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China is second most powerful Global Military Space power with destructive ‘counter-space’ capabilities

“China possesses the most rapidly maturing space program in the world and is using its on-orbit and ground-based assets to support its national civil, economic, political, and military goals and objectives. China has invested in advanced space capabilities, with particular emphasis on satellite communication (SATCOM), intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), satellite navigation (SATNAV), and meteorology, as well as manned, unmanned, and interplanetary space exploration, says Annual Report to Congress: “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2015”. In addition to its on-orbit assets, China’s space program has built a vast ground infrastructure supporting spacecraft and space launch vehicle (SLV) manufacture, launch, C2, and data downlink.

Out of total 86 space launches in 2015, China Aerospace Science and Technology Co. has launched a total of 43 satellites, followed by 29 in Russia and 17 in the U.S. As of August 31, 2017, China launched 204 operating satellites in orbit, compared to 803 by US. The total number of operating satellites came to 1,738.

China now has over 140 satellites in orbit with stable operation, second only to the U.S. in terms of satellite ownership, said a Chinese engineer from the national defense field at a satellite exhibition. China has also launched 19 rockets. On September 20, carrier rocket, Long March-6 on its maiden flight carried 20 micro-satellites and set a new record for the number of satellites that carried by one rocket.

China’s space program is generally shrouded in secrecy, yet Xi’s government is now reviewing a proposal by top researchers to triple investments into scientific missions, according to Wu Ji, director-general of the National Space Science Center. Wu and dozens of researchers asked the central government to boost investment into space science from the 4.7 billion yuan ($695 million) spent in 2011-2015 to at least 15.6 billion yuan in 2026-2030. The hope is that advancements made while building new telescopes, monitoring Earth’s water cycles and improving satellite navigation will revive state-owned enterprises and inspire the startup of private ones.

China’s stated goals to build its own space station, land on the dark side of the moon and put a rover on Mars—all by 2022—prompted U.S. congressmen to ask: “Are We Losing the Space Race to China?” The nation started manned missions in 2003 and launched two more taikonauts in Shenzhou 11. “China’s more deliberate and comprehensive approach will open up opportunities for Beijing to derive important economic, political and diplomatic benefits from its space program,” Dennis
Shea, chairman of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, told the committee.

China has become a military space power within a global context and is developing a full range of space capabilities to match the US militarily in space, while continue to invest in asymmetric technologies that pose a greater risk to the US. Since China’s first experimental communications satellite was launched in the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre in 1984, it has sent more than 100 spacecraft into space in recent decades, including over 20 BeiDou navigation satellites and the country’s first lunar probe, Chang’e-1.

“China is in the midst of an extensive space-based C4ISR modernization program that is improving the PLA’s ability to command and control its forces; monitor global events and track regional military activities; and strike U.S. ships, aircraft, and bases operating as far away as Guam. As China continues to field additional intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) satellites, its space-based ISR coverage almost certainly will become more accurate, responsive, and timely and could ultimately extend beyond the second island chain into the eastern Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean”, says 2015 report to congress.

China is preparing for a series of experimental communications satellite launches in 2017, starting with Shijian-13 (Zhongxing-16) in April and the Long March 5 launch of Shijian-18 in June. Shijian denotes a diverse series of experimental satellites, and Shijian-13 will test advanced ion propulsion that will cut the need for propellant, saving liftoff mass and mission lifetime. The 4.6 tonne Shijian-13 is based on the DFH-4 satellite platform and will also conduct space-to-ground laser communications experiments. Wang Min, deputy chief designer at China Academy of Space Technology (CAST), says SJ-13 will be the country’s first high-throughput satellite (HTS), with a capacity of 20gb per second, making it by far the country’s fastest.

Shijian-18 meanwhile will be the first test of a new satellite bus, DFH-5, with a mass of up to 7 tonnes that requires the heavy-lift Long March 5 to take it to nearly 36,000 km above the Earth. Zhongxing-9A is another planned summer comms sat launch, which will see the DFH-4 bus based ku-band satellite sent to 92° E in geostationary orbit on a Long March 3B/E from Xichang. China aims to use DFH-4 and -5 satellite platforms to make the internet available in aircraft cabins, high speed trains and even remote mountainous areas by 2025.

