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Not Just the Borders, China 'Attacked' India in Space. But ISRO Scientists Believe It Was a Trial That Failed

Representative image.

Representative image.

A 2019 report says that China has capabilities to mount sophisticated cyber-attacks directed at ground stations with the intent of either corrupting or hijacking the systems used to control spacecraft/satellite.

Not just on land and sea, China's expansionist plans have reportedly reached the space with Beijing carrying out 'multiple cyber-attacks' against Indian satellite communications between 2012 and 2018. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), however, has maintained that its systems has not been compromised so far.

Times of India quoted a 142-page report by US-based China Aerospace Studies Institute (CASI) that elaborates on the results of one of the attack of 2012. The report stated that a Chinese network based computer attack on the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) "allowed 'full functional control' over JPL networks." The report quotes multiple sources while listing out some of these attacks.

TOI in its report further said that India, as part of its counter-space capabilities, demonstrated Anti-Satellite (A-Sat) missile technology on March 27, 2019, which equipped India with a 'kinetic kill' option to destroy enemy satellites. But the CASI report points to how China has multiple other counter-space technologies that are intended to threaten adversary space systems from ground to geosynchronous orbit (GEO). These include direct-ascent kinetic-kill vehicles (anti-satellite missiles), co-orbital satellites, directed-energy weapons, jammers, and cyber capabilities.

CASI, a think-tank, supports the secretary, chief of staff of the US Air Force, the US chief of space operations, and other senior air and space leaders. It provides expert research and analysis supporting decisions and policymakers in the US Department of Defense and across the US government.

A 2019 report released by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said while India demonstrated its A-Sat interceptors, China — which had done the same in 2007 — has capabilities to mount sophisticated cyber-attacks directed at ground stations with the intent of either corrupting or hijacking the systems used to control spacecraft/satellite. "China has investments in developing ground, air, and space-based radio frequency jammers that target uplinks, downlinks, and crosslinks involved in either control of space systems or data transmission," the report reads.

Times of India quoted multiple insiders as saying that ISRO hasn't been able to pinpoint sources of cyber-attacks over the years. "Cyber threats are a given but it cannot be ascertained who are behind such attacks. We've systems in place to alert us and I don't think we've ever been compromised," a senior scientist was quoted, adding that "the Chinese may have tried and failed".

China's expansionist plans have recently picked up pace with Chinese Army engaging in a stand off with India in eastern Ladakh. Satellite images recently showed that China is building heliports close to its borders with India. This includes one heliport near Doklam, which lies on the tri-junction of India, China and Bhutan — the site of the 73-day stand-off that took place between the two Asian powers in 2017.

Over the past decade, China has also steadily hardened its claims to most of the South China Sea from where a third of the world's shipping passes through.

In recent months, with much of the world preoccupied with the Covid-19 pandemic, China has sharply escalated its coercive activities. In early April, a Chinese Coast Guard vessel sank a Vietnamese fishing boat close to islands claimed by both China and Vietnam. A Chinese marine survey vessel harassed a Malaysian oil exploration vessel off Borneo. This month, the Department of Defense voiced concern about the Chinese Navy's decision to seal off an area around the Paracel Islands to conduct naval exercises. In response, the United States increased its own naval activities, including joint exercises by two aircraft carrier groups.

These confrontations have contributed to a sharp deterioration in US-China relations on other fronts.


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