Chinese Space Power

By Hughes, James H. | The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies, Summer 2000 | Go to article overview

Chinese Space Power


Hughes, James H., The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies


The author notes the growth of Chinese military power and its extensive interest in missiles and space research. He takes the view that China may be planning to supplant the U.S.A. as the dominant world power, and examines the prospects for an adequate U.S. defense in the event of a future military conflict with China.

Key Words: China, U.S.A., space, space satellites, space defense, ballistic missiles, lasers, Peoples' Liberation Army

China's ballistic missile buildup underscores its growing military capability and plans to dominate space. Under the leadership of its communist government, China's growing military power appears to have one object in mind, the displacement of the United States' as the world's leading power, and the elevation of China, the world's most populous nation.2 Taking Taiwan may be an intermediate step in that process. Space power is the key to China's planning to supplant the United States.3

China's emphasis on developing space power dates largely from the 1991 Persian Gulf War. The U.S.-led coalition victory over Iraq owed much of its success to satellites in space. U.S. satellites served as valuable force multipliers. Satellites provided the coalition forces under General Norm Schwarzkopf with vital reconnaissance information, GPS navigation, communications, launch warnings of Scuds, and up-to-date weather information.4

The 1991 Persian Gulf War also showed the vulnerability of military forces and countries to ballistic missiles - a second aspect of space warfare as ballistic missiles travel through space. Scud hunting became an unexpected diversion for the coalition, taking more aircraft than anticipated. The U.S. was fortunate to have the improved Patriot air defense on hand so it could defend against Saddam Hussein's Scuds, obtaining a moral victory over the threat, and partial victory in interceptions.

The Gulf War victory demonstrated the critical importance of satellites to advanced technology warfare - the method of warfare adopted by the United States after World War II. Satellites are critical military assets. The fear inspired by the Iraqi Scud and resources spent to defend against the Scud also demonstrated the value of the ballistic missile, and importance of space. Space had become a new theater of warfare.

The Military Importance of Space

The influence of space is seen in the U.S. "Revolution in Military Affairs." U.S. intelligence, reconnaissance, and communications in the 1991 Persian Gulf War owed much to satellites in space. The U.S. "Revolution in Military Affairs" was a result of the U.S. possessing the high ground of space for the placement of its satellites. Chinese PLA doctrine would deny the advantages of space to the U.S., and seek to use space for its own advantage.

Another influence of space is in its demand and application of advanced technology. The U.S. has poured billions of dollars into developing advanced technology for space, and military satellites. These satellites have been described as "crown jewels" in America's military assets. As jewels, they can be stolen from the U.S. Their usefulness can be denied. Just as importantly, China's successful acquisition of U.S. advanced technology (dutifully recorded in the 1999 Cox Commission Report and March 2000 CIA and FBI Report on Chinese Espionage) has enabled the Chinese PLA to manufacture advanced military technology of similar quality.

The industrial and technological ability of the Chinese PLA is being aided by the return of Chinese students trained at American universities in advanced technology, sciences, and engineering. These students are a resource for providing the PLA with up-to-date technical information, and technological expertise. In addition, the successful penetration of U.S. defense national laboratories and key American aerospace companies, and the location of American aerospace manufacturing plants and equipment on Chinese soil, has assisted the PLA in acquiring U. …

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