ÈÍÒÅËÐÎÑ > Toward a Theory of Spacepower > Chapter 24: Spacepower in China
For the purposes of this volume, spacepower has been variously defined as:
This view of space is paralleled in the 2006 Chinese white paper, "China's Space Activities in 2006." This paper, issued by China's State Council, the highest governmental body in the People's Republic of China (PRC), notes that a key principle underlying the development of China's space industry is that it is "a strategic way to enhance its economic, scientific, technological, and national defense strength, as well as a cohesive force for the unity of the Chinese people."4
Indeed, insofar as the People's Republic of China is concerned, China has been interested in spacepower—the use of space and space-related activities in support of national goals—since 1956. In that year, Qian Xuesen helped found China's aerospace industry, and that date is considered by Chinese historians and policymakers as marking the start of China's space program.
This chapter examines China's space capabilities in the context of their role in support of furthering national objectives. It begins with a brief historical overview of the Chinese space program. It then provides a survey of China's space capabilities as of 2007 and assesses the contributions of space to China's national interests and objectives.
Historical Development of China's Space Program
When the People's Republic of China was founded in 1949, China had been at war almost continuously, either internally or externally, since the early 1930s. This near-continuous state of war had not only wrought massive devastation over much of China, but also had sapped China's intellectual base and destroyed much of its limited industrial foundation. To remedy this, Mao Zedong and other top leaders placed high priority on developing the country's scientific and technological capabilities.
The intent was to facilitate the strengthening of China's economy and its technological and industrial base, and, just as important, foster the development of an indigenous arms industry. From the outset, it was envisioned that China would develop the ability to manufacture the accoutrements of a major power: nuclear weapons, missiles, and satellites. Mao saw this as essential for reducing China's vulnerability to external aggression and pressure, because "in today's world, if we don't want to be bullied, we must have these things."5
A key component of this effort would be the development of an aeronautics industry. Airpower had proven essential in World War II, and aviation was seen as a hallmark of advanced science and technology. Consequently, the Chinese leadership felt that both national security and prestige required the development of a Chinese aeronautics industry. Two key individuals helped to shepherd its development: Professor Qian Xuesen and Marshal Nie Rongzhen.
Qian Xuesen, an American-trained physicist who had worked at what became the Jet Propulsion Lab and with Theodore von Karman, in 1955 joined the larger wave of Chinese scientists returning to "help build a new China." Qian was and remains a controversial figure. At the time, he was accused of being a communist, and U.S. authorities delayed his return to China for fear that he might bring back information with him to help the Chinese communist regime.
Soon after his return, Qian forwarded "A Proposal to Establish China's Defense Aviation Industry" to the senior Chinese leadership, calling for the creation of an aerospace industry that would design and build not only aircraft, but also rockets and missiles. This proposal was incorporated into the "National Long-Term Plan for the Development of Science and Technology, 1956–1967," which provided a broad blueprint for PRC efforts to develop their scientific and technical capabilities. Also incorporated into the plan were projects to develop nuclear energy, as well as jet and rocket technology.6
As part of the plan, the Fifth Research Academy of the Ministry of National Defense was established, with Qian at its head. This academy was responsible for missile development. Chinese histories of the country's space, missile, and strategic weapons programs generally start with the founding of the Fifth Academy.
Qian's ideas aligned neatly with those of Marshal of the People's Liberation Army (and later Vice Premier) Nie Rongzhen. Nie, a compatriot of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, was not only a senior member of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), but also a major promoter of science and technology. In the wake of the massive casualties incurred by Chinese forces in the Korean War, Nie, along with several other senior PLA leaders, recognized that simply relying on massed forces against a more technologically advanced opponent (as represented by the United Nations forces) was insufficient.7 Nie noted that "since the Korean War, we have often been disturbed by the point [that] we lagged far behind the then-enemy in military technologies."8
Nie believed that only by developing its scientific and technical industrial base could China build up both its military power and overall Chinese capabilities, what is now often referred to as "comprehensive national power." Nie believed that it was essential for the PRC to pursue the broad development of such capabilities if it was going to compete not only militarily but also economically and politically with the other major powers. Consequently, he and Qian may be considered the key movers responsible for China's strategic weapons, missile, and space efforts.
Nie's and Qian's interests converged, as Nie oversaw the Aviation Industrial Commission, which had control over Qian's Fifth Academy. Nie, in turn, reported directly to the Central Military Commission, the highest level of authority for the PLA, and the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. This is symptomatic of the high level of interest that space and strategic programs have consistently enjoyed from the earliest days of the PRC. Space also garnered the interest of the "Great Helmsman" himself, Mao Zedong. Chinese histories of their space program inevitably refer to the impact of the statement made by Mao in 1958 that "we must have satellites, too." 9
Turmoil and Self-Reliance
Even the interest of Mao Zedong was not enough to overcome the limitations of China's backward state. China had neither the trained manpower nor the industrial base to support what was, in the 1950s, cutting edge research into spaceflight. Worse, the situation was exacerbated by the nationwide turmoil sparked by Chinese political upheavals. The first major disruption was the Great Leap Forward. This was one of Mao's early efforts to showcase the achievements of China under communism, and one of the great tragedies of the 20th century. The situation was so chaotic that even members of the nuclear, missile, and space development teams suffered from malnutrition.
The situation was compounded by the Sino-Soviet split, which led to the withdrawal of Soviet experts, often leaving projects that were only half completed. With the split, Chinese leaders began to propound the "two bombs, one satellite" line, which called for indigenous development of an atomic bomb, a hydrogen bomb, and a satellite. The point was to underscore that the PRC could, by dint of its own efforts, manufacture the most advanced weapons and master the most cutting edge technologies on its own. This emphasis on indigenous development became a political rallying cry, and the line is still regularly invoked.