The country is now preparing for the launch of Gaofen 5, 6 and 7, which will be optical remote sensing satellites, the administration said.

China has exported 11 satellites to nine countries, including Bolivia, Nigeria and Laos, statistics from Great Wall Industry show. China Great Wall Industry Corp, the nation’s only authorized firm for international space collaboration, will launch Venezuela’s second remote sensing satellite next year and Pakistan’s first remote sensing satellite in 2018, said Fu Zhiheng, vice-president of Great Wall Industry.  The two satellites are being developed by the China Academy of Space Technology,” Fu said on the sidelines of an international forum in Beijing on Friday.  Fu said that Chinese satellites have become popular among developing countries for two reasons: First, they are as reliable as Western models; and second, Great Wall Industry is able to provide solution packages to developing countries covering design, launch, operation and training

Reconnaissance Satellites

China launched a pair of 0.5-meter high-resolution remote sensing satellites from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in Shanxi Province in Dec 2016. The satellites, SuperView-1 01/02, blasted off  on the back of a Long March 2D rocket, according to the center. They are able to provide commercial images at 0.5-meter resolution.

China in Dec 2015 launched its most sophisticated observation satellite, Gaofen-4, as part of the country’s high-definition (HD) earth observation project. Gaofen-4 is China’s first geosynchronous orbit HD optical imaging satellite and the world’s most sophisticated HD geosynchronous orbit remote sensing satellite, according to Xu Dazhe, head of SASTIND and China National Space Administration. Using geostationary satellite platforms allows for the continuous, long-term surveillance of target areas, obtaining intelligence in real-time.

The Gaofen project aims to launch seven high-definition observation satellites before 2020. Gaofen-1, the first satellite of the project, was launched in April 2013. Different from Gaofen-1 and Gaofen-2 in low orbits (600-700 km) around the earth, Gaofen-4 is located at the orbit 36,000 kilometers away from the earth and moves synchronously with the earth.

It can “see” an oil tanker on the sea with a huge CMOS camera, reaching the best imaging level among global high-orbit remote sensing satellites, according to Li Guo, chief designer of Gaofen-4.

Gaofen-2 launched in 2014, became China’s first satellite capable of sub-meter resolution imaging. High resolution is important for intelligence analysis— One-meter imagery is sufficient to identify ships, aircraft, and armored vehicles.

In addition, China’s commercial Jilin satellite system also indicates the emergence of China’s Precision Global Strike capabilities. The Jilin-1 group of satellites consists of 4 satellites: one 450-kg major satellite with a resolution ratio of 0.72 metres, two dexterous image taking satellites with a resolution ratio of 1.3 metres and one checking satellite with dexterous image taking.

China launched three remote sensing satellites In Nov 2017,  designed to improve observation capability to promote commercial use for the remote sensing industry, authorities said. The three satellites — Jilin-1 04, Jilin-1 05 and Jilin-1 06 — were launched from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Centre in Shanxi province, reports Xinhua news agency

Chinese sources say that by 2030 there will be 138 satellites in the Jilin satellite system with a return visit speed of 10 minutes. It is expected that the satellites will become smaller with higher resolution. The PLA will use that satellite system to help its intercontinental PGS system update its targets.


Hyperspectral satellites

The Electro-optical devices like cameras and infrared sensors that  generally observe only one band in the electromagnetic spectrum, i.e. cameras observe the band visible to human eyesight and infrared cameras view the infrared band. However, Hyperspectral remote sensing sensors have the ability to a view hundreds of electromagnetic bands for a single image,  in many narrow spectral bands  from visible, near infrared, medium infrared to thermal infrared. Hyperspectral sensors capture energy in 200 bands or more which means that they continuously cover the reflecting spectrum for each pixel in the scene. Bands characteristic for these types of sensors are continuous and narrow, allowing an indepth examination of features and details on Earth.

