The U.S. Department of Defense’s 2018 report to Congress on Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China has been issued, an annual look that includes a review of China’s space prowess.

In the report several sections deal with China’s space activities, a program that “continues to mature rapidly,” the document notes.

China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has historically managed the country’s space effort, and continues to invest in improving its capabilities in space-based intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (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 space launch vehicle manufacture, launch, command and control, and data downlink.

China is building upon a heritage of Long March boosters.
Credit: CALT

Degrade and deny

China is developing multiple counterspace capabilities, the report states, “to degrade and deny adversary use of space-based assets during a crisis or conflict.”

PLA strategists regard the ability to use space-based systems – and to deny them to adversaries – as “central to modern warfare,” the report observes. “The PLA continues to strengthen its military space capabilities despite its public stance against the militarization of space.”

According to the Pentagon report, 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.”

Real-time surveillance

China seeks to enhance Command & Control (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,” the new report explains, “as well as to expand space surveillance capabilities that can monitor objects across the globe and in space and enable counterspace actions.”

China’s development of quantum satellites are also highlighted. The country’s 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,” the report says.

Credit: CCTV-Plus

Launch failures

In 2017, China launched 18 space launch vehicles, of which 16 were successful, orbiting some 31 spacecraft, including communications, navigation, ISR, and test/engineering satellites.

Other activities highlighted in the Pentagon report include 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.

Credit: China Manned Space Agency

A Long March (LM)-3B partially failed due to faulty guidance, navigation, and control. A Long March-5 (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.

To read the full report — Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China – go to:

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