China focusing efforts on ability to ‘project military power vertically into space’, May 18, 2011

China’s military is building up its space forces, a former Pentagon China specialist told a congressional commission last week.

"The PLA is expanding its ability to project military power vertically into space and horizontally beyond its immediate periphery in order to defend against perceived threats to national sovereignty and territorial integrity," said Mark Stokes, a former Pentagon China policymaker.

China has been expanding its space program, and a satellite float was featured prominently at celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China in October 2009. Reuters/David Gray

Space power is the strategic and operational application of military force via or aided by platforms operating in or passing through air and space and is emerging as a key instrument of Chinese statecraft, Stokes said.

"The PRC understands the potential role that aerospace power can play in pursuing military goals," he told the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission May 11. "Control over the skies over a particular region is a critical enabler for dominance on the surface."

Stokes said the effective use of space systems and denying an enemy the effective use of space systems offers China’s military greater flexibility in conducting military operations around the country’s periphery and greater confidence in its nuclear weapons.

"An ability to hold at risk adversarial space systems also may deter attacks on Chinese space systems, or complicate the ability of regional powers to operate in the Asia Pacific region should deterrence fail," he said.

Stokes outlined several military space organizations with the Chinese armed services, including the General Staff Department and General Armaments Department.

Among the weapons and support systems are increasingly sophisticated electrooptical (EO), synthetic aperture radar (SAR), and electronic reconnaissance assets. Also being developed and deployed are spacebased remote sensing systems, including automated target recognition technology that correlates preloaded optical, radar, or infrared images on a missile system’s computer with real time images acquired in flight.

Small electronic reconnaissance satellites, operating in tandem with SAR satellites, "could provide commanders with precise and timely geolocation data on mobile targets," Stokes said.

Stokes also revealed that China is building advanced hypersonic vehicles for space launch and long-range precision strike missions.

"Hypersonic aerospace flight vehicles under development in China could be divided into two categories: 1) a boostglide vehicle that is launched into a suborbital trajectory by a ballistic missile? or 2) a horizontal take off and landing strike system that utilizes an airbreathing supersonic combustion ramjet (scramjet) engine to propel a vehicle to hypersonic speeds," he said.

China’s space and long-range strike weapons "could seek to suppress U.S. operations from forward bases in Japan, from U.S. aircraft battle groups operating in the Western Pacific, and perhaps over the next five to 10 years from U.S. bases on Guam," he said.


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