Beijing’s continuous efforts to develop space-based capabilities are posing a grave threat to the U.S. military, according to a recent U.S. Pentagon report.
In a report titled “Challenges to Security in Space” published on Feb. 11, the Pentagon warned that despite China’s official stance of advocating peaceful use of space, as it seeks multilateral agreements on non-weaponization of space at the United Nations, Beijing hasn’t been practicing what it preaches.
The Pentagon said in no unclear terms that China’s military, called the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), has historically managed the country’s space program, including for dual-use—meaning both military and civilian—purposes.
“China continues to improve its counter-space weapons capabilities and has enacted military reforms to better integrate cyberspace, space, and electronic warfare into joint military operations,” the report stated.
The most worrying threat is the Chinese capability to destroy U.S. satellites.
And Beijing’s pursuit of advancements in counter-space weapons is squarely targeted at the United States and its allied forces, according to the report.
These space capabilities are integral to the PLA’s military operations. In a conflict, China would be able to “blind and deafen the enemy” by taking out the enemy’s various satellites critical for military communication, navigation, and early detection of missiles, according to the report.
And should China be involved in a conflict in Asia, China’s space weapons could “deter and counter a possible US intervention.”
The PLA’s own analysis pointed out that “destroying or capturing [U.S.] satellites and other sensors” would render the U.S military incapable of using its precision-guided weapons, according to the report.
Based on Chinese scientific papers, the Pentagon concluded that China is developing laser weapons “to disrupt, degrade, or damage satellites and their sensors.” One likely scenario is that the weapons could disable infrared detection sensors that allow satellites to detect incoming missiles.
By 2020, China will likely field a ground-based laser weapon that can disable sensors on satellites in the low earth orbit—meaning within the distance of 2,000 kilometers (1,243 miles) from the ground, according to the report.
In addition to laser weapons, China also has an “operational ground-based anti-satellite missile intended to target low-Earth orbit satellites,” the report stated, adding that China has already formed military units that have started training with anti-satellite missiles.
Beijing currently operates 120 ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) systems, a fleet of satellites that can conduct surveillance, early enemy detection, and intelligence gathering. That number is only exceeded by the United States, according to the report.
The PLA owns and operates about half of these IRS systems that could “support monitoring, tracking, and targeting of U.S. and allied forces worldwide, especially throughout the Indo-Pacific,” the report added.
These systems allow the PLA to keep tabs on “regional flashpoints” where the Chinese regime has interests, such as the Korean Peninsula, Taiwan, and the South China Sea.
But the dangers posed by China’s space military capabilities do not end there.
Rick Fisher, senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, said in an email interview that the PLA also controls China’s planned space station, set for a 2020 launch, as well as the unmanned and manned lunar programs.
“It can be expected that the PLA will derive dual-use benefits from its space station and from its Moon program,” Fisher said.
The space station can be used for surveillance, while on the moon, “China will bring weapons that can attack the Moon bases of other countries and perhaps their satellites in deep space orbits,” he predicted.
The Pentagon report also detailed space threats from Russia, Iran, and North Korea.
In response to the report, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying, said at a daily press conference on Feb. 12, that the United States “made unwarranted and utterly baseless comments on the space policies of relevant countries including China.”
She also reiterated the Chinese regime’s official stance that China “opposes weaponizing outer space.”
History of Weaponization
Despite Beijing’s official policies stating that its space ambitions are only for peaceful purposes, Mary FitzGerald, a research fellow at the U.S. think tank Hudson Institute, said that since at least 1996, Chinese military scientists have conceptualized the idea of space warfare: maintaining space dominance in order to succeed at space combat operations.
While speaking at a U.S. congressional hearing in March 2007, FitzGerald explained that Beijing has identified the U.S. military’s “Achilles’ Heel”: its reliance on the GPS (Global Positioning System) satellite system for high-tech operations. To take advantage of this weakness, Chinese military experts suggested engaging in anti-satellite warfare, including the use of high-energy (e.g., lasers) and kinetic (e.g., missiles) weapons—mentioned in the latest Pentagon report.
Beijing’s military goals were also evident in a space white paper published in October 2006. “China would develop its space industry as a means for strengthening the country’s economic capability, technology capability, national defense capability, and national cohesion, as a strategic move to make the country great,” the paper stated.
Sun Laiyan, the former head of the China National Space Administration from 2004 to 2010, also confirmed this stance during a speech at Beijing Jiaotong University in May 2007, noting that in the past decade, “China’s space military equipment has played an important role in shaping strategic deterrence and safeguarding the nation’s security.”
Epoch Times staff member Cathy He contributed to this report.