Hyperspectral imaging technology could theoretically be applied in a number of sectors including vegetation identification (agriculture), mineral detection and the assessment of polluted waters in oceans, coastal zones and inland waterways. The technology could also be used for space exploration missions. China has deployed a hyperspectral camera for use on previous lunar missions, during which it produced one of the largest and most detailed maps of mineral distribution on the surface of the moon to date.

Hyperspectral imaging have ability to observe objects which conceal their emissions in one part of the spectrum like stealth aircraft and thermally suppressed engines or are hidden (such as underground bunkers).  Therefore Hyperspectral  satellites are capable to locate and track military targets that are usually camouflaged or hidden underground, such as missile launch sites and testing facilities for nuclear weapons.

They can be a valuable tool for finding submarines and underwater mines in shallow waters. On land, they can determine the actual composition of objects to distinguish decoys (hyperspectral imaging can capture the differences in EM signature of a wooden decoy versus an actual missile launcher). In the air, hyperspectral sensors can passively detect even thermally shielded stealth aircraft. For counter-WMD missions, hyperspectral imaging can be used to detect nuclear and chemical weapons production, as well as locating the underground tunnels and bunkers that would house those strategic assets.

A key in this program is the China Commercial Remote-sensing Satellite System (CCRSS), to be launched later this year. It can collect data on 328 electromagnetic bands, offering very high resolution of up to 15 meters, according to the researchers from the Institute of Remote Sensing and Digital Earth in Beijing. This means each pixel in the image measures 15 metres squared.

In comparison, the U.S. TacSat 3, launched in 2010, collect data on 300 electromagnetic bands, though at a higher resolution of 4 meters. The Artemis sensors first tested on the TacSat-3 satellite can collect data on 300 electromagnetic bands, thus allowing its user, the US Strategic Command, to operate it for tactical purposes ranging from the detection of roadside bombs to the identification of nuclear weapon facilities.


SAR satellites

China launched Gaofen 3 Earth observation satellite on August 9 from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center on Wednesday (10 August 16) that will help the country protect its maritime interests, especially amid rising tensions in the South China Sea. The satellite carries a synthetic aperture radar payload that can produce images with a resolution of one meter.

Meanwhile, Liu Jie, Gaofen 3’s chief designer at the China Academy of Space Technology, reportedly said that the satellite is “the best of its kind in the world in terms of technological level and imaging mode”. The satellite has 12 imaging modes that enable it to take wide pictures of Earth as well as specific areas in detail.

“The satellite will play an important role in monitoring the marine environment, islands and reefs, and ships and oil rigs,” Xu Fuxiang, head of the Gaofen 3 project at the academy, was quoted as saying by the China Daily. He added that considering China’s total coastline of 32,000km – 380,000 sq km of territorial seas and more than 6,500 islands that have an area of at least 500 sq mt – the Gaofen 3 will prove to be a boon in “safeguarding the country’s maritime rights and interests”. China will now also rely heavily on the Gaofen 3 for forecasting natural disasters, assessment and relief, Xu added.

The Chinese have launched the Yaogan-30 remote sensing satellite via a Long March (Chang Zheng) 2D (Y27) rocket in May 2016. Yaogan-30 is probably an electro-optical observation satellite based on the military Jianbing-6 series.

High-resolution radar imagery satellites shall provide all-weather as well as day and night imaging capabilities over the regions of interest. They would also provide the capability to able to see through clouds and unmask decoys.

Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellites are very useful in maritime surveillance, thanks to their wide swath, which can reach several hundred kilometers. This enables them to find ships, given a very rough idea of where they might be, in any weather. However, the wide swaths modes of such a system generally have a low resolution, measured in the tens of meters. This makes ship identification difficult. Consequently, a higher-resolution system, or another pass of the same satellite but in high-resolution mode, are needed. Ship motion can severely limit the image quality in high-resolution modes. They could have capability for ship detection using special algorithms for detecting the ships themselves as well as their wakes.


ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) satellite

ELINT satellites  provide the detection and identification of radar signals emitted by ships and thus provide the cues to the EO and SAR satellites to track ships in the oceans that could threaten China’s core interests. They are backbone space component of China’s Anti Access and Area Denial strategy. China’s ELINT programme has evolved considerably since the launch of its first satellite in 1970.

