China in Space I



As China has grown in economic prosperity and overall national assertiveness since the 1949 Communist revolution, its view of national security interests has expanded to include space. A 1967 U. S. Government assessment stressed that a Chinese ICBM system could be deployed in the early 1970s and potentially as early as 1970–1971, that Chinese national resources could probably support moderate and increasing ICBM deployment through 1975, and that China was likely to launch a satellite as soon as possible for political benefit (U. S. Central Intelligence Agency 1967, 2).

The genesis of China’s military space programs began in 1956 when it acquired two Soviet R-1 missiles, which were copies of German cryogenic liquid-propellant V-2 missiles of World War II provenance. The following year China acquired the more advanced R-2 missiles from the Soviets, and these had greater range and a larger payload than the R-1 while also using storable liquid propellants. Besides providing the ballistic missiles, the Soviets also gave China the R-2’s blueprints and provided advisors to assist in developing a copy of the R-2, which enabled the Chinese to produce and deploy these missiles.

Chinese engineers and students received aeronautical engineering training at the Moscow Aviation Institute and gained experience with more advanced Soviet missiles such as the SS-3 and SS-4, and their knowledge of these missiles was also facilitated by making copies of restricted notes on these weapons. The 1960 Sino–Soviet ideological split ended such cooperation, but the Chinese used the knowledge gained from this brief cooperation and would later acquire from U. S.-trained scientists to expand the growth and progress of their military space programs (U. S. Congress. House Select Committee on U. S. National Security and Military/Commercial Concerns With the People’s Republic of China 1999, 1:176–177).

Chinese ballistic missile and space programs grew significantly because of the influence of Qian Xuesen (1911–) who is considered the progenitor of China’s ballistic missile force. A Shanghai native, Qian left China during the Japanese occupation in 1935 and emigrated to the United States where he received a master’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Ph. D. from the California Institute of Technology. During his time at Cal Tech, Qian worked with a rocket research group at the Guggenheim Aero- nautical Library where his work focused on aviation engineering theory, supersonic and transonic aerodynamics, and thin shell stability theory for ballistic missile structures (House Select Committee on U. S. National Security and Military/Commercial Concerns With the People’s Republic of China 1999, 1:177).

Qian later went on to work at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and because of his work reputation and quality, he was recruited to join the U. S. Army Air Force in developing its long-range missile programs. He was commissioned as a colonel and began working on the Titan ICBM. However, during the 1950s, allegations arose that he was spying for China. He lost his security clearance, was removed from working on U. S. ballistic missiles, and eventually returned to China in 1955 with four other colleagues from the Titan design unit (House Select Committee on U. S. National Security and Military/Commercial Concerns With the People’s Republic of China 1999, 1:178).

Following his return to China, Qian and his associates applied their U. S.-derived knowledge to China’s nascent ballistic missile programs. He became the chief project manager in all of China’s ballistic missile programs and served as the lead designer of the CSS-4 nuclear ICBM targeted at the United States. Qian also served as the first director of China’s Fifth Academy, which is responsible for China’s aeronautics and missile development research and is now called China Aerospace Corporation. In 1958 he presented his ideas for satellite development to Communist Party leaders. During 1962 Qian began training Chinese scientists to design and develop satellites including the Dong Fang Hong–1 satellite, which was the first Chinese satellite launched. Qian was personally com- mended for his satellite work by Mao Zedong and other Chinese Communist leaders, awarded the honorary rank of lieutenant general in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) for his ballistic missile program development work, and in 1991 President Jiang Zemin awarded him with a “State Scientist of Outstanding Contribution,” which is the highest national honor a Chinese scientist can receive (House Select Committee on U. S. National Security and Military/Commercial Concerns With the People’s Republic of China, 1:179; Descisciolo 2005, 52).

The first Chinese satellite launch was in 1970 using a CSS-3 ICBM launch package, which weighed 380 pounds and stayed in orbit for 26 days. A second successful satellite launch took place on March 3, 1971. Three unsuccessful attempts were made launching longer range and more powerful Long March rockets in 1973 and 1974 before achieving success in 1975. Most subsequent Chinese satellite launches have been of communications, weather, remote sensing, navigation, or scientific satellites, which may have military applications or dual civilian and military applications (Smith 2005, 1; House Select Committee on U. S. National Security and Military/Commercial Concerns With the People’s Republic of China 1999, 1:200–201).

In 1974 China launched a series of satellites whose focus involved programs covering remote sensing and microgravity research, and over subsequent decades Chinese space capabilities have grown to encompass communication satellites, groups of launching rockets, a modern space launch complex, and an increasing list of customers for its launch services (Patterson 1995, 3).

In February 1975 the State Council of China approved a report on developing Chinese satellite communications outlined by the State Planning Commission and the National Defense Science and Technology Commission, which facilitated communication satellite development into national plans (Patterson 1995, 4).

These civilian space endeavors were also balanced with a desire to enhance China’s military capabilities in space. A 1974 CIA estimate mentioned that China’s ICBM arsenal had the ability to hit U. S. forces in Asia and that China wanted to increase the range and striking power of those forces so they could strike the Soviet Union west of the Ural Mountains and the continental United States while also improving the survivability of their nuclear deterrent (U. S. Central Intelligence Agency 1974, 1–5).

