For well over two decades now, China’s pragmatic political leadership, as part of the long term vision of positioning this most populous nation on the earth, as the global military supremo, has been laying an increasing emphasis on outer space for giving a formidable edge to its defence forces. In keeping with the time tested military doctrine of harnessing the strides in space technology for supporting the defensive and offensive capabilities of PLA(People’s Liberation Army), China has also initiated a complex process of creating a 50,000 strong space force under the overall command of Central Military Commission.
…Rick Fisher, a Chinese military affairs specialist, another major mission of this space force would be “to achieve control of low earth orbit in order to defeat US on earth.”
As envisaged now, the elite space force will help China prepare for the eventuality of a space war, which along with cyber war, has opened up new frontiers for the ancient art of warfare. The mandate of the Chinese space force would include nuclear missiles, electronic warfare, signal intelligence and cyber threat. More importantly, as noted by Rick Fisher, a Chinese military affairs specialist, another major mission of this space force would be “to achieve control of low earth orbit in order to defeat US on earth.” Fisher believes that the innovative weapons to be deployed by the Chinese space force would include laser armed spacecraft, low earth bombers and military space shuttle. In order to boost its missile strike capability and space warfare endeavours, China is in the process of building a futuristic hypersonic vehicle. Of course, the technology of hypersonic systems is far from fully matured. China is also looking at fashioning out weapons from the high energy laser beams to serve as an anti satellite device in the event of a space war.
However, China continues to claim that its’ space programme is for peaceful, civilian purposes. As it is, China along with Russia, is pressing for an internationally binding treaty to ban the use of outer space for testing destructive devices including killer satellite weapons.
Evidently, China has left none in doubt that it is over-eager to replace US as the global military supremo through an increasing reliance on space based assets. For instance, Col. Liu Mingfu, a well known Chinese warrior scholar in his popular tome, “The China Dream”, advocates the need for China to overturn the US global dominance to secure peace not just in the region but also worldwide. ” Becoming the strongest nation in the world is China’s goal in the 21st century,” says Mingfu. Evidently, China’s military based space programme assumed a serious dimension after early 2007 anti satellite test carried out by Beijing. Indeed, the world was taken by surprise when China accomplished an anti- satellite exercise which involved the destruction of a weather watch satellite located in mid earth orbit by means of a modified version of a ground based ballistic missile.
…“Starting from almost no live surveillance capability ten years ago, today PLA has likely equalled the US’s ability to observe targets from space for real time operations,”
In the Chinese quest to attain space dominance as a pathway to establishing its global strategic supremacy, lies the current scramble of the Chinese political leadership to strengthen the Chinese satellite networks. Not surprisingly then China has stepped up the frequency of the launch of high performance remote sensing satellites incorporating a variety of advanced sensors and earth imaging systems. By all means, this strategy could help China overtake USA in satellite surveillance capability in the future. The Yaogan remote sensing satellite constellation appears to be the key Chinese space platform to boost military surveillance for attaining strategic dominance. Against this backdrop, Professor Liu Yu, an expert at Peking’s University of School of Earth and Space Sciences notes that the Chinese project for advanced earth observation satellite systems could be a major game changer in terms of China’s space based surveillance capability.
As it is, the Taiwanese Strait imbroglio of 1995-96 was an event that forced China to expand and refine its satellite based reconnaissance capabilities. Following this, China is known to have strengthened its capability in electro optical, synthetic aperture radar and electronic intelligence capabilities by a substantial extent. “Starting from almost no live surveillance capability ten years ago, today PLA has likely equalled the US’s ability to observe targets from space for real time operations,” say researchers at the Washington DC based World Security Institute.
Against this backdrop, there is a mounting concern in the US political establishment over the rapidly expanding and increasingly sophisticated Chinese space capabilities that could ultimately help this Asian communist giant acquire diplomatic and defence related advantages. Such an eventuality could hurt the long term national security and geo strategic interests of USA. The consensus in the US Defence Department is that China’s modernized military and especially its newly acquired space related capabilities could be put to use in ways that increases China’s ability to gain diplomatic advantage or resolve disputes in its favour and possibly against US national interests. As noted by Ashley Tellis, a senior associate with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the point is that space has come to acquire a privileged position in China’s military thinking.
China’s next generation gigantic Long March-5 vehicle capable of lifting a 25-tonne class payload into a near earth orbit will help China step up the frequency of space missions from the newly built ultra modern space port at Wenchang in Hainan Island.
The Pentagon is of view that China’s growing space capability is clearly reflected in the frequency of its launches involving satellites with refined capabilities. It believes that China is on a spree of expanding its space based intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, navigation, meteorological and communications satellite constellations.