China launched a trio of Yaogan-30 reconnaissance satellites on Christmas Day, joining two previous sets of three remote sensing satellites placed in orbit in recent months. A Long March 2C carrying the three Yaogan-30 (03) satellites lifted off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre at 19:44 UTC on December 25 (03:44 Beijing time, December 26). State media reported the satellites will be used for electromagnetic observations and other experiments

In March 2010 China placed its first triplet of ELINT satellites into an 1100 Km, 63.4 degree inclination orbit. Its orbit characteristics make it very similar to the early US Ocean Surveillance System. China appears to have at least three operational Yaogan ELINT clusters (they have launched five triplet clusters since 2010) at any given point in time.

China appears to  now replace its three-satellite Yaogan ELINT cluster with a two satellite cluster like the US. Shijian-16-01 is the first of a new series that will succeed the Shijian-6 series that consists of four pairs with two satellites each. The Shijian-6 satellites were launched between 2004 and 2010.

The second in the first pair of Shijian-16 signals intelligence (SIGINT) and electronics intelligence (ELINT) spy satellites designed to spy mainly on the United States military in Asia has now reached its inclined orbit 600 kilometers above the Equator.

Shijian-16-02 joins its sister satellite, Shijian-16-01, launched in October 2015 in the same orbit. The orbit of both spysats inclined 75 degrees to the Equator is an unusual orbit that makes it easier for both spysats to intercept encrypted signals from the US military. These intercepted electronic signals will then be analyzed and decoded by Chinese.


Yaogan Satellites part of Chinese  system to guide their antiship ballistic missiles

Yaogan series satellites are often described by Chinese state media as providing remote sensing for land resources and electromagnetic environment detection, but are perceived by Western observers to be designed for reconnaissance purposes for China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

According to western specialists  Chinese Yaogan satellites  belong to ELINT constellation which covers both SAR and imaging satellites. SAR spacecrafts belonging to ELINT constellation are able to cover with range of their radars up to 3500 km and are designated for tracking groups of aircraft carriers.

Earlier, China had  successfully deployed its latest military spy satellites  Yaogan-31 in Dec 2017, Yaogan 30 in May 2016 , Yaogan 28, Yaogan 29  in polar orbit in Nov 2015, and identified only as a remote sensing satellite by Chinese state media.

Yaogan 23, Yaogan 29, Yaogan 10, Yaogan 18, Yaogan 14 and Yaogan 21 also are the current operational satellites carrying a SAR sensor. Synthetic Aperture Radar carrying satellites that are cued by the ELINT satellites or by other satellites in the constellation that have located the object of interest.

Yaogan 30, Yaogan 26,  Yaogan 24, Yaogan 28, Yaogan 7 and Yaogan 21 constitute the high resolution optical satellites in current  configuration with resolutions reported to be between 1-3 meters. Electro-optical satellites that are cued by the ELINT satellites or by other satellites in the constellation that had located the aircraft carrier earlier.

Yaogan 9 (Yaogan 9A, 9B, 9C), Yaogan 16 (16A, 16B, 16C), Yaogan 17 (17A, 17B, 17C), Yaogan 20 (20A, 20B, 20C) and Yaogan25 (25A, 25B, 25C) are the five triplet cluster equipped with ELINT sensors. A three satellite TDOA [system] for geo-location has the advantages of high precision, broad-area coverage, and long-surveillance times. It is very suitable for ocean surveillance, for example in [conducting] continuous surveillance against aircraft carrier groups, and submarines. It enables real time understanding of the threats coming from the sea.

Reports have suggested that Yaoan series along with their Over the horizon radars form a operational system that can identify, locate, track and destroy an Aircraft carrier by guiding their Anti Ship ballistic Missiles.


 Communication Satellites

China is scheduled to launch its first high-capacity broadband satellite by the end of 2018, and to begin satellite communications services by 2019, according to the satellite system’s blueprint. A new company, APT Mobile SatCom Limited (APSTAR),  was also unveiled. Cheng Guangren, president of APSTAR and also an expert on communications satellites, said the company will launch two more high-capacity broadband satellites to serve in the Americas, Europe and Africa, creating a global broadband satellite communications system by 2020.

