US-China counterspace tensions mount

The Pentagon's latest report to Congress highlights China's growing military space efforts, which include the ability to disrupt what the U.S. or other countries can do.

The annual Pentagon report to Congress on the status of China's military reinforces earlier warnings about a concerted "counterspace" effort that along with electronic warfare and cyber operations could be used to overcome U.S. advantages in "information technology-driven warfare."

While much of the recent focus of China’s military strategy focuses on frictions in the South China Sea, the report submitted to Congress this spring highlights Beijing's growing focus on countering U.S space assets. "In parallel with its space program, China continues to develop a variety of counterspace capabilities designed to limit or to prevent the use of space-based assets by the [Peoples' Liberation Army’s] adversaries during a crisis or conflict," Defense Department analysts asserted.

Congress added more than $32 million to the Air Force's space budget in fiscal 2015 to study future antisatellite capabilities, including offensive and "active defense" capabilities. It also instructed the Pentagon to "conduct a study of potential alternative defense and deterrent strategies in response to the existing and projected counterspace capabilities of China and Russia."

Concerns have grown in the aftermath of Chinese antisatellite tests that demonstrated the capability to destroy military communications satellites, perhaps even those in geostationary orbits. The report states that a 2013 launch with a peak altitude of 18,641 miles may have been designed to test technologies for use during a counterspace mission in geosynchronous orbit. Satellites in geostationary orbit orbit at about 22,000 miles.*

Analysts also suspect that earlier Chinese tests involved a prototype kinetic kill weapon. That possibility has U.S. military officials especially nervous, given the debris fields that could be generated in a space conflict.

This year's assessment of its military power also warned "China is employing more sophisticated satellite operations and is probably testing dual-use technologies in space that could be applied to counterspace missions."

The report to Congress goes on to note advances in China's satellite launch capabilities, including two new versions of its mainstay Long March booster. The number of payloads being orbited ranges from the September 2015 inaugural launch of a Long March-6, which carried China's largest payload of 20 satellites.

At the other end of the payload spectrum, the Chinese military also launched four "femtosatellites," weighing just 100 grams each. Femtosatellites illustrate the scaling down of satellite payloads that began with cubesats and may eventually lead to cheap and disposable space sensors, dubbed chipsats.

As China's space technology continues to advance, Chinese President Xi Jinping has launched a series of ambitious military reforms designed to break up old PLA units. The goal is to create more agile regional commands patterned after the U.S. military structure. Such reforms could help China project power in the Pacific as the United States continues its "pivot" to the region.

Along with counterspace capabilities, Beijing also is attempting to counter U.S. assertions that its moves in the South China Sea threaten "freedom of navigation." In a lengthy rebuttal to an arbitration case before an international tribunal filed by the Philippines, state-controlled China Daily fired back: "The U.S. is portraying China's growing military strength as a major threat to freedom of navigation and over flight in the South China Sea and ratcheting up the bogus 'China threat'."

Added the government publication, "Politically, the U.S. wants to create and hype up tensions in the South China Sea."

*An earlier version of this story mistakenly said that GPS satellites are among those in geostationary orbit. GPS satellites orbit at about 12,500 miles.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.