New DOD Report on China's Military Power Says Little New About Space

New DOD Report on China's Military Power Says Little New About Space

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) has released its annual assessment of China’s military power. The report is required by Congress. The 2010 edition, bearing a different title than its predecessors, Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China, concludes that China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) sees “space as central to enabling modern informatized warfare, but PLA doctrine does not appear to contemplate space operations as an operational ‘campaign’ on its own; rather, space operations form an integral component of all campaigns.”

While conceding that studying PLA views on strategy remains “an inexact science,” the report asserts that China is “accelerating the militarization of space” by developing anti-satellite (ASAT) capabilities. The report repeats earlier DOD analysis that China continues to develop the ASAT system it tested in 2007 and other types of counter-space weapons as well, including kinetic and directed-energy weapons. The 2007 test led to international condemnation because of the thousands of pieces of debris it created.

The wording on space’s role in modern warfare and China’s ASAT activities is almost identical to what appeared in the 2009 version of the report.

The report is far from an analysis of China’s space program and goals, limiting itself to very brief discussions of selected activities. There is little new compared with last year’s version; in fact, there is less discussion of the human spaceflight program, for example. In an article in this week’s Space Review, Dwayne Day has an interesting take on what is omitted from the report, hypothesizing that DOD may decline to include information for fear of revealing what it knows. He also points to a side-by-side comparison of what is said about space in the 2009 and 2010 versions prepared by Sam Black of Arms Control Wonk as well as Black’s analysis of the two documents.

In short, the report is disappointing for anyone wanting to learn new information about China’s space program.

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