“With the help of high-capacity broadband satellites, we can now offer better service in remote areas, in the air and on the sea where there used to be no communications services,” Cheng was quoted as saying. High-capacity broadband military satellites are required to satisfy the high bandwidth requirements of future PLA’s network-centric operations.

When it is complete, China’s global communications system will offer a continuous, reliable and autonomous service that supports the Belt and Road Initiative as well as other overseas development projects, the CASC post explained. (People’s Daily Online)

In 2015, five new communications satellites including the APSTAR-9, ChinaSat 1C, Zhongxing-2C, Zhongxing-1C and LaoSat-1 were put into orbits successfully. Zhongxing-1C, the second of a new series of military communications satellites, from the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre. Little is known about the satellite applications due its military nature. Previous satellites in the class are believed to have been designed for military communications, providing secure voice and data communication for the People’s Liberation Army.

Zhongxing-1C, or ChinaSat-1C, will have been equipped with a range of C, Ku, Ka and L band transponders. The satellite is based on a DFH-4 satellite platform developed by the China Academy of Space Technology. It is expected to orbit at an altitude of around 35,800 kilometres for 15 years.


Data relay satellites

China has successfully launched its fourth data satellite to achieve global network operation that will provide data relay, measurement and control services for its manned spacecraft. The satellite, Tianlian I-04, was launched on a Long March-3C carrier rocket in Nov 2016 from the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre in southwest Sichuan province Wednesday night, state-run Xinhua quoted officials of the centre as saying. Developed by the China Academy of Space Technology under the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, the satellite will join its three predecessors to achieve global network operation.

The network is expected to provide data relay, measurement and control services for China’s manned spacecraft, space labs and space stations, according to the centre. The network will also offer data relay services for the country’s medium- and low-Earth orbiting resources satellites, as well as measurement and control support for spacecraft launches. China launched its first data relay satellite, the Tianlian I-01, in April 2008

Data relay satellites are essential for military space architecture. Data relay satellites are special satellites that support reconnaissance by receiving signals from a reconnaissance satellite when it was out of range of a ground station and then relaying them back to China. Some sources say China plans to orbit two geo-stationary data relay satellites to support its other space sensor and military communications programs.

These satellites reportedly form part of a larger command, control and intelligence effort being undertaken by the PLA


Beidou Navigation Satellites Launched Successfully

On Sept. 29, 2017 China launched two Beidou 3 satellites from a Long March 3C rocket from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan province. Another two Beidou 3 satellites will launch before the end of 2017, part of a network of 20 Beidou 3 and 10 older Beidou 2 satellites set to go up by 2020. BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS) , is being developed as an alternative to U.S. GPS.

China’s BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS) has taken a solid step towards the goal of global coverage. China plans to expand the Beidou services to most of the countries covered in its “Belt and Road” initiative by 2018 and offer global coverage with 35 Beidou navigation satellites by 2020.

The services cover the area between 55 degrees north latitude and 55 degrees south latitude and between 55 and 180 degrees east longitude, with a positioning accuracy of less than 10 meters, a velocity measurement accuracy of less than 0.2 meters per second and a timing accuracy of less than 50 nanoseconds.

Beidou Satellites similar to GPS spacecraft shall allow PLA troops to navigate trackless desert, guide munitions with pinpoint accuracy, and allowing for the bombing of enemy targets with minimal collateral damage.

The network will be dual use: a free service for civilians, and a licensed service for the Chinese government and military.
The civilian service will provide an accuracy of about 33 feet (10 meters) in the user position, 0.45 mph (0.2 m/s) on the user velocity, and 50 nanoseconds in time accuracy. The restricted military and authorized users’ service will provide higher tracking accuracies of 0.33 feet (0.1 meters).


Weather satellites

China has launched a total of 14 satellites for monitoring the weather. Seven of these satellites are polar orbiting satellites and seven of them are GSO based satellites. Though necessary for military operations these serve primarily a civilian public good function. They are therefore excluded from being accounted under the military head.