The combination of limited industrial base and turmoil in domestic and foreign policies led to the deferral of space developments for nearly a decade. Once the Chinese had succeeded in developing their own nuclear deterrent, exploding an atomic bomb in 1964 and a hydrogen bomb in 1967, however, the emphasis shifted back to developing China's space capabilities. Indeed, even as development of thermonuclear weapons was progressing, Qian Xuesen and Nie Rongzhen were pushing for a renewed satellite effort. In 1965, Nie's National Defense Science and Technology Commission submitted a "Report on the Development of Artificial Satellites," which called for making satellite development a priority. By May, the report had been incorporated into the state plan, and engineering development was begun on developing a satellite, Project 651. 10 As part of that effort, in 1968 the Party leadership established a Chinese Academy of Space Technology (CAST) with Qian as its dean.
Once again, however, domestic politics interfered with China's space development efforts. In 1966, Mao Zedong initiated the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, and for the second time in a decade, China was plunged headlong into political turmoil. This included the space and missile programs.
In order to insulate these efforts from the excesses of Red Guard interference, the Central Military Commission placed CAST under the National Defense Science and Technology Commission. In effect, the satellite program was placed in military hands. 11 Similarly, the military was made responsible for the construction of the satellite tracking, telemetry, and control systems essential for supporting satellite operations, and for the various launch sites. 12 Eventually, many of the key persons were also placed under military protection, including Qian Xuesen.
Despite the chaos, the Chinese scientists were able to meet their goals. On April 24, 1970, China's launched the Dongfanghong-1 (DFH–1), making the PRC only the fifth country to launch a satellite into orbit. As per Mao's instructions, the DFH–1 was both larger and more capable than the first-time satellites of either the United States or the Soviet Union. The satellite launch, coming 6 years after China's first atomic explosion and 3 years after China's first thermonuclear weapon, marked the culmination of the "two bombs, one satellite" effort.
Ironically, it was the rise of Deng Xiaoping that probably saw the greatest cutbacks in the Chinese space program. With Deng's rise after the fall of the Gang of Four, he shifted focus from preparing for what Mao had termed "large war, early war, nuclear war," to the expectation that, for the foreseeable future, the keynote of the times would be "peace and development." Consequently, Deng set forth the general Chinese guideline of "civil-military combined, wartime-peacetime combined, give preference to military goods, have the civilian nurture the military." These guidelines, which remain a cornerstone of Chinese national development strategy, touted the conversion of the military-industrial base to a more civilianized one. For the Chinese space program, that shift meant declining resources, since there was much less pressing military concern for either missiles or space capabilities.
This ambivalence toward the Chinese space program only lasted a few years, however, before there was renewed focus on its development. In March 1986, four major Chinese scientists approached Deng Xiaoping and pressed for a new commitment of resources toward science and technology (S&T). Three of the four scientists—Wang Daheng,13 Chen Fangyun,14 and Yang Jiachi15 (along with Wang Ganchang 16 )—were part of the aerospace program. They all emphasized that science and technology were essential for future economic and technological advances, and required significant outlays of both financial and political capital. Deng eventually approved, and Plan 863, formally termed the National High-Technology Research and Development Plan, was born. 17
This plan has served as a key blueprint for major research and development efforts into S&T and high technology in China, including not only aerospace, but also biology, information technology, robotics, and advanced materials. Plan 863 has been renewed with each subsequent Five-Year Plan and remains an ongoing effort to foster Chinese scientific and technical capabilities, including those in space.
Chinese space efforts received further impetus with the collapse of the Soviet Union. The collapse served to provide China access to Soviet space technology, often at bargain prices. At the same time, by removing the strictures of the Cold War from the international space market, it provided an opportunity for new players, including China, to enter the global space market. This coincided with Chinese efforts to foster commercialization of its space industries; not surprisingly, China became a player in the international space launch market at this time.
Current Chinese Capabilities
Over the course of 50 years, the PRC has developed a robust space capability. It possesses multiple launch sites and produces not only its own launchers, but also a range of satellites.
The Chinese military has long had a role in space development. Construction of China's launch facilities, for example, was undertaken by the General Logistics Department, one of the four general departments that oversee all PLA activities. Until 1999, China's space program itself was overseen by the Commission on Science, Technology, and Industry for National Defense (COSTIND), which had authority over all military production in China. This included oversight of the nuclear, aviation, ordnance, and space ministries, as well as research, development, and production of certain high-technology items (including space). COSTIND, however, was not solely a military organization; it had influence over civilian science and technology (if only through its responsibilities for defense conversion) and reported directly to the State Council, as well as the Central Military Commission.18
A major reorganization in 1998, however, resulted in the restructuring of several key organizations overseeing China's space program. COSTIND's responsibilities were parceled out; responsibility for defense research, development, and acquisition was assigned to a new General Department, the General Armaments Department (also known as the General Equipment Department). The General Armaments Department is responsible for the construction and maintenance of Chinese space launch facilities.19
Defense industries, meanwhile, would be managed by a rump COSTIND, which would report only to the State Council. 20 Under this smaller COSTIND, a separate civilian space bureaucracy was established. The China National Space Administration (CNSA) has responsibility for space policy formulation and day-to-day program management. It manages two state-owned enterprises, China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) and China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC), each of which, in turn, oversees a group of smaller state-owned enterprises and corporations.
CASIC oversees the China Jiangnan Aerospace Industry Corporation, China Sanjiang Aerospace Industry Corporation, and the China Haiyang Machinery and Electronics Technology Institute (formerly the Third Academy). Included under CASC oversight are the Chinese Academy of Space Technology (formerly the Fifth Academy), the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, and the China Great Wall Industry Corporation. 21 CASC is the backbone of China's aerospace industries, manufacturing launch vehicles, satellites, and ground equipment.
The primary Chinese launcher is the Long March series of rockets. Over the past 50 years, the PRC has fielded some 14 versions of the Long March system, allowing it to cover the gamut from low Earth to geosynchronous to polar orbits. The primary variants of the Long March series currently in commercial service include:
In addition, the Chinese use the Long March 2F for their manned space missions. This is a man-rated version of the CZ–2E, a CZ–2 core with four additional strap-on, liquid-fueled boosters.
