China’s Dream to Dominate the Outer Space

There was a time when China was woefully limping behind the rest of the world in space technology. Lamenting this, Mao Zedong, said, “China cannot even put a potato in space”. President Xi Jinping’s dream today, is to make China a leading space power by 2045. A report:

By Neeraj Mahajan

Opinion

“China cannot even put a potato in space,” Mao Zedong, the founders of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), once said. But today China’s ‘Space Dream’ under President Xi Jinping is to overtake all nations and become the leading space power by 2045.

“Exploring the vast universe, developing space programs, and becoming an aerospace power have always been the dream we have been striving for” — Xi Jinping then General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, said on 24 April 2016- the first China Space Day.

“Build China into a space power in all respects”, China’s White Paper on Space Activities stated in 2016.

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China’s dream is to become an undisputed leader in space exploration for military and civilian purposes over the next decade. China intends to be “among the major space powers of the world,” Wu Yanhua, Deputy Chief of the China National Space Administration (CNSA) was quoted as saying in January 2017.

Since that day, China has nearly doubled its intelligence gathering and surveillance assets for monitoring, tracking and targeting the forces of other countries. China is also developing a sophisticated network of ground-based optical telescopes and radars for detecting, tracking, and characterizing space objects.

According to the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA)’s report titled ‘Challenges to Security in Space-2022’, China’s ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) satellite fleet contains more than 250 systems —second only to the United States

China has the capability to “destroy or capture satellites and other sensors” which can make it difficult for the U.S. and allied militaries to use precision-guided weapons. In addition to this, China has a number of electronic reconnaissance, communication, navigation, and early warning satellites designed to “blind and deafen the enemy” as well as monitor radar and radio transmissions.  According to reports China has deployed counter space jammers on the India-China border.

According to the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA)’s report titled ‘Challenges to Security in Space-2022’, China’s ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) satellite fleet contains more than 250 systems —second only to the United States

China recently designated space as a military domain and has been has been trying to develop a wide range of anti-satellite capabilities in both low earth orbit (LEO) and geosynchronous orbit (GEO). China’s ground-based lasers can blind or damage optical sensors on LEO satellites and missiles can destroy spacecraft in low-Earth orbit.

China currently spends more on spaceflight operations than any country except the United States and has launched a robotic lander and rover on the far side of the moon. It has also launched multiple missiles, capable of destroying satellites, and deployed mobile jammers to deny satellite communications and GPS.

To realise its ambition of becoming an “aerospace superpower”, China has doubled the number of satellites in orbit, during the past decade.  It has conducted over 200 successful orbital launches and aims to launch over 60 satellites in the coming year breaking its own record of 55 successful launch missions in 2021- the current world record.

China’s space capabilities are jointly looked after by the People’s Liberation Army Strategic Support Force (PLASSF) and the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF).

The white paper on China’s National Defense highlights a growing role for the People’s Liberation Army Air Force in space.

“Outer space is a critical domain in international strategic competition. Outer space security provides strategic assurance for national and social development. In the interest of the peaceful use of outer space, China actively participates in international space cooperation, develops relevant technologies and capabilities, advances holistic management of space-based information resources, strengthens space situation awareness, safeguards space assets, and enhances the capacity to safely enter, exit and openly use outer space,” the paper reads.

“The PLAAF plays a crucial role in overall national security and military strategy. It comprises aviation, airborne, ground-to-air missile, radar, ECM, and communications forces. Under the PLAAF, there are 5 TC air force commands and one airborne corps. Under the TC air forces, there are air bases, aviation brigades (divisions), ground-to-air missile brigades (divisions) and radar brigades. In line with the strategic requirements of integrating air and space capabilities as well as coordinating offensive and defensive operations, the PLAAF is accelerating the transition of its tasks from territorial air defense to both offensive and defensive operations, and improving its capabilities for strategic early warning, air strikes, air and missile defence, information countermeasures, airborne operations, strategic projection, and integrated support, so as to build a strong and modernized air force,” the paper adds.

According to experts China recently designated space as a military domain and is taking steps to integrate space, cyber, electronic and information warfare under a single military command. The Strategic Support Force (SSF) forms the core of China’s information warfare force, integrating cyberspace, space, and EW capabilities. The SSF led by a PLA General reports directly to the Central Military Commission.

China has a number of electronic reconnaissance, communication, navigation, and early warning satellites designed to “blind and deafen the enemy” as well as monitor radar and radio transmissions.  According to reports China has deployed counter space jammers on the India-China border

According to reports the SFF has fielded ground-based anti-satellite missiles to destroy satellites in low-earth orbit as well as ground-based anti-satellite lasers, “to blind or damage sensitive space-based optical sensors on” low-Earth-orbit satellites.

The PLA owns and operates about half of the world’s ISR systems, which allow it to monitor potential flashpoints in the Indo-Pacific region, including the Korean Peninsula, Taiwan, Indian Ocean, and the South China Sea.

China has a robust network of telescopes, radars, and space surveillance sensors capable of searching, tracking, and characterizing satellites which can be used for intelligence collection, counter-space targeting, and Ballistic Missile Early Warning (BMEW). These EW capabilities can prove to be critical assets for modern warfare, and can be used to suppress or deceive enemy radar systems, GPS and precision-guided munitions.

The PLA is also learnt to be focussing on offensive cyberspace capabilities to support military operations against space based assets.

China has multiple ground-based laser weapons of varying power levels to disrupt, degrade, or damage satellites that include a current limited capability to employ laser systems against satellite sensors.

Researchers in China are believed to have tested hypersonic weapons — that can be launched into space glide vehicles and can fly at least five times faster than the speed of sound. China has also tested, a fractional orbital bombardment system for missiles.

This has led to an arms race where many countries have stepped up their military efforts to make their presence felt and dominate the outer space. Today many countries are developing their own anti-satellite (ASAT) and Direct Ascent Anti-satellite (DA-ASAT) weapons or purchasing satellites to support their own strategic military activities.

-The writer is a seasoned media professional with over three decades of experience in print, electronic, and web media. He is presently Editor of Taazakhabar News

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