Defense Media Network

China’s Military Modernizes, Declares Regional Strength

Robust Investments in hardware, technology, and modern operational concepts are yielding major benefits

China continues to launch Yaogan satellites with electro-optic and synthetic aperture radar sensors. At least one ocean surveillance constellation is made up of three such satellites in orbit, flying in roughly a triangular formation. The spacecraft form what appears to be akin to a naval ocean surveillance system. “China’s leaders may believe they require this satellite system to cue their ASBMs. The United States must think innovatively about how China will locate carrier battle groups, including the use of unmanned aerial vehicles and possibly fishing boats,” Erickson said.

Chinese Frigate Chao Hu

The Chinese Frigate FFG Chao Hu in Salalah, Oman. Chinese deployment of forces to counter Somali pirates shows a new wllingness to engage in world affairs. Photo by TMA_0

Emphasizing small satellites and low-cost boosters, the PRC rapidly is gaining the ability to increase, when needed, the number of satellites on orbit. The first PRC indigenous ocean surveillance spacecraft, the Haiyang-1A (HY-1A), went into orbit in 2002 with both commercial and military applications. This satellite stores data using a solid-state memory and downloads it to receiving stations near Beijing and Sanya on Hainan Island, Erickson said. Having launched HY-1B in April 2007 and HY-2A in August 2011, China plans to launch a total of 15 of the Haiyang (Ocean) spacecraft over the next nine years.

Eight satellites designated the HY-1C-J will be launched through 2019. The HY-2 series will employ a Ku/C-band dual-frequency radar altimeter, tri-frequency radiometer, Ku-band scan radar scatterometer and a microwave imager to monitor sea surface wave fields, height, and temperatures. Four HY-2A-D satellites will be launched every three years over this same period. The HY-3 series will use synthetic aperture radar with 1- to 10-meter resolution and X-band radar to monitor maritime resources and coastal zones, Erickson said.

Previously publishing “Eyes in the Sky,” a paper on the PRC’s space program, Erickson pointed out that public analysis from Taiwan’s military notes that the Haiyang satellites are part of an ocean-monitoring system, “which has strengthened PLAN’s military knowledge of a potential Pacific Ocean battlefield.”

China launched 15 spacecraft last year, expanding its space-based intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, navigation, meteorological, and communications capabilities. Beijing launched five navigation satellites, moving toward completion of a regional network in 2012 and a global network by 2020. Nine new Chinese remote sensing satellites went up in 2011, with both civil and military applications.

“For China, the ability to prevent a U.S. carrier strike group from intervening in a Taiwan Strait crisis is critical. The ASBM also could limit other nations, particularly the United States, from exerting military influence on China’s maritime periphery. This periphery contains several disputed zones of core strategic importance to Beijing,” Erickson pointed out. He is co-author, with Lyle J. Goldstein, of Chinese Aerospace Power: Evolving Maritime Roles. China sees ASBM as a way to overcome, by asymmetric advantage, inferiority in conventional combat platforms.

Chinese fishing boats

Two Chinese trawlers stop directly in front of the Military Sealift Command ocean surveillance ship USNS Impeccable (T-AGOS-23), forcing the ship to conduct an emergency “all stop” in order to avoid collision. The incident took place in international waters in the South China Sea about 75 miles south of Hainan Island. The trawlers came within 25 feet of Impeccable, as part of an apparent coordinated effort to harass the unarmed ocean surveillance ship. U.S. Navy photo

By December 2010, the PLA had deployed between 1,000 and 1,300 short-range ballistic missiles to units opposite Taiwan. Variants of these missiles are being introduced with improved ranges, accuracies, and payloads that increase lethality.

“There is an historical background in China’s more recent maritime movement. When the PRC was founded in 1949, Communist Party cadres and military leaders were schooled in the doctrine of people’s war – drawing in, surrounding enemy forces, and attacking in waves. With extensive land combat experience and modest maritime familiarity, beyond coastal defense, China focused on streamlining land warfare forces for three decades.

“The introduction of the U.S. 7th Fleet in the region during the Korean War made it completely unrealistic for China to retake Taiwan. That situation, along with the Soviet Union’s naval strength, muffled any Chinese efforts of becoming a significant player in the maritime dimension during the Cold War,” Erickson said. “China’s growing presence on remote oceans over the past 15 years or so began gradually with Deng Xiaoping’s reforms in the late ’70s or early ’80s.” He reprioritized China’s military forces and invested available resources in areas such as commercial shipbuilding, setting the stage for an export economy with the ability to ship goods to markets around the world.

Shipbuilding and an export economy were vital factors in promoting Chinese naval developments. In part, these are reasons we are seeing naval missions much farther afield, “to the far seas, including counter-piracy deployments in the Gulf of Aden,” Erickson explained. China has remained in the Gulf of Aden since January 2009, and the PLAN has just deployed its 10th escort formation there. This operation represents the PLAN’s only series of kinetic operational deployments beyond the Western Pacific region.

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Clarence A. Robinson, Jr., is the author of Battleground High, a book in progress on...

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-27055">
    Scott W. Schenk

    One question comes to mind: How are relations between China and North Korea? If there is a battle to be waged, we had better clear out. Personally, I think The USA should embrace China’s attempt to militarize itself. It matters not if we agree politically. They, being a super duper power, should allow us to share the oceans. Nobody owns oceans. They just assume they do. Just keep at least 200 miles between us(US) and them

    li class="comment byuser comment-author-chuck-oldham odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-27117">

    Well, that’s a question on a lot of people’s minds. What goes on behind the scenes between North Korea and China is unknown. I’ll agree that no one owns he oceans. But China’s neighbors will also attest to the fact that China seems to think it owns the entire South China Sea. If China decides it also owns the entire Pacific, then where does that leave us?