Wolf and Rogers Want Answers from Clapper on Implications of China's Space Program

Wolf and Rogers Want Answers from Clapper on Implications of China's Space Program

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) and Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL) wrote to Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper today asking five questions about the implications for U.S. leadership in space and U.S. national security of China’s recent accomplishments in space, including landing a rover on the Moon last weekend.

Wolf chairs the House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee that funds NASA and NOAA, among other departments and agencies.  Rogers chairs the House Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Strategic Forces with oversight of many U.S. national security space programs as well as ballistic missiles, strategic weapons and other programs. 

The letter cites not only the landing of China’s Chang’e-3 spacecraft and its Yutu rover on the Moon, but the number of Chinese space launches in 2012 as indications that the United States could lose its leadership position in space.   China conducted 19 launches in 2012 compared with 13 in the United States according to the letter.

Rogers and Wolf assert that they “are among those who have grown concerned that while the People’s Republic of China commits significant resources and sense of national purpose to its space program, the United States is at risk of losing its space leadership.”   Noting that China does not distinguish between civil and military space programs, the two influential Congressmen ask Clapper to respond to five questions that “will inform fiscal year 2015 legislation our two subcommittees may consider.”  The questions are:

  • Has China today tested or deployed counter space capability in outer space, and will China deploy counter space capabilities by the end of this decade?
  • What technologies demonstrated by China’s robotic moon landing, and other space systems, have applications for China’s counter space and ballistic missile programs?
  • What technologies demonstrated by China’s robotic moon landing, and other space systems, have been acquired, legally or otherwise, from the United States?
  • What are the impacts from civil space cooperation between the United States and China on China’s military space program?
  • It was reported that, in 2010, the Administration lowered the intelligence collection priority status of the People’s Republic of China.  Does that lower status still apply? What is the priority of China’s space program for the intelligence community?

Wolf is the main sponsor of legislative language that prohibits NASA and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) from engaging in any activities related to civil space cooperation with China unless certain conditions are met.  Thus, the fourth question seems rather odd, since there is no U.S.-China civil space cooperation today, or it may refer to lasting impacts from the 1990s when U.S. commercial satellites could be launched by Chinese rockets (which could also be one thrust of the third question). 

Opponents of U.S. space cooperation with China cite that era as a time when China benefitted substantially from technical interactions with U.S. commercial satellite manufacturers that enabled them to improve the performance of their launch vehicles significantly.  A congressional investigation (the Cox Committee) found that the U.S. companies violated export regulations in their dealings with China.  Consequently, law and regulations were changed so that no U.S. satellites or satellite components can be exported to China.   The export regulations are again being revised right now, but satellite exports to China will still be prohibited.

Wolf, who announced this week that he will retire at the end of next year, wrote a separate letter to President Obama today asking him to hold a White House conference early in 2014 to develop a mission concept for a U.S.-led international return to the Moon.   China’s lunar rover was also cited in that letter as a rationale for a return to the Moon to assure U.S. leadership in space.

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