China Rapidly Expanding its Space Warfare Capabilities: Pentagon Report

Despite China’s overt stance against the militarization of space, a new report from the U.S. Department of Defense highlights that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) continues the development and acquisition of offensive space technologies designed to restrict/destroy the enemy’s space-based assets, i.e. satellites.

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According to reports, the PLA continues to acquire and develop technologies including kinetic-kill missiles, ground-based lasers, and orbiting space robots, as well as expanding surveillance capabilities that can monitor objects in space within their field of view and enable actions.

“The CCP desires the PLA to become a practical instrument of its statecraft with an active role in advancing the PRC’s foreign policy, particularly with respect to the PRC’s increasingly global interests and its aims to revise aspects of the international order,” the report mentions.

The PLA’s Strategic Support Force (SSF), is a theater command-level organization established to centralize the PLA’s strategic space, cyber, electronic, and psychological warfare missions and capabilities.

The SSF Network Systems Department is responsible for cyberwarfare, technical reconnaissance, electronic warfare, and psychological warfare. Its current major target is the United States.

Under this organization, the PLA employs tactics of strategic support to its armed forces with the ways mentioned, and the recent focus of the SSF has been space, describing it as a “critical domain in the international strategic competition”.

“The PRC’s space enterprise continues to mature rapidly. Beijing has devoted significant resources to growing all aspects of its space program, from military space applications to civil applications such as profit-generating launches, scientific endeavors, and space exploration”, it says.

After an analysis of the report, one can find that China’s investment in technological innovations especially in Aerospace, including UAVs and stealth aircraft and satellites makes it the single most effective power in this domain in Asia. India, lags far behind both economically and militarily, even when ISRO and DRDO are trying to develop these strategic assets.

China currently operates the world’s largest drone fleet, including the most variety of UAVs from smaller swarm drones for SEAD operations to high-tech stealth surveillance UAVs. Not to forget about the largest fleet of combat drones too.

India displayed its Anti-Satellite capabilities last year, while PRC had achieved this feat back in 2007. By the end of 2018, China had a reconnaissance and remote-sensing fleet consisting of more than 120 satellites designed to collect data for civil, commercial, or military applications, and half of these satellites are owned by PLA. Comparatively, India has about 10% of this remote sensing constellation, reports TOI.

“Building military space capabilities doesn’t directly come under the Department of Defense. That said, all strategic needs will be met, our focus has largely been on the civilian side and even there we have certain gap areas. Whatever required for the strategic needs will also be done by ISRO, and we will also see private contributions in this area as we’ve seen with DRDO missiles and so on,” said ISRO chairman K Sivan to the Times of India.

The Pentagon report also finds that China now operates the world’s largest Navy, with an overall battle force of approximately 350 ships and submarines including over 130 major surface combatants. In comparison, the U.S. Navy’s battle force is approximately 293 ships as of early 2020.