China developed the Long March 3 rocket in 1977 to meet requirements for launching communications satellites into geosynchronous orbit and began developing the Long March 4 rocket during the late 1970s to launch meteorological satellites into sun- synchronous orbits for military and civilian purposes. China also began entering the commercial space launch industry around 1986, which proved to be fortuitous timing for them because of the temporary suspension of U. S. space launches following that year’s space shuttle Challenger tragedy. This temporary moratorium on U. S. launches was reflected in U. S. policy changes allowing China to launch U. S. manufactured satellites if China signed agreements with the United States on competitive pricing, liability, and protection of U. S. technology. The China Great Wall Industry Corporation vigorously markets Chinese launch services, and revenues earned from Chinese commercial launches are shared between two government organizations, the Commission of Science, Technology, and Industry for National Defense (COSTIND) and the Chinese Aerospace Corporation (CASC) (House Select Committee on U. S. National Security and Military/Commercial Concerns With the People’s Republic of China 1999, 1:206–207; Thompson and Morris 2001, 5).

China’s nuclear capabilities expanded considerably in 1980 when it successfully tested the DF-5 ICBM, which was capable of reaching the continental United States and in 1982 it successfully tested its first submarine-launched ballistic missile (Roberts 2003, 3).

China’s launch site infrastructure also began taking shape in the 1980s. Three of these facilities are responsible for managing Chinese launch capabilities as of late 2005. Xi-chang, in southeastern China near Chengdu, was opened in 1984 and is responsible for primarily launching communication satellites into geostationary orbit above the equator. Jiuquan or Shuang Cheng-tzu, located in the Gobi Desert, is China’s first launch site and launches an assortment of spacecraft including those of China’s human space-flight program. Taiyuan, south of Beijing, opened in 1988 and is used for launches into polar orbits, and its satellites include those used for weather and other earth observation assignments (Smith 2005, 1).

President Ronald Reagan’s 1983 inauguration of the SDI ballistic missile defense program had a significant impact on Chinese views of the global security environment. Initial Chinese reaction was cautious with some officials asserting that SDI was an understandable and appropriate attempt to counter Soviet attempts to gain strategic superiority. As time evolved, China began distinguishing between ballistic missile defense research and deployment, favoring the former but opposing the latter. Debate over Chinese nu- clear doctrine intensified within Chinese military and political circles with there being some evidence that this debate instigated a Chinese move from what could be called “minimum deterrence,” to nuclear threats, to a more vigorous posture called “limited deterrence” (Roberts 2003, ES-2; Glaser and Garrett 1986, 28–44).

The end of the Cold War, collapse of the Soviet Union, and declining U. S. interest in SDI seemed to indicate to the Chinese that ballistic missile defense was a less salient issue to U. S. security interests. Ballistic missile defense received new impetus from the 1990– 1991 Persian Gulf War and its aftermath, which saw the United States gain renewed interest in theater missile defense (TMD). Chinese policymakers began to worry about the potential consequences of U. S. TMD deployments in East Asia, which were being taken in response to large-scale enhancement of Chinese theater missile forces with Taiwan and its national independence being the primary target of these Chinese missiles (Roberts 2003, ES-3).

In the late 1990s and the early 2000s, the Chinese government launched a concerted campaign against U. S. missile defense plans. Such U. S. responses were propelled by the 1998 North Korean test of a long-range missile that overflew Japan and instigated a U. S. policy decision to deploy a national missile defense system as soon as possible. China claimed that ballistic missile defense was a threat to the viability of its nuclear deterrent, jeopardized what it saw as strategic stability, would reverse “progress” made in deescalating the nuclear “arms race,” would ignite nuclear and missile proliferation and an arms race in space, consolidate alleged American global hegemony, exacerbate the Taiwan problem, expand Japan’s East Asian regional security role, and deepen U. S. East Asian involvement, whereas China wishes such involvement reduced (Roberts 2003, ES-3; Lee 2001, 85–120; Bermudez 1999; Gertz 2000, 38–43).

U. S. concerns over Chinese space capabilities were enhanced by charges of Chinese espionage at the U. S. Department of Energy (DOE) laboratories and involving thefts of sensitive U. S. space technologies from corporations such as Loral and Hughes. A U. S. House of Representatives select committee chaired by Rep. Christopher Cox (Republican from California) was charged with examining these allegations and released its unclassified three-volume public report in June 1999. Report findings indicated that China had stolen design information on the United States’ most advanced nuclear weapons as well as U. S. missile technology and used it for Chinese ballistic missile applications, that this stolen technology was applicable to Chinese ballistic missiles and space-lift rockets, and that U. S. satellite manufacturers had transferred missile design information and technology to China without obtaining legally required U. S. Government licenses

The Cox Report also revealed that this illicitly obtained information and technology improved the reliability of current and future Chinese rockets and missiles whose uses can include military communications and reconnaissance satellites, space-based sensors, space-based weapons, and satellites for state-of-the-art command and control and sophisticated intelligence collection capabilities. The report also mentioned that China had proliferated missile and space technology to countries as diverse as Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and North Korea and other incidents that the report could not disclose without adversely affecting national security (House Select Committee on U. S. National Security and Military/Commercial Concerns With the People’s Republic of China 1999, 1: ii, xii, xiv–xv, xvii, xxxvii, 1:172–232, and 2:2–217; Smith 2001, 7-10).


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