Launch Sites and Mission Control
To accommodate their various launchers, the PRC has constructed multiple launch sites, giving it, like the United States and Russia, the ability to launch multiple rockets at the same time.
China's launch sites include:
There have also been reports that the Chinese are building a new spaceport on Hainan Island.
China's space missions are controlled and coordinated from near Xi'an in central China. The Chinese Tracking, Telemetry, and Control (TT&C) network controls five domestic ground stations, as well as four space-tracking ships, which provide the PRC with overseas tracking abilities.
China has also signed agreements with Sweden, France, and Brazil to access space-track information from those nations. As part of a global network of TT&C facilities, the PRC has also established its first overseas bases in Namibia and Kiribati. In 2003, when Kiribati decided to recognize Taiwan, however, the PRC dismantled the station. The 2006 Shenzhou-VI mission was supported by additional facilities in Malindi, Kenya, and Karachi, Pakistan.23 Interestingly, the PRC constructed a dedicated facility, the Beijing Aerospace Directing and Controlling Center (BADCC), to manage just its manned space flights.
China fields a range of indigenously produced satellites, including communications, weather, Earth imaging/remote sensing, and navigation satellites.
Communications satellites: Dongfanghong . The April 1984 launch of the DFH–2 made China only the fifth nation to independently launch a satellite into geosynchronous orbit. This was an experimental satellite with two transponders, which provided the basis for the subsequent DFH–2A series of communications satellites. The Chinese eventually fielded three DFH–2A satellites (out of four launched), each fitted with four transponders, allowing them to provide global, 24-hour, all-weather television broadcasting nationwide, as well as the capacity to handle 3,000 telephone calls simultaneously. 24 The DFH–2As replaced previously leased platforms and ended Chinese dependence upon foreign satellite providers.
These were followed by the DFH–3, of which seven were in operation as of July 2005.25 The DFH–3 satellite had three-axis stabilization, providing a superior platform for its 24 C-band transponders, including 6 that are 16 watt, used for television, and 18 that are 8 watt, low-rate transponders for transferring telephone calls, telexes, and telegrams. They can transmit 6-channel color television programs and 15,000 telephone calls simultaneously (using frequency compression technology, they can transfer even more). The lifespan was projected for 8 years. The DFH–3 greatly alleviated the growing pressures on China's satellite communications infrastructure. This satellite also represents China's first communications satellite intended for civilian use. Twenty-two of its 24 transponders are used by the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications for public purposes, including support for provincial level communications and television broadcasts to various provinces, as well as providing nationwide commercial phone service. 26
Weather satellites: Fengyun (FY). In 1988, with the launch of the first FY–1A, China became only the third nation to launch its own meteorological satellites. As of this writing, the PRC has launched four FY–1 weather satellites into polar orbit (one of which is currently operational), and four FY–2 geosynchronous weather satellites (two of which are currently operational).
The FY–1 series operates in the visible, thermal infrared, and near-infrared bands. It has been used to detect forest and grassland fires, as well as to predict areas likely to be affected by droughts or floods.27 The FY–1 also constituted a major step forward in Chinese efforts to promote international cooperation in space, as it became part of the World Meteorological Organization's constellation of weather satellites.
The first FY–2 series satellite was launched successfully in 1997. The FY–2 series is equipped with three channels for visible light, infrared, and water vapor.28 It does not appear to have a very long operational life, functioning for only about 3 years (compared with the projected 8-year lifespan of the DFH–3).29
The FY–2 series made China one of only three nations with weather satellites operating in both geosynchronous and low Earth orbit at the same time. The FY–2C, launched in October 2004, also marked China's first commercial weather satellite. Chinese writings portray the FY–2C as representing China's entry into civilian aerospace and commercial satellite service.30
Recoverable remote sensing satellites: Fanhui Shi Weixing (FSW). The most numerous of China's satellites is the recoverable remote sensing satellite, with 22 launched through August 2005. The satellite drops its payload of either images or experiments back to China by directly firing solid retro-rockets when the craft is over China, descending almost vertically. The successful launch of an FSW series satellite in 1975 made China only the fifth country to be able to retrieve photographs from space.
The nine FSW–0 subseries of missions were apparently aimed at photoreconnaissance. The five FSW–1 subseries appear to have carried a combination of Earth observation and microgravity experiment payloads, in some cases on the same mission. Less clear were the intended tasks for the three FSW–2 subseries or the five FSW–3 subseries of launches.31
Chinese analyses note that the FSW series is built upon the idea of evolutionary design and incremental improvements, in order to minimize risk. Nonetheless, over 30 years of service, the FSW has seen a steady increase in capability. According to Chinese writings, for example, the first-generation FSW satellites (apparently encompassing the FSW–0 and FSW–1 subseries) had a lifespan of only 3 to 8 days. By 1992, however, the second generation (apparently encompassing the FSW–2 and FSW–3 subseries) had a lifespan of 15 to 20 days. The data collected by a second-generation FSW was said to be 13 times that of a first-generation craft. Similarly, resolution was said to have improved by a factor of 3. 32
The FSW series is credited with making major contributions to Chinese agriculture by providing key materials for land use surveys, as well as providing for geodesy, mining surveys, waterworks construction, environmental monitoring, railroad line construction, and urban planning.
Earth imaging/remote sensing satellites: Ziyuan (ZY). While the FSW series of satellites provided China with an initial photoreconnaissance capability, their limited lifespan, coupled with the need to return canisters of film, limited its utility. The PRC in the 1980s began to undertake joint research with Brazil to develop a more capable satellite. The result was the China-Brazil Earth Resources Satellites (CBERS), which is also referred to as the Ziyuan (Resource) Satellite. In October 1999, China launched CBERS–1, also known as ZY–1, from Taiyuan Launch Center.
The ZY series has a design lifespan of approximately 2 years. It uses a set of digital electronic sensors, including a five-channel charge coupled device camera, an infrared multispectral scanner, and a wide-field imager, to gather pictures, which it then transmits to a ground station. 33 The sensors are believed to have a resolution of 20 meters. Interestingly, Chinese writings have noted that some of the ZY–1 series are also equipped with electronic counter-countermeasures for their control systems.
