China has been regularly coming out with white papers in many areas of its endeavour including defence and space activities. Promoting transparency is claimed to be one of the main goals of such an exercise. But largely such papers hide more and reveal less. Further transparency, at times can be a double edged sword especially in the military arena where one would like to both show off own competence so as to deter one’s likely adversaries as also be secretive about any exceptional progress made so as to not reveal too much; in addition at the same time one would like to hide own weaknesses.
Chinese space programme, for long, remained under the so called ‘bamboo curtain’. As part of its efforts in transparency the PRC released its third white paper on space activities in end December last year. This paper follows the pattern of the earlier two white papers released on the subject. Though, not very informative or descriptive the White papers do suggest the direction in which Chinese space programme has been moving forward. The papers also mention the likely plans for the future both in the short term and the long term perspective.
In the latest white paper of December 2011 and in the earlier two white papers of 2000 and 2006 on space the PRC avers that it will make “due contributions to the peaceful use of outer space, and to the civilisation and progress of mankind”. But then the PRC carried out a successful ASAT test in February 2007 which was directly in contradiction to its stated policy in the White paper on space. And thereafter it joined Russia in proposing an international treaty to ban the deployment of weapons in outer space. There can be no two views about the fact that Chinese capabilities in space are making exceptional progress and this would add to the rising comprehensive national power of China. This has several implications for India and our decision makers need to take a note of it and formulate appropriate responses.
While India has been reticent in making any linkages with its civilian and military space programmes China makes no bones about flaunting close linkages between the two. Though this linkage was mentioned in PRC’ white paper on national defence of 2006 vintage it has somewhat been omitted in the ensuing two white papers on defence of the years 2008 and 2010. The 2006 defence white paper states – “ Major scientific and technological projects, such as manned space flights and the Lunar Probe Project, are being carried out to spur the leapfrogging development of high-tech enterprises combining military and civilian needs and to bring about overall improvements in defence-related science and technology….. As a result, a fairly mature scientific and technological infrastructure is taking shape, which is well-configured, multi-functional, efficient and based on close cooperation between the military and civilian sectors.” The 2010 white paper on defence just mentions that “Great importance has been attached to the peaceful use and development of nuclear energy and space technology”. Evidently after testing it ASAT weapon it wants other aspiring space powers to not to emulate its example and therefore PRC’s proposal (along with Russia) to Conference on Disarmament for a draft Treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space and the Threat of Use of Force Against Outer Space Objects.
China's space activities 2011 white paper reiterates that “China always adheres to the use of outer space for peaceful purposes, and opposes weaponization or any arms race in outer space. The country develops and utilizes space resources in a prudent manner and takes effective measures to protect the space environment, ensuring that its space activities benefit the whole of mankind.” Such declarations, evidently, can not be taken at their face value.
In the recent years the Chinese have carried out a number of experiments with the satellites which could add to their ASAT capabilities. In January 2010, they experimented with two missiles being launched from different locations with the aim of engineering an exo- atmospheric collision. The U.S spaced -based sensors had detected two geographically separated missile launch events with exo-atmospheric collision. However, the Chinese failed to notify the tests as per the international norms. Between June and August 2010, two Chinese satellites, SJ-06F and SJ-12, were involved in orbital rendezvous maneuvers that gave rise to the suspicion that these could also be ASAT tests in some way or the other. Such activities same could also have been useful for practicing docking between two satellites; however, in the absence of any advance information by the Chinese the international community is bound to assume the worst.
The 2011 white paper on space assiduously avoids mentioning the word ‘defence’ in its document. In the section on purpose and principles of space development the paper states that China's space industry is subject to and serves the national overall development strategy, and adheres to the principles of scientific, independent, peaceful, innovative, and open development. Contrast this with the white paper of 2006 “Maintaining and serving the country’s overall development strategy, meeting the needs of the state and reflecting its will. China considers the space programme as a strategic way to enhance its economic, scientific, technological and national defence strength, as well as a cohesive force for the unity of the Chinese people, in order to rejuvenate China.”
In the last five years, China’s Long March rockets have accomplished 67 successful launches, sending 79 spacecraft into planned orbits. These rockets have improved their launch performance parameters. It is a different matter that some of the technologies for this purpose have been acquired surreptitiously or through plain pilferage as the Cox report (The Report of the Select Committee on U.S. National Security and Military/Commercial Concerns with the People's Republic of China) of May 1999 has testified; and these efforts have continued since then.
