China・s .eye-in-the-sky・ nears par with US

By Simon Rabinovitch in Beijing
July 11, 2011

China・s rapidly expanding satellite programme could alter power dynamics in Asia and reduce the US military・s scope for operations in the region, according to new research.

Chinese reconnaissance satellites can now monitor targets for up to six hours a day, the World Security Institute, a Washington think-tank, has concluded in a new report. The People・s Liberation Army, which could only manage three hours of daily coverage just 18 months ago, is now nearly on a par with the US military in its ability to monitor fixed targets, according to the findings.

:Starting from almost no live surveillance capability 10 years ago, today the PLA has likely equalled the US・s ability to observe targets from space for some real-time operations,; two of the institute・s China researchers, Eric Hagt and Matthew Durnin, write in the Journal of Strategic Studies.

China has launched reconnaissance satellites that can monitor targets up to six hours a day, a think-tanks says.

China・s rapidly growing military might has unnerved its neighbours, many of whom are US allies, while a series of disputes this year with Vietnam and the Philippines have added to the concerns.

China・s military build-up has accelerated in recent years, as it has developed an anti-ship ballistic missile, tested a stealth fighter and is poised to launch its first aircraft carrier. The fast-growing network of reconnaissance satellites provides China with the vision to harness this hardware.

Admiral Mike Mullen, America・s top military official, said at the weekend in Beijing that it was clear that the PLA is focused on :access denial; V a term that describes a strategy of pushing the US out of the western Pacific.

:The US is not going away,; Adm Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said. :Our enduring presence in this region has been important to our allies for decades and will continue to be so.;

China warned the US last month not to become involved in its dispute with Vietnam over the South China Sea. :[China・s] strategic priority is to keep the US out of its backyard,; Mr Durnin told the Financial Times, adding that the satellite technology needed for achieving that goal is now in place.

When China tested missiles near Taiwan in 1996, the US deployed two aircraft carriers to nearby waters. The PLA・s inability to locate the ships was a source of great embarrassment that helped spur China・s satellite programme.

:The United States has always felt that if there was a crisis in Taiwan, we could get our naval forces there before China could act and before they would know we were there. This basically takes that off the table,; said Joan Johnson-Freese, a professor at the US Naval War College in Rhode Island.

China cut-off military relations with the US early last year, after Washington announced an arms sale to Taiwan. The two militaries have been working to repair ties this year, with PLA Chief of the General Staff Chen Bingde visiting Washington in May and Adm Mullen in China until July 13.

China ramps up military use of space with new satellites

By Ben Blanchard
July 11, 2011

BEIJING (Reuters) - China is developing cutting-edge satellites that will allow it to project power far beyond its shores and deter the United States from using aircraft carriers in any future conflict over its rival Taiwan, a report said.

The piece in October's Journal of Strategic Studies, a U.K.-published defence and security journal, runs at odds with China's stated opposition to the militarization of space.

But the report, an advance copy of which was obtained by Reuters, said that the rapid development of advanced reconnaissance satellites to enable China to track hostile forces in real time and guide ballistic missiles has become a key to the modernisation of its forces.

While the United States used to be unrivaled in this area, China is catching up fast, it added.

"China's constellation of satellites is transitioning from the limited ability to collect general strategic information, into a new era in which it will be able to support tactical operations as they happen," the report said.

"China may already be able to match the United States' ability to image a known, stationary target and will likely surpass it in the flurry of launches planned for the next two years."

Beijing has consistently denied it has anything other than peaceful plans for space and says its growing military spending and prowess are for defensive purposes and modernisation of outdated forces.

But with the recent unveiling of a stealth fighter, the expected launch of its first aircraft carriers and more aggressive posture over territorial disputes such as one in the South China Sea, Beijing has rattled nerves regionally and globally.

China's space program has come a long way since late leader Mao Zedong, who founded Communist China in 1949, lamented that the country could not even launch a potato into space.

Since then, it has launched men into orbit and brought them home, sent out its first lunar probe and begun longer-term programmes to explore Mars and establish a space station.

The successful missile "kill" of an old satellite in early 2007 represented a new level of ability for the Chinese military, and last year China successfully tested emerging technology aimed at destroying missiles in mid-air.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned earlier this year that advances by China's military in cyber and anti-satellite warfare technology could challenge the ability of U.S. forces to operate in the Pacific.


China's need to use satellites to up its military game became apparent during the 1995-96 Taiwan Straits crisis, when the U.S. dispatched a carrier group after China menaced the self-ruled island with war games, the report said.

Beijing realised it could neither track nor respond to the U.S. ships. The incident also led China to realise it needed the means to keep Washington from using its navy to intervene in a war over Taiwan. Beijing regards the island as a rebel province.

"The most immediate and strategically disquieting application (of reconnaissance satellites) is a targeting and tracking capability in support of the anti-ship ballistic missile, which could hit U.S. carrier groups," the report said.

"But China's growing capability in space is not designed to support any single weapon; instead it is being developed as a dynamic system, applicable to other long-range platforms. With space as the backbone, China will be able to expand the range of its ability to apply force while preserving its policy of not establishing foreign military bases."

More broadly speaking, satellites will be able to help China project power.

"As China's capabilities grow, with space reconnaissance as an example, it will be increasingly hard to reconcile the rhetoric of a defensive posture and a more expansive capability." (Editing by Brian Rhoads and Yoko Nishikawa)