In September 2000, October 2002, and November 2004, three ZY–2 satellites were launched. These are apparently in a lower orbit, with a perigee of 489 kilometers, compared with 773 kilometers for the ZY–1. While Chinese writings indicate that the ZY–2 series is primarily used for Earth resource observation, environmental monitoring and protection, urban planning, agricultural assessments, disaster monitoring, and space science experimentation, some Western writings have characterized the ZY–2 as a military reconnaissance system.
Navigation satellite: Beidou. On May 25, 2003, China's Xichang Satellite Launch Center launched a Long March 3A rocket with the third Beidou satellite into orbit. The successful deployment of its payload made China only the third nation to field its own space-based navigation and positioning system.
The Beidou system, unlike the global positioning system (GPS) or global navigation satellite system (GLONASS), is an active system, built around two geosynchronous satellites (the third is apparently an orbital spare). The user's terminal transmits a signal to the satellites, which in turn signal a separate ground station with the times that they each received the user's signal. The central station calculates the user's two-dimensional position based on the time difference, and then adds information from a digital database to obtain the user's third dimension. All of this is then transmitted back to the user.
While the system is more cumbersome and has an upper limit on the number of users (due to the two-way communications requirements), from Beijing's perspective it also has certain advantages. Most obviously, of course, it is under direct Chinese control. Furthermore, since it requires launching only two satellites (GLONASS involved 21 satellites, GPS requires 24, Galileo will involve 30), compared with global systems, it can be rapidly built and entails relatively low expenditures, yet still provides 10-meter services to a core region. The Beidou system can also serve as a communications system, in addition to satellite navigation and positioning.
In addition to these main systems, the Chinese have also developed other capabilities. For example, in April 2006, China launched the first of what is expected to be a new series of remote sensing satellites, the Yaogan-1. Officially intended for scientific experiments, Earth resource observation, agricultural estimations, and disaster relief, it is part of China's efforts to develop the needed "24-hour, all-weather, all-aspect networked remote sensing capability."34
The Chinese have also devoted significant resources into developing small satellites, even developing a dedicated small-satellite launcher, the Kaituozhe. Such satellites would be potentially both cheaper and more resilient than larger satellites. One Chinese analysis concluded that employing larger numbers of much smaller satellites may also reduce overall vulnerability.35
The satellite most prominently mentioned in the Chinese press has been the Haiyang-1 ocean surveillance satellite. Launched in May 2002, the Haiyang-1 weighs 368 kilograms and has visible light and infrared capabilities to monitor the ocean surface and observe changes in water temperature. It has a projected lifespan of 2 years. The main aim of this satellite is to provide Chinese scientists with oceanographic information, including data on ocean productivity, fishery stocks, and nutrient levels. It has the ability to examine light and water interaction and monitor algae levels, ocean surface water temperatures, sedimentation, and ocean pollution levels. It is also expected to measure littoral conditions, ocean currents, and ocean surface meteorological conditions.
In addition to satellites, China has launched manned missions into orbit. This was apparently a consideration from the early days of the Chinese space program, specifically with the founding of the Space Flight Medical Research Center by Qian Xuesen in 1968.
While there was reportedly some interest in orbiting a man in a modified FSW capsule in the 1960s, Chinese manned space efforts really began in earnest in the 1990s. As with the rest of China's space program, the original Project 921 proposal for manned spaceflight called for indigenous development of a series of new rockets and new spacecraft over the course of the eighth and ninth Five-Year Plans (1991–1995 and 1996–2000, respectively). Although the program was not approved, construction was nonetheless started at that time on a new flight control center capable of handling manned spacecraft (which eventually became the BADCC).
Then, in 1994, a cash-strapped Russia indicated its willingness to sell space expertise to China, and when Jiang Zemin visited the Russian Flight Control Center in Kaliningrad, he noted that there were broad prospects for cooperation between the two countries in space. In March 1995, a deal was signed to transfer manned spacecraft technology to China, including cosmonaut training, Soyuz spacecraft capsules, life support systems, docking systems, and space suits. In 1996 two Chinese astronauts, Wu Jie and Li Qinglong, began training at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Russia. After training, these men returned to China. It is believed that they have had a hand in the selection, and possibly the training, of the current class of 12 Chinese astronauts.
The Chinese Shenzhou, however, is not simply a copy of the Russian Soyuz. Superficially, the two are similar, both comprised of three separate modules: an orbital module, containing experiments or other payloads; a descent module, which the crew rides into orbit and back to Earth (it is the only part of the system that returns to Earth); and a service module, containing the propulsion systems (which detaches prior to final reentry of the descent module and burns up).
Upon closer examination, however, the Shenzhou is clearly different from the Soyuz. To begin with, the Shenzhou is physically larger than a Soyuz capsule. The Shenzhou is wider, longer, and about half a ton heavier.36 Furthermore, the Shenzhou has two sets of solar panel arrays, compared with the single set of arrays on the Soyuz. The two arrays together generate approximately 1.2 kilowatts, which is reportedly comparable to that of the entire Mir station, or three times that of an individual Soyuz vessel. 37 This gives the craft more power to run various systems and could give it longer endurance.
One of those solar arrays is on the Shenzhou's orbital modules, which also has its own set of engines. This allows the Shenzhou's orbital module to maneuver and sustain itself on its own, unlike the orbital module on the Soyuz. This ability was demonstrated in the Shenzhou-IV test-flight when the orbital module was boosted to a higher orbit after separating from the descent module and was left in orbit for 9 months on its own. The combination of its own power and propulsion could make the orbital module a potential building block for a Chinese space laboratory.
China has launched six Shenzhou flights as of 2007. Shenzhou-V, launched in October 2003, made China only the third nation to orbit its own astronaut (Yang Liwei). Shenzhou-VI had a two-man crew, Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng. All three Chinese astronauts are believed to have been fighter pilots in the PLA Air Force.
