Chapter 9 Review of China’s New Space Warfare Capability
In 2021, the PLA’s Strategic Support Force achieved major milestones in the development of space technology by launching the Tianhe core module into the earth’s orbit on April 29. The astronauts of the Aerospace System Department entered the Tianhe core module on June 17, successfully launched from the space station on July 14, and returned safely to the earth on September 17. During this period, China continuously demonstrated its national power in space. It is now the only country in the world operating a space station. Its astronauts completed the operation of going in and out of the space capsule, showcasing China’s strong capabilities in precise launching, targeting, communications, and anti-satellite (ASAT).
Furthermore, in 2021, China completed the first-stage development of its communications relay satellite and successfully supported the functioning of the space station and the audio/video communications between the space station and the earth. China’s achievements in space development go beyond space stations and space communications. On May 15, the Mars exploration led by the China National Space Administration declared good news. After the thrilling nine minutes, Tianwen-1 successfully landed by itself on the surface of Mars, making China the world’s second country that has successfully landed on Mars. With these accomplishments, the Chairman of the Central Military Commission, Xi Jinping, visited the satellite base in Xian on September 15 and vowed to protect China’s assets in space. This means China will enhance its resilience in terms of space and military technological development. It also means China is comparable to the U.S., with strengths and vulnerabilities, given its military dependence on space assets.
In the second version of the white paper “China’s National Defense in the New Era” in 2019, China stated that it would accelerate the development of technology, the integration of satellite information and resources and the command of Space Situational Awareness (SSA) to enhance the abilities in accessing and utilizing the space. Given China’s achievements in space development in 2021, this chapter focuses on the military implications by focusing on the PLA Strategic Support Force’s relevant activities in 2021. The purpose is to examine how the Aerospace System Department under the Strategic Support Force combines cyber and electronic warfare units and utilizes the space development plans and relevant warfare capabilities to support the PLA’s information warfare or establish information advantages through gray-area conflicts.
Below is a summary of the PLA Strategic Support Force’s progress in its space station, satellite communications network, and anti-satellite (ASAT) capabilities. The section also provides an analysis on the implications of the military’s strengthening the access and utilization of the space, enhancement of Space Situational Awareness (SSA), and countering the enemy’s use of space to achieve information advantages.
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Steven Lee Myers and Kenneth Chang, “China’s Mars Rover Mission Lands on the Red Planet,” New York Times, May 14, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/14/science/china-mars.html?_ga=2.146445553.455917626.1632233103-1542753318.1629218292.
“A Space Dream Built with Precision and Ingenuity,” people.cn, September 20, 2021, http://politics.people. com.cn/BIG5/n1/2021/0920/c1001-32232002.html.
“China’s National Defense in the New Era (full text).” Ministry of National Defense of the People’s Republic of China, July 24, 2019, http://www.mod.gov.cn/big5/regulatory/2019-07/24/content_4846424.htm.