The country  launched the first of China’s second-generation weather satellites Fengyun-4 aboard a Long March 3B rocket on Dec. 10 from the Xichang satellite launch center. The Fengyun-4 satellite, in geostationary orbit is also the country’s first quantitative remote-sensing satellite in high orbit.

The satellite will make high time, spatial and spectral resolution observations of the atmosphere, clouds and space environment of China and surrounding regions, significantly improving capabilities of weather and climate forecasts, according to the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense. The China Meteorological Administration is the primary user of the satellite.

According to the media outlet, Fengyun-4 is capable of monitoring atmosphere continuously, helping to improve the quality of weather forecasts and prevent catastrophic consequences of natural disasters. China has sent 14 meteorological satellites into space, of which seven are still active.

The US Air Force also plans to launch its Weather Satellite Follow-on program beginning in 2022 and with a replacement satellite launching about every five years thereafter.  The Defense Department’s needs include information on cloud characterization, snow depth, soil moisture, and sea ice characterization among others. A Pentagon acquisition review board shall  decide the best path forward for two of the highest priority gap: cloud characterization and theater weather imagery. That decision will also shape the Defense Department’s long-term strategy.


Counterspace capabilities

China continues to develop a variety of capabilities designed to limit or prevent the use of spacebased assets by adversaries during a crisis or conflict, including the development of directed-energy weapons and satellite jammers. “As China’s developmental counterspace capabilities become operational, China will be able to hold at risk U.S. national security satellites in every orbital regime,” says 2015 Report to Congress.

China has conducted a flight test of a new anti-satellite missile, the The Washington Free Beacon reports. The test of a so-called Dong Neng-3 missile occurred on October 30 2015 at the Korla Missile Test Complex in western China. According to the Hong Kong-based newspaper Ming Pao the “final-phase missile interception test had been conducted in the upper atmosphere.” However, in the past, China has repeatedly tried to disguise anti-satellite tests as missile defense interceptor tests. Since 2005, China has conducted eight anti-satellite tests. Tests conducted in 2010, 2013, and 2014 were labelled “land-based missile interception tests.”

“On July 23, 2014, China conducted a space launch that had a similar profile to the January 2007 test that resulted in the deliberate destruction of a defunct weather satellite, and the creation of hundreds of pieces of long lived space debris. Much of that debris continues to orbit the Earth where it poses a risk to the safe operation of many nations’ satellites. China’s 2014 launch did not result in the destruction of a satellite or space debris.”

On May 13, 2013, China launched ballistic missile (DN-2) on a ballistic trajectory with a peak altitude above 30,000 km. This trajectory took it near geosynchronous orbit, where many nations maintain communications and earth sensing satellites. Analysis of the launch determined that the booster was not on the appropriate trajectory to place objects in orbit and that no new satellites were released.

The launch profile was not consistent with traditional space-launch vehicles, ballistic missiles or sounding rocket launches used for scientific research. It could, however, have been a test of technologies with a counterspace mission in geosynchronous orbit. The United States and several public organizations expressed concern to Chinese representatives and asked for more information about the purpose and nature of the launch. China thus far has refrained from providing additional information

In August 2013 China launched the Shijian 15 satellite along with three other satellites. The main Shijian satellite also released a smaller sub satellite followed by maneuvers. The Shiyan 7 that was co-launched has a Remote Manipulator Arm whose use was also demonstrated. Once again these operations signify Chinese capabilities for ASAT operations.

PLA writings emphasize the necessity of “destroying, damaging, and interfering with the enemy’s reconnaissance … and communications satellites,” suggesting that such systems, as well as navigation and early warning satellites, could be among the targets of attacks designed to “blind and deafen the enemy.” PLA analysis of U.S. and coalition military operations also states that “destroying or capturing satellites and other sensors … will deprive an opponent of initiative on the battlefield and [make it difficult] for them to bring their precision guided weapons into full play.”

China’s continued development of destructive space technologies represented a threat to all peaceful space-faring nations,” according to the report.


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