With a view to stay ahead of its adversaries in the crucial area of space based capability, China is busy boosting its maritime observation capability through ocean surveillance satellites under China’s 863 State High Technology development plan. There is no denying the point that China’s rapidly expanding satellite surveillance capability could alter power equations in the Asian continent and also minimize the scope of the American defence forces to operate in the region.
Western defence analysts hold the view that China has made rapid strides in putting in place space based ELINT (electronic intelligence) capability and operational tests of the system linking those assets to ground based C4ISR network for covering ground based targets. By enhancing its satellite based capability through the advanced technology space platforms, China is also working on augmenting its launch capability. China’s next generation gigantic Long March-5 vehicle capable of lifting a 25-tonne class payload into a near earth orbit will help China step up the frequency of space missions from the newly built ultra modern space port at Wenchang in Hainan Island. This spaceport which is now close to attaining operational status, is China’s firs coastal space launch centre. For all the three currently operational Chinese space ports are land locked. This ultra modern space port is designed to launch modules of large space vehicles.
Meanwhile, China’s home grown Beidou navigation satellite constellation with as many as 35 satellites is expected to be completed by 2020.Right at the moment, the Beidou constellation is supported by 20 satellites. For Chinese defence forces, an uninterrupted access to the navigation capability of Beidou will be a veritable force multiplier. For the most prominent uses to which Beidou would be harnessed include firing of long range missiles and precision weapons with a high degree of accuracy. For the Chinese defence forces, Beidou along with other satellites meant for a variety of application, would hold the key for a well co-ordinated operations of a battle- field strategy by seamlessly integrating weapons systems, missiles, radars, sensor suits, UAVs, fighter jets, transport aircraft, electronics and communications network, logistics and support systems and defence forces spread across and around the world. The reach and capabilities of Beidou is expected to be much larger than India’s seven spacecraft Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS) constellation.
Dean Chang: ”The most important point is that China is developing docking techniques and technology, which in turn means precision control for thrusters and the likes which has obvious military and anti satellite implications“…
Meanwhile, defence analysts observe that the Chinese plan for a permanent space station by the end of this decade could give it a strategic edge in the event of a war involving “space assets”. Indeed the successful accomplishments of the docking exercise carried out by the Chinese astronauts as part of its ambitious manned flight programme that would ultimately culminate in the plan to build an orbiting space station by the end of this decade. Verily, this has military implications in terms of giving a significant thrust to the Chinese space war efforts. An autonomous orbital complex would help China boost it space war efforts by serving as a strategic outpost in the final frontiers.
”The most important point is that China is developing docking techniques and technology, which in turn means precision control for thrusters and the likes which has obvious military and anti satellite implications, “says Dean Chang, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Centre in Washington. Today China happens to be the only space power to sustain human space exploration with both USA and Russia showing a clear disinterest in this crucial area of space research .What’s more, by the end of this decade when the ISS (International Space Station), an endeavour of the sixteen nations led by US, gets set to go into oblivion China will start operating its orbital complex.
A fact filled report from Japan’s National Institute for Defence Studies says,“ It is likely that China will continue to actively engage in space development in the years ahead, given that such development serve as a vital means of achieving military competitiveness against US and raising national prestige”. And as Fisher notes, “It is important to consider that the PLA’s projection into space is an integral part of China’s development of military capabilities to dominate the Asia Pacific region and then to project power globally into 2020s and 2030s.”
Chinese military strategists are fully well aware that sustaining supremacy in space holds the key to reinforcing supremacy on the ground. And the entire Chinese battlefield strategy is being slowly and but surely fine-tuned for being driven from space.
The long term strategic vision of China to stay ahead of rivals in the final frontiers is focussed on high profile projects including an ambitious solar power satellite programme and space industrialisation highlighted by a thrust on mining the eco friendly energy source of helium from lunar surface and transporting it back to earth. China’s plan for building a Solar Power Satellite (SPS), the idea of which has been around for well over five decades now, if realized, would surpass the scale of Apollo project that culminated in the human landing on the lunar surface in 1969 and the International Space Station (ISS). Commenting on the futuristic mammoth space project, a well known Chinese space scientist, Wang Xiji says, “An economically viable space power station would be really huge with the total area of the solar panels reaching to 5 to 6 sq.km.”
Chinese military strategists are fully well aware that sustaining supremacy in space holds the key to reinforcing supremacy on the ground. And the entire Chinese battlefield strategy is being slowly and but surely fine-tuned for being driven from space. For China outer space along with the cyberspace holds the key to stay at the winning edge of the war.