The PRC has also indicated that it plans to undertake lunar missions. The Chang'e program was intended to involve a lunar orbiter mission in 2007 followed by a lunar lander in 2008–2009. The Chang'e program is also expected to involve one or more lunar sample retrieval missions, probably by 2017. All of these missions will be unmanned, robotic missions.
Military Space Programs
The Chinese antisatellite (ASAT) test of January 11, 2007, served as a reminder that the People's Liberation Army plays a significant if little discussed role in China's space efforts. The PRC has been extremely reticent about its military space programs. This is complicated by the dual-use nature of most Chinese satellites, and the avowed interest in using space to improve "comprehensive national power," with its civilian and military components.
Given the confluence of military and civilian bureaucracies, the PLA almost certainly has access to data gathered from civilian space assets. For example, navigation satellites provide the ability to improve navigation and guidance for military and civilian aircraft. Similarly, it is likely that the PLA also has access to meteorological and Earth resources data derived from satellite information.
Little is publicly available, however, regarding China's dedicated military space systems. In the 1970s, the short-lived Technology Experiment Satellite was reputed to have been military in nature. According to some reports, China's initial group of FSW-series satellites launched in the 1970s and early 1980s carried Earth imaging payloads that may have been intended for the PLA.38 Subsequent FSW satellites may also have conducted military missions.
More recently, reports beginning in 1999 indicated that the PRC was preparing to orbit a military communications satellite. The Zhongxing-22 or Fenghuo-1 was eventually launched in January 2000.39 That same year, the Chinese orbited a Ziyuan-2 Earth observation satellite. Some reports have indicated that it was actually a military imaging satellite distinct from the Ziyuan-1 named the Jianbing-3.40
The Chinese manned program also seems to involve a military component. China's astronaut corps, for example, is apparently drawn from the ranks of PLA Air Force fighter pilots. Some reports have also suggested that the orbital module on the Shenzhou-V mission had a military reconnaissance payload, possibly involving either electronic or photoreconnaissance.
Chinese Views on Spacepower
The PRC defines its national interest in terms of expanding its comprehensive national power: "In the period of our socialist modernization construction, national interest and the general line and principles of the Party focus on increasing social productive forces, revitalizing economy and strengthening comprehensive national power."41 By comprehensive national power, the Chinese are referring to the various capabilities required to provide for the survival and development of the nation, to meet material and ideological demands of its population, and to exert influence on the international scene. The China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, a top Chinese think tank, has defined comprehensive national power as the "total of the powers or strengths of a country in economics, military affairs, science and technology, education, resources, and influence."42
Space plays a key role in the development of China's comprehensive national power, because it touches on so many of the component elements. As Zhang Qingwei, general manager of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, has noted, China's space efforts are comprehensively integrated into "the economy, into social development, into scientific advances, and into related industrial areas. It has already become a strategic industry in terms of broadly raising China's real comprehensive power."43
Chinese leadership has consistently supported the development of scientific and technical capabilities as part of their effort to improve the national economy. The general view seems to be that improvements in science and technology will lead to improvements in various Chinese industries, which will in turn raise the overall efficiency and productivity of the Chinese economy. State Councillor Chen Zhili, for example, notes in an article in the influential journal Qiushi that development of science and technology, and especially "independent innovative strength," is important in order to "realize a sustainable and healthy economic development."44
Hu Jintao, in remarks at the unveiling of China's Mid- and Long-Term National Science and Technology Development Plan in January 1996, emphasized that science and technology represents the first line of production. Consequently, pushing development of S&T is essential for fostering "autonomous innovation" in China.45 He is echoed by Chen, who notes that science and technology "innovation is rapidly becoming the key force in propelling a country's development."46 That same phrase is prominently mentioned as a principle underlying the development of China's space program.47
More concretely, China's space industry is seen as a major part of the economy. The various corporations under CNSA, for example, employ hundreds of thousands of skilled workers. A prosperous Chinese space industrial base is therefore one that would absorb thousands of engineers. It would also help foster demand for a variety of advanced materials and supporting high technology. Satellite and launcher construction requires advanced electronics, advanced materials such as composites, and improved energy sources. An expanding Chinese space industrial base would therefore promote these other key industries as well.48
Along these lines, it is interesting to note that a "Proposal for Development of Our Nation's Lunar Exploration Technology" was incorporated in 1997 into Plan 863. The plan called for a series of unmanned lunar landings. The aim of the plan was to foster China's robotics industry. The plan was reportedly drafted in part by Yang Jiachi, Wang Daheng, and Chen Fangyun, three of the scientists who had approached Deng Xiaoping about creating Plan 863 in the first place.49
More broadly, Chinese efforts to develop aerospace technology are seen as an enabler, pushing the development of other essential foundations of the Chinese economy. Work on sophisticated space systems, for example, has the potential to foster improvements in systems integration. 50 This is a significant weakness in Chinese industrial and technological capabilities, and improvements in this area would probably benefit the Chinese economy as a whole as it propagated across industrial sectors.
The development of China's space applications industry in both depth and breadth would also benefit the Chinese economy as a whole. This is one of the major development policies enumerated in the 2006 Chinese space white paper, which called to promote "space application and accelerate the industrialization of space activities."51
Indeed, space applications are already generating revenue valued in the billions of renminbi (RMB) and are seen as a major future growth area. China, for example, is already a major user of satellite navigation services. Since 1998, China's market for satellite navigation systems has grown at the rate of 50 percent per year. In 2000, the market was in the area of RMB2 billion/US$256.4 million, with some 150,000 satellite navigation equipment sets sold. By 2003, the market had nearly doubled, to RMB3.95 billion/$506.4 million, of which half involved commercial services, software development, systems integration, and so forth. By 2005, the Chinese satellite navigation market was estimated at RMB12 billion/$1.538 billion. 52
Another major area of space applications is satellite broadcasting. There are some 50 Chinese television programs currently broadcast by satellite, mostly apparently from the Central China Television system, but there are efforts to expand this by making provincial television programs available to all of China through satellite broadcast as well.53 Meanwhile, some Chinese analyses foresee major growth in demand for direct-broadcast satellite television. One analysis notes that such growth would help China to develop better software, expand China's domestic consumer electronics market, and promote the construction of satellites, rockets, and associated equipment. 54
As with space industry, space applications are expected to facilitate growth in national comprehensive power, due not only to the direct benefits, but also from indirect effects. Satellite communications is seen as integral to expanding Chinese commerce, including financial transactions.55 PRC participation in the global economy, therefore, requires steady improvements in China's communications capacity, including the satellite component. Similarly, improved weather and remote-sensing satellites will likely generate improved agricultural yields and better forestry management. Navigation and positioning satellites help in urban planning and designing transportation networks. Earth imaging satellites provide for more efficient resource and land-use surveys and help warn of natural disasters (such as forest and grasslands fires). As China is still a lesser developed country, the more efficient use of available resources is essential.
