China’s developments of sophisticated space capabilities such as “satellite inspection and repair” and debris cleanup, “at least some of which could also function” as weapons against US satellites, according to a Defense Intelligence Agency report.
“China officially advocates for peaceful use of space, and it is pursuing agreements at the United Nations on the nonweaponization of space. Nonetheless, China continues to improve its counterspace weapons capabilities and has enacted military reforms to better integrate cyberspace, space, and EW into joint military operations.”
According to the report, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) “views space superiority, the ability to control the information sphere, and denying adversaries the same as key components of conducting modern ‘informatized’ wars.”
To that end, the Chinese space program has a very complex structure comprising of organizations in the military, political, defense-industrial and commercial sectors.
China is improving its space launch capabilities to ensure that it does not depend on any third party for its access to space.
Furthermore, China in 2003 became the third country to achieve independent human spaceflight. In March 2018, China announced that is to assemble a robotic research station on the moon by 2025 and started laying the foundations for a human lunar exploration program to put astronauts on the Moon in the mid-2030s.
The report lists Chinese presumed counterspace capabilities, these include:
- Space Situational Awareness: China has a robust network of space surveillance sensors capable of searching, tracking, and characterizing satellites in all Earth orbits;
- Electronic Warfare: The PLA considers EW capabilities key assets for modern warfare and its doctrine emphasizes using EW weapons to suppress or deceive enemy equipment;
- Directed Energy Weapons: China likely is pursuing laser weapons to disrupt, degrade, or damage satellites and their sensors and possibly already has a limited capability to employ laser systems against satellite sensors;
- Cyberspace Threats: China emphasizes offensive cyberspace capabilities as key assets for integrated warfare and could use its cyberwarfare capabilities to support military operations against space-based assets;
- Orbital Threats: China is developing sophisticated on-orbit capabilities, such as satellite inspection and repair, at least some of which could also function as a weapon;
- Kinetic Energy Threats: The PLA has an operational ground-based ASAT missile intended to target LEO satellites;
- Other Counterspace Technology Development: China probably intends to pursue additional ASAT weapons capable of destroying satellites up to In 2013, China launched an object into space on a ballistic trajectory with a peak altitude above 30,000 km.
In response to the claims of the report, Chinese spokeswoman Hua Chunying, on February 12th said that the DIA’s comments are baseless.
“First of all, I want to make it clear that outer space belongs to all mankind. It is not exclusively owned by any one country and especially not the private property of the US. The DIA report made unwarranted and utterly baseless comments on the space policies of relevant countries including China. China upholds the peaceful use of outer space and opposes weaponizing outer space or an arms race there. For many years, China, Russia and other countries have been working hard and trying to reach an international legal instrument to fundamentally prevent the weaponization of or an arms race in outer space.”
Chunying also said that there have been negatives moves relating to the security of outer space in recent days.
“What merits particular alert and attention is that the US has described outer space as the “new war-fighting domain” and announced to establish a “space force” to regularly conduct outer space exercises, which makes it more likely to turn into reality the risks of weaponizing outer space and making it a battlefield.”
The US appears to be the only country attempting to turn space into a battlefield, but is also the country that plays up “the so-called “outer space security threats” posed by others.”
According to the Chinese Foreign Ministry:
“It [the US] is using self-deceiving tricks to justify its own military building in outer space and R&D in advanced weapons. If the US side truly cares about the security of outer space, it should work with China and actively participate in the arms control process of outer space. It should make its due contributions to maintaining outer space security, instead of doing the opposite.”
Bloomberg reported that “of about 21,000 large objects in space that are least 10 centimeters (4 inches) in size that are tracked and cataloged in Earth’s orbit, only about 1,800 are active satellites, according to the defense agency. The rest is debris, including parts of spacecraft.”
And almost a third of that debris is a result of a Chinese missile launch in 2007 to destroy a defunct satellite and the accidental collision between a U.S. communications satellite and a defunct Russian one in 2009.