PRC has developed satellites for variety of purposes; earth observation satellites, communications and broadcasting satellites, Navigation and positioning satellites, scientific satellites and technological test satellites. All these lend themselves to be exploited for military purposes.
Development and launching of several Shijian (Practice) satellites and small and micro satellites though ostensibly meant for new technology demonstration can be used for variety of anti-satellites missions and also as platforms for covert military missions.
PRC has shown considerable progress in launching manned spaceship. In September 25 2008, China launched the Shenzhou-7 manned spaceship. In September and November 2011, China successively launched the Tiangong-1 and Shenzhou-8 spaceship, and carried out its first space rendezvous and docking test, in order to progress towards future space laboratories and space stations. In the coming years it is planning to launch Shenzhou-9 and Shenzhou-10 to achieve unmanned /manned rendezvous and docking with the orbitting Tiangong-1 vehicle. For deep space exploration China launched its first lunar probe Chang’e-1 in October 2007 and Change-2 in October 2010. Sun Laiyan the chief administrator of the CNSA had indicated that in the future, China would start deep space exploration focusing on Mars. India’s achievements in space, in comparison, are quite humble.
The space plans for next five years include development and acquisition of space assets at a very rapid pace. The Chinese version of GPS navigation system i.e. Beidou satellite navigation system is being developed in "three-step" development plan - from experimental system to regional system and then to global system. China is expected to put in place a regional Beidou satellite navigation system by 2012. As of now, China has Beidou system consisting of five GEO satellites, five inclined geosynchronous orbit (IGSO) satellites and four medium-Earth-orbit (MEO) satellites. By 2012, the Beidou-2 constellation is expected to provide regional services with approximately 10 satellites. The PRC plans to complete the BeiDou-2 system by 2020, with 35 a satellite constellation offering global coverage. Undoubtedly, PRC seeks to be a predominant power in the space.
Seen from a military perspective China’s space-based assets have expanded PLA’s capabilities in intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, target acquisition, navigation, weapon guidance and command and control areas. Developments in the space have also improved the accuracy of strategic delivery systems as well as missile defnce systems. In short, PRC is fast adding to its both space and counter space capabilities. As is well known Beidou system has both civil and military applications like the GPS and a wide variety of other satellites also have dual applications.
The PLA Air Force leadership has talked about the possibilities of militarization of space. And PLA’s doctrine of fighting the ‘local wars under the conditions of informationalisation’ heavily relies on their space-based assets. PLA writers suggest use of both of offensive and defensive means in order to protect own assets and interfere with or destroy the adversaries’ space assets. Overall objective is to seize the initiative by attacking enemy’s weaknesses.
Buoyed by its economic growth China’s ambitious space is gathering momentum at a time when both the U.S. and Russia’s space programmes are in decline. Obama administration has initiated cut backs both in space exploration and military spending due to economic difficulties and the economic burden of Iraq and Afghan wars. Meanwhile, China is seeking to achieve a degree of parity with advanced nations in its military and space efforts by 2050.
So far as Indian armed forces are concerned there is a Defence Space Vision-2020 document produced by HQ Integrated Defence Staff, which outlines the roadmap for the armed forces in the realm of space. However, the interaction with department of Space and Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is very limited. Consequently, the armed forces are still some distance away from fully exploiting space for real-time military communications and reconnaissance missions, leave alone uses like missile early-warning and delivery of precision-guided munitions through satellite signals or jamming enemy networks.
There is a distinct separation between India’s civil and military space programme on account of which the Indian defence forces’ requirement for space assets has not received adequate attention. India also does not have a white paper on these issues laying out aims and principles of its space programme. Clearly, superiority in space would have concomitant impact in the military arena. Like China aims to erode the asymmetrical U.S military advantage through use of the space India could also follow same policy vis a vis China. While China and most of the other powers profess to use the space for peaceful purposes yet, they continue to add to their military assets in the space. Indian armed forces can usher in RMA to a large extent if they acquire a robust capability in the space. This would help us to meet very significantly the internal and security challenges.
Published Date : 13th January 2012