Nor is this solely a matter of physical resources. Chinese analyses of future satellite applications often mention the role of distance learning and telemedicine.56 While this would obviously lead to benefits for more isolated areas (by potentially improving the standards of teaching and medicine), it also leads to a potentially more efficient allocation of resources. The utilization of satellite communications technology to allow expert personnel, in essence, to be in multiple places at once means that scarce, trained human capital can be employed to the maximum extent. Given the ever-growing demand in China for trained personnel, distance learning and telemedicine are powerful means of leveraging scarce human resources.
In this regard, space is also seen as a means of inspiring younger Chinese into a career in the sciences. Creating a cadre of scientific and technical personnel is a key part of the Mid- and Long-Term Plan. Hu Jintao himself has called for seeking out talent and providing international levels of S&T education in order to build a foundation for future economic and technological development. 57 Nurturing human talent is also one of the key points emphasized by CASC director Jun Jiajun, who notes that there must be careful fostering of innovative talent within the space industrial sector.58
Finally, by participating in the international space market, China also stands to gain economically. China's entry into the commercial space launch business not only provided orders for Chinese launchers, and therefore jobs, but also constituted a welcome source of hard currency, in the early stages of reform and opening up. Even more lucrative would be the sale of satellites and space services, including navigation and positioning. The Nigeriasat program, for example, is valued at $250 million, including satellite construction, launch, and insurance.59 The joint effort with Venezuela on the Simon Bolivar satellite is believed to be similarly priced. 60
Just as space influences the economic aspects of comprehensive national power, it also affects the political component, including both domestic and foreign elements.
Domestic politics . Politically, space has long been seen as a source of Chinese national pride. The Chinese developed most of their space program solely through their own efforts. This self-reliance, encapsulated in references to the "two bombs, one satellite" efforts of the 1960s, underscored that China's achievements were its own. This mantra is still regularly cited in current Chinese politics. In 1999, for example, there was an awards ceremony for those involved in China's nuclear weapons, missile, and space efforts. Recipients were awarded a "two bombs, one satellite" medal. At the ceremony, Jiang Zemin spoke of the "two bombs, one satellite" spirit. This spirit, he said, embodies five principles, which he characterized as following the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, maintaining a spirit of self-reliance, focusing efforts on particular goals, respecting the role of science and technology, and maintaining a spirit of scientific management.61 Jiang called for a continuation of this spirit in ongoing endeavors.
Other Chinese leaders also continue to refer to the "two bombs, one satellite" spirit, specifically linking it with the idea that sophisticated technology was developed from minimal resources, by dint of the Party's leadership. 62 The occasion of the Shenzhou-VI mission, for example, was credited to "the inheritance and elevation of the spirit of 'two bombs, one satellite,' the extension and expansion of the great national spirit, and the powerful spiritual motive force for winning complete success."63
Chinese emphasis on autonomous or independent innovation in the space sector would seem to represent an extension of a longstanding theme. Thus, in remarks commemorating the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Fifth Academy, Jun Jiajun noted that China's aerospace industry, and especially CASC, has consistently held to the path of autonomous innovation.64 This adherence, in turn, is credited with helping make China a more advanced nation. The implication would seem to be that China's rise in stature, marked in part by its improved space capabilities, is not only a reflection of Chinese achievements, but also is emblematic of the correctness of the Chinese Communist Party's decisions and policies.
At a more immediate level, space systems literally help bind the nation together. For example, communications satellites are a key part of China's telecommunications network. One of the objectives has been to utilize satellite communications to improve village-to-village links. Now there is a growing effort to progress to the next step and allow person-to-person links.65 This is especially important in China, where telephone penetration, while steadily increasing, is by no means universal. Statistics released in 2005 by the Ministry of Information Industry, for example, indicated that fixed-line telephone penetration in China is approximately 24.9 percent, while cell phone penetration is 25.9 percent (although such figures represented 329.5 million and 353.7 million people, respectively). 66
International politics. From its earliest days, Chinese leadership has seen aerospace technology and developments as a source of prestige and international respect. In 1962, for example, Foreign Minister Chen Yi told Marshal Nie Rongzhen and Chief of the General Staff Luo Ruiqing that "producing atomic bombs, missiles, and supersonic aircraft would put me, the Minister of Foreign Relations, in a better position!"67 Mao Zedong also noted the importance of such systems in ensuring that China would not be bullied. 68
This recognition of the importance of international prestige has often been explicit. As China was only the fifth nation to orbit a satellite, Mao himself instructed that said satellite should be larger and more capable than the first American satellite. Similarly, China is only the third nation to orbit an astronaut on its own, but it made sure that its first manned mission was longer than that of either the Soviet Union or the United States. In the case of Shenzhou-VI, the mission was seen as not only showcasing Chinese technological innovation, but also as a means of potentially burnishing the Chinese brand name.69
This effort to utilize space to raise China's reputation has extended to its endeavors to engage in international space programs. With the launch of its first Fengyun weather satellite, for example, China offered to provide the resulting data to other nations. Indeed, Chinese descriptions of the Fengyun series of satellites usually mention that the FY–1C was incorporated into the World Meteorological Organization's constellation of weather satellites. Similarly, Chinese analyses of the state of their space industry generally mention space cooperation efforts with Russia, the European Space Agency, and France. The implicit message is that China's space capabilities make it an equal with other, more advanced nations.
