States
spends some $110 per capita. “Israeli investment in space is woefully insufficient, given national expectations of being among the world’s top five space faring nations,” Ben-Israel told Fisher Conference participants.

 

In a Feb. 1 interview, Ben-Israel said he and others are lobbying for a significant increase in annual spending to allow for deployment of advanced systems, including a self-protection capability against kinetic threats. “Our required annual budget for space is $150 million to $200 million … and I believe that given the emerging threats and the heightened reliance on space capabilities, that this is achievable in the next two or three years,” he said.

 

Tal Inbar, chairman of the Israel Space Society, applauded calls by Peretz and Shkedy for a defense against anti-satellite threats, and said a launch-on-demand capability would offer deterrent value. “It neutralizes the motivation for the other side to threaten your satellites, since they not only expose themselves to retaliatory response, but they know that in a matter of hours or days, we’ll be able to put up additional space-based capabilities,”.

 

Shkedy noted that 2007 will be “an important year for Israeli space.” Although he declined to elaborate,
Israel
‘s first synthetic aperture radar satellite is slated for launch in the coming two months, followed by launch of the Ofeq-7 optical spy satellite toward the end of the year.