This article first appeared in Defense Technology International.
China has been developing and purchasing weapons for precision-strike warfare. This is the hard edge of the People's Liberation Army's (PLA) doctrinal drive toward using increasingly sophisticated information technologies such as C4ISR (command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) to improve the capabilities of weapon systems. The PLA's near-term goals appear to be greater asymmetric capabilities to target U.S. naval assets in the western Pacific and in space as part of an anti-access strategy. Long-term, however, greater precision will be a feature of most new weapon systems.
China's growing C4ISR capabilities were demonstrated in March by its coordinated two-fleet operation to intercept two U.S. Navy ocean survey vessels. Chinese ships found and harassed the USNS Victorious, operating in the Yellow Sea, and USNS Impeccable, which was about 75 mi. south of Hainan Island. The fallout was diplomatic, as Washington and Beijing clashed over interpretations of the Law of the Sea Treaty, which Beijing contends gives it rights to deny access to military survey missions. This incident, though, was reminiscent in timing and scope to the April 2001 clash that saw China "capture" a U.S. Navy EP-3 electronic intelligence aircraft off Hainan.
China's aggressive challenge of Japanese claims in the East China Sea, plus Washington's refusal to cease its survey missions could be flashpoints. In February, a provincial Communist Party newspaper contained a threat to sink U.S. survey ships.
In this second of three articles on China's growing regional power, DTI examines the country's efforts to improve its ability to target and destroy threats.
Since the early 1990s, Chinese military scholars have been warning of the need for China to prepare to defend against, and if necessary, conduct military operations in space. In late 2006 reports emerged of China's use of high-power ground-based lasers to "dazzle" U.S. surveillance satellites. On Feb. 11, 2007, China launched the first successful intercept by its SC-19 direct-ascent antisatellite (ASAT) system, derived from its KT-1 solid-fuel space-launch vehicle, with an interceptor stage whose development was likely aided by China's micro-satellite programs. A target FY-2 weather satellite was probably illuminated by large phased-array radar developed for tracking Shenzhou manned space capsules. A far less-noted potential co-orbital ASAT demonstration occurred on Sept. 27, 2008, when the Shenzhou-7 manned spacecraft, which had just launched a BX-1 nanosatellite, passed within 45 km. (28 mi.) of the International Space Station. Following the U.S. Navy's shootdown of an errant satellite on Feb. 21, 2008, and a Mar. 5, 2008, announcement that Russia would resume ASAT development, it is likely that China will continue ASAT testing.
China's direct-ascent ASAT also proves that it is capable of developing a long-range antiballistic missile (ABM) system, a U.S. pursuit that China has opposed. China had an ABM program from 1963-80 that produced a short-range interceptor prototype and long-range radar. Chinese sources told DTI at the recent IDEX expo in Abu Dhabi that they have tested the new FD-2000 surface-to-air missile (SAM) in an antitactical ballistic missile (ATBM) mode. Developed with help from Russia's Almaz-Antey Co., the FD-2000 also draws from the earlier passive-guided FT-2000 SAM, which reportedly benefited from U.S. Patriot SAM technology. These indigenous SAMs are entering PLA service, and will complement about 1,000 Almaz-Antey S-300/PMU-1/PMU-2 SAMs purchased since the early 1990s, giving the PLA air force the most formidable air-defense network in Asia. The PLA has also developed short-range SAM systems -- including man-portable air-defense systems -- for tracked vehicles and trucks. Among these is the TY-90 Yitian for trucks and armored personnel carriers that was disclosed in 2005, but displayed for the first time at IDEX this year.