CHINA’S EVOLVING SPACE CAPABILITIES

China’s Evolving Space Capabilities: Implications for U.S. Interests is a report prepared for the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission and published on April 26, 2012. Below a few excerpts from the summary:

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has made significant advances in its space program and is emerging as a space power. Senior leaders have established space as a national priority and are allocating significant resources toward enhancing the PRC’s space-related technology base. With preservation of its monopoly on power as an overriding goal, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) bolsters its legitimacy through achievements in space.

Without a clearly defined civilian space program, such as that managed by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the PRC (hereafter also referred to as “China”) integrates civil and military uses of space.

The PLA is rapidly improving its space and counterspace capabilities in order to advance CCP interests and defend against perceived challenges to sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Space capabilities enable the PLA to conduct military operations at increasingly greater distances from Chinese shores. Greater Chinese competence in leveraging space technologies for military use may complicate U.S. freedom of action in the Asia-Pacific region. Over the next 10-15 years, more advanced precision strike assets, integrated with persistent space-based surveillance, a single integrated air and space picture, and survivable communications architecture, could enable greater confidence in contesting a broader range of sovereignty and territorial claims around China’s periphery.

The PLA may augment existing space-based assets with microsatellites launched on solid-fueled launch vehicles. The PLA is advancing its development and production of dedicated military communications satellites able to transmit high volumes of data from sensors to a wide variety of users and support operations at increasingly extended ranges from China’s periphery. An expanding constellation of navigation satellites further enhances China’s operational scope. Beyond traditional space-based platforms, development of “near space” flight vehicles, operating at altitudes between 20-100 kilometers (km), appears to have a relatively high priority.

The PLA oversees a broad and diffuse organizational infrastructure for developing requirements and overseeing research and development (R&D), manufacturing, and operation of space systems. The PLA General Staff Department (GSD) most likely develops joint operational requirements for space-based and counterspace systems. The Air Force, Navy, and Second Artillery Force also contribute toward the development of operational requirements.

The PLA General Armaments Department (GAD) appears to oversee space systems acquisition, including technical design, research and development (R&D), manufacturing, and space launch services. GAD is improving its ability to leverage technical expertise that resides throughout China’s defense industrial infrastructure and academic community.

The PRC has prioritized international space-related interactions in order to further political, scientific, technological, and economic goals. China enjoys a broad and close cooperative relationship with space authorities and engineers from Russia, other members of the former Soviet Union, and European countries. China also has expanded its satellite sales and launch services to foreign customers. China and the United States have engaged in limited collaboration in space. Authorities in Beijing have advocated expanding exchanges, despite the mistrust that has characterized the relationship over the last 15-20 years.

The PLA has been investing in a wide range of passive and active means to deny a potential adversary’s ability to leverage space-based assets. R&D investments include foreign satellite communications monitoring systems, electronic countermeasure systems to disrupt an opponent’s use of space-based systems, and developing the capability for physical destruction of satellites in orbit.

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