China's People's Liberation Army is building lasers to destroy satellites and already has beam weapons capable of damaging sensors on space-based reconnaissance and intelligence systems, according to a Pentagon report.
Consequently, China could blind U.S. intelligence and military space equipment, systems vital for deploying U.S. military forces in current and future warfare.
The lasers also could be used to disrupt or cripple commercial communications and navigation systems during "information warfare," according to the report mandated by Congress.
The report said the PLA has acquired a variety of technologies "that could be used to develop an anti-satellite weapon." The report was released recently by the House National Security Committee. It was mandated under a provision of last year's defense bill.
"China already may possess the capability to damage, under specific conditions, optical sensors on satellites that are very vulnerable to lasers," the report said.
"Given China's current level of interest in laser technology, it is reasonable to assume that Beijing would develop a weapon that could destroy satellites in the future."
The laser weapons capability is among several aspects of China's drive to develop high-technology weapons and to engage in information warfare: attacks on computers and other electronic systems.
The Congress asked the Pentagon to assess China's strategy and military modernization efforts, including whether Beijing plans "to place weapons in space or to develop Earth-based weapons capable of attacking space-based systems."
U.S. intelligence officials said the systems most vulnerable to laser attack are satellites run by the National Reconnaissance Office, which takes photographs from space, and the National Security Agency, which intercepts communications.
"We're very aware of the threat," one official said.
The ability to damage or destroy satellites will provide China with a strategic weapon against the U.S. military, which relies heavily on the use of spaced-based equipment for communicating with forces and detecting foreign military activities, from troops movements to missile launches.
The United States has no anti-satellite weapons, or Asats, and abandoned work on an aircraft-launched satellite killer in the 1980s.
Richard Fisher, a defense specialist with the Heritage Foundation, said the Pentagon's disclosure of Chinese anti-satellite efforts "is an extremely important revelation. …