DOD A Tad Softer on China's Military Space Program

DOD A Tad Softer on China's Military Space Program

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) released its annual report on China’s military power last week. Regarding space activities, it contains few surprises, but seems just a tad softer in its assessment of China’s military space goals, if not its capabilities.

One interesting comment in the newly released report, for example, is that the commander of the PLA Air Force (PLAAF), General Xu Qiliang, publicly retracted a statement he made last year about the likelihood of militarization of space.

DOD stated in its 2010 version of the report that General Xu “said that the trend of military competition extending to space is ‘inevitable’ and emphasized the transformation of the PLAAF from a homeland defense focus to one that ‘integrates air and space,’ and that possesses both ‘offensive and defensive’ capabilities.” This year, DOD reveals that General Xu retracted his “assertion that the militarization of space was a ‘historic inevitability’ after President Hu Jintao swiftly contradicted him.”

That does not mean China is any less interested in military uses of space, however. Both the 2010 and 2011 versions of the report assert in slightly different words that the PLA regards the ability to utilize space and deny adversaries access to space as “central to enabling modern, informatized warfare.”

The 2010 report goes on to say that “China is developing the ability to attack an adversary’s space assets, accelerating the militarization of space. PLA writings emphasize the necessity of ‘destroying, damaging and interfering with the enemy’s reconnaissance ….and communications systems.”

This year’s report seems somewhat softer, however. While it uses the same quote about the PLA writings, it omits the assessment China is “accelerating the militarization of space.”

This year’s report notes that in 2010 China successfully conducted 15 launches, “a national record.” Among the Chinese satellites were five Beidou-2 navigation satellites and nine remote sensing satellites for both military and civilian uses. China also buys commercial imagery from European, Canadian, Indian, and U.S. companies to supplement their own imagery, DOD says.

As for the Chinese human spaceflight program, this report asserts that China plans a “permanently manned space station by 2020 and landing a human on the moon by 2030.”

As it has in the past, DOD asserts that China is developing a range of antisatellite (ASAT) technologies, not only the direct ascent ASAT whose test created a tremendous cloud of space debris in 2007. China was subjected to international condemnation for conducting that test and creating a hazard to everyone’s space operations. Nonetheless, DOD asserts that China continues to “develop and refine this system,” as well as “other kinetic and directed-energy… technologies for ASAT missions.”

This annual report is required by Congress. DOD put a note on the front page of this edition to let the taxpayers know that it cost just over $73,000 to produce.

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