Report: China Making Rapid Progress on Anti-Satellite Systems

China has developed a number of weapons designed to jam and destroy enemy satellites in the event of a war while publicly opposing weapons in space, according to a new Pentagon report.

“In addition to the development of directed energy weapons and satellite jammers, China is also developing direct-ascent and co-orbital kinetic kill capabilities and has probably made progress on the anti-satellite missile system it tested in July 2014,” the report stated. “China is employing more sophisticated satellite operations and is probably testing dual-use technologies in space that could be applied to counterspace missions.

The claims come in a document from the Secretary of Defense titled, “Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2018.”

The report said that People’s Liberation Army (PLA) strategists regard space-based systems — and the ability to deny them to others — as central to modern warfare. They are continuing to develop counter space weapons despite a public stance against the militarization of space.

“Although China has not publicly acknowledged the existence of any new programs since it confirmed it used an anti-satellite missile to destroy a weather satellite in 2007, Chinese defense academics often publish on counterspace threat technologies,” the document added.  “These scholars stress 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.’”

Below are excerpts from the report relating to China’s space capabilities.

Annual Report to Congress:
Military and Security Developments
Involving the People’s Republic of China 2018

Office of the Secretary of Defense

Space and Counterspace Capabilities. China’s space program continues to mature rapidly. The PLA, which has historically managed the effort, continues to invest in improving its capabilities in space-based ISR, satellite communication, satellite navigation,and meteorology, as well as human spaceflight and robotic space exploration. China has built an expansive ground support infrastructure to support its growing on-orbit fleet and related functions including spacecraft and SLV manufacture, launch, command and control, and data downlink. Additionally, China is developing multiple counterspace capabilities to degrade and deny adversary use of space-based assets during a crisis or conflict.

In 2017, China launched 18 SLVs, of which 16 were successful, orbiting some 31 spacecraft, including communications, navigation, ISR, and test/engineering satellites. Other activities included:

Space Launch Failures. In 2017, China suffered two SLV failures within two weeks, creating significant delays in China’s national space program, according to key government officials. A Long March (LM)-3B partially failed due to faulty guidance, navigation, and control. A LM-5 launch then catastrophically failed due to a manufacturing defect. The LM-5 is to become China’s new heavy-lift SLV, launching up to 25,000 kg into low Earth orbit and will play an important role in the assembly of the Chinese Space Station starting around 2018.

Commercial Launch. In January 2017, China’s Expace Technology Co, Ltd. successfully launched its first Kuaizhou-1 (KZ-1A) commercial SLV delivering three small satellites to sun synchronous orbit. Expace, a commercial launch company subsidized by the China Aerospace and Science Industry Corporation (CASIC), is the provider of the KZ-1A and is developing a larger version, the KZ-11. The KZ-1A is a light-lift quick response SLV owned and operated by Expace for commercial use, but it is often misidentified as the KZ-1, CASIC’s military version of SLV, as it shares many aspects of its design and concepts of operations.

Space Station. China launched its first resupply spacecraft, Tianzhou-1 (TZ-1), to dock with and transfer fuel to Tiangong-2, testing technologies necessary for long-term maintenance and operation of a future Chinese space station. China also used the TZ-1 to simulate rapid docking, similar to that of the Russian Soyuz docking with the International Space Station. China is expected to bring on orbit assembly of its own space station in 2019.

The PLA is acquiring a range of technologies to improve China’s counterspace capabilities. In addition to the development of directed energy weapons and satellite jammers, China is also developing direct-ascent and co-orbital kinetic kill capabilities and has probably made progress on the anti-satellite missile system it tested in July 2014. China is employing more sophisticated satellite operations and is probably testing dual-use technologies in space that could be applied to counterspace missions.

Although China has not publicly acknowledged the existence of any new programs since it confirmed it used an anti-satellite missile to destroy a weather satellite in 2007, Chinese defense academics often publish on counterspace threat technologies. These scholars stress 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.”

Space and Counterspace. PLA strategists regard the ability to use space-based systems – and to deny them to adversaries – as central to modern warfare. The PLA continues to strengthen its military space capabilities despite its public stance against the militarization of space. Space operations are viewed as a key enabler of PLA campaigns aimed at countering third-party intervention, although PLA doctrine has not elevated them to the level of a separate “campaign.”

China seeks to enhance C2 in joint operations and establish a real-time surveillance, reconnaissance, and warning system and is increasing the number and capabilities of its space systems, including various communications and intelligence satellites and the Beidou navigation satellite system. China also continues to develop counterspace capabilities, including kinetic-kill missiles, ground-based lasers, and orbiting space robots, as well as to expand space surveillance capabilities that can monitor objects across the globe and in space and enable counterspace actions.

In 2016, China adopted the 13th Five Year Program (2016-2020) which, among other things, sets focus areas for research, development, and innovation. Several of these have defense implications, including aerospace engines (such as turbofan technology) and gas turbines; quantum communications and computing; innovative electronics and software; automation and robotics; special materials and applications; nanotechnology; neuroscience, neural research, and artificial intelligence; and deep space exploration and on-orbit servicing and maintenance systems. Other areas where China is concentrating significant R&D resources include nuclear fusion, hypersonic technology, and the deployment and “hardening” of an expanding constellation of multi-purpose satellites. China’s drive to expand military-civilian fusion and international economic activity supports these goals.

China’s space, armaments, and aviation industries are rapidly advancing; however, quality deficiencies persist in some export armament equipment, and the aircraft industry remains reliant on foreign-sourced aircraft engine components.

Missile and Space Industry. The majority of China’s missile programs, including its ballistic and cruise missile systems, are comparable to other international top-tier producers. China’s production of a wide range of ballistic, cruise, air-to-air, and SAMs for the PLA and for export has probably been enhanced by upgrades to primary assembly and solid rocket motor production facilities. Though China has become one of the world’s most advanced producers of SAM systems, China has purchased Russia’s S-400 air defense system and may receive it in 2018.

China’s space industry is rapidly expanding its ISR, navigation, and communication satellite constellations while making considerable progress in space lift, human spaceflight, and lunar exploration programs. China hopes to expand its space launch vehicle industry to support commercial launches and make rapid satellite launch services available to foreign customers. China will probably launch, assemble in-orbit, and operate a crewed Chinese space station before 2025.

Quantum Satellites. Priorities include unconditional security of network data across long distances, ultimately creating a global quantum network of classical (i.e., non-quantum) data secured by quantum cryptographic keys.