While it has sought to leverage more prestige from its space efforts, however, China has also sought to utilize its space capabilities to foster additional diplomatic gains. Beijing was a major impetus behind the creation of the Asia-Pacific Space Cooperation Organization. Beginning in 1992, Thailand, Pakistan, and the PRC sought to form a multinational organization among Asian and Pacific states to facilitate cooperation in the development of space technology and space applications. In 2006, those three states, along with Bangladesh, Indonesia, Iran, Mongolia, and Peru, agreed to form the Asia-Pacific Space Cooperation Organization. They also agreed make the PRC its hosting country and Beijing its headquarters. 70 Soon afterward, Turkey became the ninth member of the organization.
The creation of such an organization marks one step toward diffusing some of the perception in Southeast Asia of a "China threat." It also helps China to forge additional links to states with which it generally seeks to maintain good relations (such as Indonesia and Mongolia). Similar benefits may accrue from other Chinese cooperative efforts, such as those with Brazil.
There have also been more practical gains. China's first overseas facilities, for example, were established as part of the manned space effort. In order to provide constant telemetry and tracking capability, China needed land-based facilities abroad in addition to its domestic sites and four space-observation vessels. As a result, the PRC established facilities in Namibia and Kiribati as support centers for the Shenzhou program. These have since been supplemented by facilities in Pakistan (a longtime Chinese ally) and Kenya, while the Kiribati facility was dismantled.
Diplomacy and economics also interact. While China undoubtedly is interested in the sale of satellites abroad in order to access the global satellite market, the sale of such systems to major oil exporters such as Nigeria and Venezuela may be more than coincidence. Similarly, the desire of the Chinese to cooperate with Europe on space technology almost certainly is affected by the ongoing embargoes on high-technology exports imposed after the events at Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Taiwan. The unique circumstances of cross-Strait relations between China and Taiwan are also affected by China's space program.
On the one hand, the Chinese have sought to use achievements in space to tie Taiwan back to China. Prior to the launch of Shenzhou-V, Chinese officials offered to take seeds from Taiwan into space. The offer was made "to reinforce cooperation with Taiwan on agricultural sciences in a bid to promote the common development of agricultural technology on both sides of the Taiwan Strait." 71 The offer was ultimately accepted, and Shenzhou-V carried flower and vegetable seeds from Taiwan into orbit. Xie Mingbao, director of the China Manned Space Engineering Office, observed that "we are willing to actively promote anything that will benefit Taiwan compatriots."72
Similarly, news regarding China's space efforts is often conveyed in a manner to suggest that it reflects upon all Chinese, including those on Taiwan. Fei Junlong, one of the two astronauts on the Shenzhou-VI mission, is quoted as saying, "We're grateful for the deep love and concern by all Chinese people, the Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan compatriots," prior to the launch.73
At the same time, however, Beijing-Taipei tensions have also been reflected in space affairs. The Chinese facility on Kiribati was closed and the equipment dismantled when the Kiribati government decided to recognize Taiwan. Beijing clearly felt that its efforts to isolate Taiwan outweighed the benefits of any information from that site.
Indeed, there is an implicit message from Beijing to Taiwan that China's space capabilities are intertwined with its military capabilities. Better space-based sensors provide Beijing with the ability to monitor developments on Taiwan. Improved reliability in Chinese space launch vehicles will almost certainly be mirrored by similar improvements in Chinese tactical and strategic missiles. Improvements in optics and controls are likely to lead to not only better space systems, but more lethal and precise weaponry as well.
This message, of course, is not aimed solely at Taiwan. Space is ultimately a dual-use environment. Much of the technology used in space has both military and civilian applications. Therefore, building up China's space capabilities inevitably also will have an impact on China's military capabilities, as it affects the other components of comprehensive national power.
Chinese analyses of recent wars, especially U.S. military operations since the 1991 Gulf War, initially concluded that the key to future warfare was high technology. As Jiang Zemin's 1995 speech on the "Two Transformations" noted, the PLA needed to shift from emphasizing quantity to emphasizing quality, and from preparing to fight local wars under ordinary conditions (industrial age warfare) to preparing to fight local wars under modern, high-tech conditions (in light of information technology and systems of systems).74
In the subsequent years, however, and further local wars (such as Afghanistan and Iraq), it became clear to Chinese analysts that the key technologies were those associated with information. The emphasis therefore shifted from local wars under high-tech conditions to local wars under informationalized conditions (LWUIC). This, in turn, has made space a crucial arena for future military operations. According to these analyses:
This last conclusion is due in large part to the heavy reliance on space systems exhibited by the United States in recent wars. One Chinese article in 2005 noted that:
For the 2003 Iraq war, another Chinese article estimates that the United States relied on satellites for 95 percent of reconnaissance and surveillance information, 90 percent of military communications, 100 percent of navigation and positioning, and 10 percent of meteorological and weather forecasting. It also estimates the Russian military relies on satellites for 70 percent of strategic intelligence and 80 percent of military communications.76
It is this steadily escalating reliance upon space for information operations that has led the PLA to conclude that dominance of the information domain is predicated on the ability to control space. In the opinions of some PLA analysts, without control of space, any attempt at dominating the information domain, or exercising combat in the electromagnetic spectrum, is made much more difficult, if not outright impossible.77 Others write that "in modern wars, seizing space dominance has already become a vital part of seizing information dominance, from which one can then retain the active position in the war." 78
Space, in Chinese writings, represents the new strategic high ground and is described as such. Chinese authors note that the combination of modern information technology and military space systems has created the means of coordinating land, sea, and air forces; control of space (and the advantages thus gained in the information domain) in this view is now crucial for coordinating joint operations. 79 They write that whoever gains space dominance will be able to influence and control other battlefields and will be likely to retain the initiative, while loss of that control is likely to lead to a reactive, passive stance. 80 Space is therefore considered an essential part of joint campaigns, a fundamental method of fighting future wars; conversely, joint campaign coordination will rely upon the ability to exploit space. 81
To this end, PLA analyses discuss space-related tasks. These include:
It is probably no accident that each of these mission areas is currently supported by at least part of the Chinese inventory of space assets. The dual-use nature of China's space systems has not prevented it from developing the systems it believes are necessary to sustain military operations.
