China in Space II


The launch of Long March 3B Rocket, Xichang Satellite Center, China.

The 1990s saw additional noteworthy developments in Chinese military space programs. In 1992, Chinese President Jiang Zemin approved Project 921 inaugurating a manned space program, and in 1993 PLA chief of staff Chi Haotian visited Russia’s Star City cosmonaut training center near Moscow beginning greater bilateral Sino–Russian space cooperation, which continues to the present. In 1999 the Shenzhou 1 rocket, which is an upgraded version of Russia’s Soyuz rockets, was unveiled, in 2000 the Chinese launched Beidou 1 as their first navigation satellite, and in October 2003 China’s first manned mission was launched on the Shenzhou 5 rocket carrying Lt. Col. Yang Liwei as China’s first astronaut on a flight lasting 21 hours and 14 orbits, and which may also have deployed a military intelligence satellite (Descisciolo 2005, 53–54, 60, 62).

The 1990s and early years of the 21st century have also seen Chinese military literature place increasing importance on using space as an arena for military conflict and as an area of military research. Laser radars have become a Chinese military research priority. The Chinese have experimented with lidars, which are similar to radar in that they use laser light reflected from targets and received by optical lenses to locate targets. Lidars use an intensively widened beam to acquire a target, and the beam is reduced to a pencil beam to enhance target calculations. Particular emphasis has been placed by the Chinese on CO2 lasers, and they have also conducted research on a higher powered laser radar, which has space tracking ability (Stokes 1999, 110–111; Feigenbaum 2003; Pillsbury 2000, 363–375).

China has augmented its military space capabilities by secretly acquiring U. S. Patriot missile technology after the 1990–1991 Persian Gulf War, seeking to develop an electro- magnetic missile capable of causing severe disruptions to the electronic systems of attacking aircraft and missiles, developing military doctrine advocating the physical destruction of adversary reconnaissance platforms, and developing ballistic missile defense programs capable of countering missiles with a range of 2,500 kilometers (Stokes 1999, 112–115; Frieman 2001, 163–185).

A detailed critique of Chinese military space policy and doctrine is presented in a recent U. S. Army War College assessment, which argues that literature from China’s Academy of Military Science, COSTIND, and CASC has supported China developing a military space capability since the 1991 Gulf War. These Chinese organizations recognize the United States’ high reliance on military space systems as a potential “Achilles heel.” These and comparable appraisals go on to mention that the PLA and Chinese defense industries are developing active and passive counterspace measures that are being integrated into Chinese military doctrine such as the belief that it is easier to develop ASAT weapons instead of ballistic missile defenses and developing camouflage standards for its deployed missiles to counter foreign optical, infrared, and radar satellite systems (Stokes 1999, 117–118; Johnson-Freese 2003, 259-265; Mulvenon et al. 2006, 67–76; Scobell 2003).

China, as an increasingly important international political, economic, and military power, has sought to reassure the global community that its purposes in space are benign. In 2000, the Chinese government released China’s Space Activities as a white paper that sought to describe and explain Chinese space policies. This document asserted China sought to adhere to existing international agreements on peaceful uses of outer space and that its overall national space policies aims are:

• to explore outer space and learn more about the cosmos and the earth;

• to utilize outer space for peaceful purposes, promote mankind’s civilization and social progress, and benefit the whole of mankind; and

• to meet the growing demands of economic construction, national security, science and technology development and social progress, protect China’s national interests, and build up the comprehensive national strength (China Internet Information Center 2000, 1).

The 2002 Chinese defense policy statement also asserted that China opposed weaponizing outer space, theater ballistic missile defense in northeast Asia with particular opposition to any such defense for Taiwan, and that it regretted the U. S. decision to abrogate the ABM Treaty (China Internet Information Center 2002, 2–3). The 2004 version of this document made a brief reiteration of Chinese rhetoric about the peaceful uses of outer space with no additional elaboration (China Internet Information Center 2004, 2; Zhang 2005, 6–11).

Despite these Chinese rhetorical protestations of peaceful space policy intent, the United States remains very concerned about the nature of Chinese military space policy and overall military power. This concern was most vividly expressed in the 2000 defense-spending budget passed in 1999, which required the Defense Department to prepare annual reports for Congress on Chinese military power and strategy (An Act to Authorize Appropriations for Fiscal Year 2000 and for Military Activities of the Department of Defense for Military Construction, and for Defense Activities of the Department of Energy, to Prescribe Personnel Strengths, for Such Fiscal Year for the Armed Forces, and for Other Purposes. Public Law 106–65. 113 U. S. Statutes at Large 2000, 781–782).

