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Chinese Military Space Capabilities (Section 2)

This report compiled by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission details the development of the People's Republic of China's space capabilities. We will only be covering SECTION 2 (p. 21 - 41) that deals in China's space-military infrastructure, but you are welcome to read and incorporate other sections into the discussion if this topic is of particular interest to you.

"In early 2016, the Chinese military undertook a sweeping reorganization and reform program with the stated objective of molding a joint force capable of a broad range of contingencies. Several drivers have influenced the Central Military Command’s (CMC) ongoing restructuring and reform initiative. The reform and restructuring involved elimination of the four general departments: the General Staff Department (GSD), General Political Department (GPD), General Logistics Department (GLD), and General Armaments Department (GAD). In their place, the CMC established new departments, transformed the PLA Second Artillery Force into the PLA Rocket Force (PLARF), and established a new PLA Army headquarters and the PLASSF. The seven Military Regions were consolidated into five Theater Commands (TCs). Each of the service headquarters has reinforced their organizing, training, and equipping missions.

The ongoing reform and reorganization effort likely will improve China’s ability to realize its space ambitions. First, the establishment of the PLASSF integrates space-related RD&A, operations, and training under a single authority. Discussion of an independent space force had been underway since the 1990s. Before 2016, both the former GSD and GAD managed RD&A associated with their respective missions. The merger of space missions under a single authority is likely to create a more efficient and effective system for overseeing development and integration of new capabilities into the active force. With space-related training managed by a central authority, the reorganization also will likely create operational synergies that did not exist before 2016.

The PLA is seeking to improve its space situational awareness and making rapid advances in its space-based early warning capabilities. China reportedly has been cooperating with Russia in developing an early warning capability. China has cooperated with Ukraine on space debris monitoring and research on deep space issues.

PLASSF senior officers manage at least three first-level administrative departments, two systems departments, and at least 12 corps leader-grade or corps deputy leader-grade base commands. The PLASSF Space Systems Department is central to China’s ambitions in space. The PLASSF maintains space situational awareness through a corps leader-grade command headquartered in Xian, a corps leader-grade maritime space tracking command, and a control center in Beijing. This network integrates space tracking data from ground-based assets in China, sea-based units, and a number of international ground stations located in the Indo-Pacific region and elsewhere (see below).

The PLASSF also oversees an expanding space-based ISR network that enables monitoring of U.S. activities in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond. The expansion of this network is likely to enhance China’s ability to conduct military operations farther from shore. Over the years, the PLA has fielded electro-optical (EO), radar, and other space-based sensor platforms that can transmit images of the Earth’s surface to ground stations in near-real-time. China is investing heavily in EO, synthetic aperture radar (SAR), and electronic reconnaissance surveillance capabilities. Future deployments of potential sea-based imagery receiving stations, additional data relay satellite systems, or the further establishment of ground stations abroad could enhance China’s extended- range near-real-time targeting capability.

Importantly, a growing body of Chinese military-technical literature suggests planning for a counterspace capability. The PLA also has deployed or is developing jamming and cyberspace capabilities, directed energy weapons, on-orbit capabilities, and ground-based ASAT missiles that can deny an adversary unimpeded use of its own satellite systems. The specific PLA service responsible for direct ascent ASAT operations remains unknown. However, technology demonstration testing of a space intercept system has been carried out since at least 2005. Testing of kinetic kill vehicles (KKVs), high-powered lasers, co-orbital satellites, electronic jamming, and—possibly—cyberattacks have been reported. The opacity surrounding China’s space programs suggests other clandestine counterspace weapons programs may also exist.

The PLASSF plays a critical role in supporting national- and theater-level command and control. The CMC Joint Staff Department (JSD) manages the national military command system, with the CMC JSD Operations Bureau functioning as the core duty staff within the CMC Joint Command Center. PLASSF staff officers probably augment the CMC Joint Command Center’s duty office during peacetime, and in higher readiness levels. CMC Joint Command Center operations are also augmented by at least ten dedicated support groups (保障大队) that are responsible for mission planning/targeting; survey, mapping, and navigation; network/electronic countermeasures; battlespace awareness; meteorology/hydrography; and other functions. Support groups likely rely heavily on PLASSF space assets."

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