At the same time, PLA authors have also discussed the importance of denying space to an opponent. Unlike air or naval dominance, space dominance is focused on providing windows of opportunity, establishing control only over certain areas of space for a certain period of time. 83
It was unclear as of 2007 whether a PLA space doctrine had been formally promulgated. But recent PRC activities suggest that interest is shifting from the theoretical to the physical. Reports in late 2006, for example, indicated that the PRC has fired lasers, possibly several times, at U.S. satellites, apparently in an attempt to blind them.84 This was then followed by the January 2007 test of a direct-ascent ASAT that destroyed a defunct FY–1C weather satellite.
Although the kinetic kill vehicle test focused attention on Chinese development of hard-kill systems, PLA writings appear to approach the topic from a much broader perspective. Since the objective is attaining information dominance—that is, dominating space is a means, not necessarily an end—the focus is on disrupting the flow of information, rather than necessarily destroying satellites per se.
Consequently, many PLA writings discuss the utility of soft-kill methods against space architectures. Satellite operations rely heavily on the use of computers to transmit and manage the data.85 Without functioning command, control, communications, computers, and information systems, it would be difficult to employ space systems. This is a major reason why space combat and information combat are so closely linked.86 As one set of PLA teaching materials notes, an especially effective means to soft-kill space systems may be interference with the computer systems controlling space platforms, both on-board systems as well as those in ground-based control centers.87
PLA writings also suggest that there is an important role for passive countering of space systems, which involves various deception and camouflage methods to counter enemy space-based reconnaissance and surveillance systems.88 Utilizing various deception measures and stealthing techniques in order to forestall detection from space offers the potential for China to suddenly appear where there had been few indications of a PLA presence, thus surprising an opponent. Thus, PLA authors have suggested that "skillful use of technical means to avoid reconnaissance" can be an extremely effective combat style in space-related coordinated activities. 89
Regardless of whether through soft or hard kill, the key objective seems to be denying opponents access to information by interfering with their space-based systems and thereby retarding their command and control. In short, by denying an opponent the ability to use space freely, the PLA would be denying them the ability to achieve information dominance and therefore make them less able to fight an informationalized war.
Prospects for the Future
Given that China sees improved space capabilities as contributing to the growth of its comprehensive national power, it is hardly surprising that it is interested in strengthening its space capabilities. China's aerospace efforts are likely to focus on undertaking "three transformations." These include:
The overall theme underlying these shifts is that the PRC wishes to make its spacepower more responsive to the needs of the nation and the development of national comprehensive power. This will require a more responsive industrial system, optimized toward considering likely markets and client demands. It will also entail a more focused approach toward research and development.
The 2006 white paper on Chinese space activities enumerates areas in which these transformations will be realized. Certainly, there will be new hardware, including new launchers using more environmentally friendly propellants, as well as a range of new satellite systems, such as improved remote sensing, telecommunications, and navigation satellites. This will require improvements in subsystems, including power sources and materials. In addition, however, the white paper notes that China will develop ground equipment production and operational services, in order to extend itself into the "secondary development of space technology."91
Also prominent is the expansion of China's space industry beyond hardware into space applications and space services. This includes improvements in its space applications system, so that the information it does obtain can be better exploited. It also entails the promotion of scientific management and the fostering of talent.92
One likely focus will be China's space-based communications systems, including direct broadcast satellite television. This is perceived as an important means of pushing greater domestic political and ideological unity and providing additional cultural development. 93 It is also seen as driving the development of China's software industry, as well as promoting the construction of satellites, rockets, and other associated items. 94
Another probable focus of development efforts will be satellite navigation and positioning. Satellite navigation will likely be an integral element of the informationalization of China's economy and society. Chinese analyses discuss the merging of wireless communications systems, computer systems, and geographic information systems to create individual mobile, multiuse information service terminals. 95 Not only, then, is the PRC likely to develop its own satellite navigation system (as called for in the space white paper), but also it is likely to try and expand its presence in satellite navigation applications, such as product tracking.
Such efforts will take some time, however, as China's space industries, despite 50 years of development, are still relatively small players. One Chinese analysis, for example, observed that the average working capital for Chinese aerospace firms in 2005 was only about RMB10 million/US$1.3 million, and only 3 percent of Chinese companies have operating capital above RMB20 million/US$2.6 million.96 By comparison, Boeing Corporation's space-related revenue alone amounted to US$9.1 billion. 97
In the military arena, there probably will be sustained, if not heightened, attention to space operations. PLA authors have increasingly focused on the importance of joint operations, and therefore on the need for information dominance in future local wars under informationalized conditions. This is likely to include additional dedicated military space support systems; it also may result in further testing of offensive and defensive space systems. Just as important, it could include efforts to improve the PLA's ability to interfere with an opponent's overall space architecture while undertaking defensive countermeasures to defend its own.
At the end of the Gulf War, Pierre Joxe, French minister of defense, concluded that the conflict had shown that "the stakes in space go beyond the strict definition of defense. They are national. Not to possess this capacity would affect the very status of the nation." 98 In short, a state seeking to be a major power must be a space power.
The growth of the PRC over the past several decades suggests that China is well on track to becoming a major power. It has seen constant economic growth, greater political standing, and increased influence in world politics. At the same time, however, the PRC is a nation in transition. While parts are rapidly industrializing and developing, the nation as a whole remains relatively poor. There is an omnipresent potential for domestic unrest (often actualized) exacerbated by uneven growth, political corruption, and problematic demographics.
To remedy this situation, the Chinese authorities are intent upon finding and developing those technologies and industries that it can best leverage to maximize national benefits, and increase its comprehensive national power. China's space program would seem to be one of those areas. For the PRC, the development of spacepower may be necessary not only to underscore its great power status, but also to help it attain and retain that status at all.