The 2000 edition of this report noted that while China had the ability to launch military photo-reconnaissance satellites, their technology was obsolescent by Western standards. This report went on to mention that the China–Brazil Earth Resources satellite launched in October 1999 could help Chinese efforts to develop better military reconnaissance satellites and that China and Russia had 11 joint space projects including those involving cooperative manned space activities (U. S. Department of Defense 2000, 14–15).

This report’s 2002 edition noted improvements in China’s command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence (C4I) capabilities thanks to negotiations with the Belarusian firm Agat to produce relevant battle management software and that China has purchased new space systems such as over-the-horizon radar to increase its ability to detect, monitor, and target western Pacific naval activity. In July 2001, a five-year Sino–Russian cooperation agreement was signed in which these countries established organizations to jointly develop a regional missile defense system and create programs to develop new generation high-tech weapons and equipment (U. S. Department of Defense 2002, 4–5).

In 2003, this report stressed that China likely had thorough knowledge of U. S. and foreign space operations due to open-source information on U. S. space systems and operations, that China had acquired technical assistance applicable to developing laser radars to track and image satellites, that it may have the ability to damage optical sensors on satellites that are vulnerable to laser damage, and that it still desired to develop an ASAT system between 2005–2010 (U. S. Department of Defense 2003, 36).

The 2004 edition of this report detailed additional Chinese military space warfare enhancements but also acknowledged that it still lacked information about the motivations and decision making behind China’s policy making in this area because of the consider- able secrecy surrounding Chinese national security policy making and the reluctance of Chinese leaders to engage in genuine transparency on these issues (U. S. Department of Defense 2004, 7).

The 2006 edition of this Pentagon report noted continuing Chinese interest in developing radio-frequency, laser, and ASAT weapons, mentioned that China would eventually deploy satellites with advanced imagery, reconnaissance, and earth resource systems capabilities for military purposes to supplement existing coverage with Russian and Western technology. This report also acknowledged that China had launched its second manned space mission on October 12, 2005 with its two-person crew returning safely five days later after performing experiments in space for the first time. There was also acknowledgement of press reports stating that China wants to perform its first space walk in 2007, rendezvous and dock spacecraft between 2009–2012, and have a manned space station by 2020 (U. S. Department of Defense 2006, 32–34).

Besides its launch facilities at Jiuquan, Taiyuan, and Xichang, China maintains an advanced telemetry, tracking, and command network including eight domestic ground- tracking stations, foreign ground-tracking stations in Kiribati in the South Pacific and Namibia, four tracking ships, and two space control facilities. It also established a Space Target and Debris Observation and Research Center in March 2005 to help prevent space debris strikes against satellites and manned spacecraft (Center for Nonproliferation Studies 2006(a), 1–2).

China’s three Beidou 1 navigation satellites, the most recent being launched in May 2003, are believed to have the capability to improve the accuracy of China’s long-range weapons and data available to its military forces. The Zi Yuan remote satellites that are part of the China–Brazil Earth Resources Program are believed to have an estimated three- to nine-meter resolution and are considered useful for military purposes despite Chinese assertions that they are used for civilian purposes. There is some evidence that China wants to upgrade its satellites so they have one-meter resolution capability, which may enable them to have the ability to broadcast military data such as maps and enemy force deployments to small field stations (Center for Nonproliferation Studies 2006(b), 1).

China is clearly intent on becoming a major political, economic, and military participant in space. Whether this involvement is benign or has assertive or even hostile military intent toward the United States or other countries is the subject of considerable debate (Lele 2005, 67-75; Lim 2004, 30-39; McCabe 2003, 73-83; Murray and Antonellis 2003, 645-652; Saunders 2005, 21-23). Nevertheless, keeping track of Chinese military space trends and developments and related regional security developments such as its January 2007 destruction of a polar-orbiting weather satellite (British Broadcasting Corporation 2007, 1–3) and related regional security developments such as North Korea’s efforts to develop ballistic missiles (Bennett 2004, 79–108) will become increasingly important for the foreseeable future for U. S. and other international military policymakers and for those studying international security trends and developments. These trends, as described in this section on China, make it likely that China will become the primary competitor to U. S. military space policy aspirations in the years and decades to come.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s