DoD report on ChinaEvery year, the US Department of Defense issues a report to Congress entitled “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China.” China is becoming an increasingly important player in the space arena, having achieved on-orbit rendezvous in 2012 with aggressive launcher and human space flight developments underway. Some fear that China’s developments are not all benign: a rocket test earlier in May fueled suspicion that China was preparing anti-satellite capability for objects – such as GPS satellites – in medium Earth orbit, and NASA has been put on high alert against Chinese cyber attacks. With all the speculation, however, knowledge about China’s capabilities and plans is somewhat limited, with information flow out of the country tightly controlled.

Here are excerpts from the Department of Defense report relating to China’s space capabilities. For the full report visit

Space Capabilities

In 2012, China conducted 18 space launches. China also expanded its space-based intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, navigation, meteorological, and communications satellite constellations. In parallel, China is developing a multi-dimensional program to improve its capabilities to limit or prevent the use of space-based assets by adversaries during times of crisis or conflict.

During 2012, China launched six Beidou navigation satellites. These six satellites completed the regional network as well as the in-orbit validation phase for the global network, expected to be completed by 2020. China launched 11 new remote sensing satellites in 2012, which can perform both civil and military applications. China also launched three communications satellites, five experimental small satellites, one meteorological satellite, one relay satellite, and a manned space mission. China continues to develop the Long March 5 (LM-5) rocket, which is intended to lift heavy payloads into space. LM-5 will more than double the size of the Low Earth Orbit

(LEO) and Geosynchronous Orbit (GEO) payloads China is capable of placing into orbit. To support these rockets, China began constructing the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center in 2008. Located on Hainan Island, this launch facility is expected to be complete around 2013, with the initial LM-5 launch scheduled for 2014.

Advanced Technology Acquisition

China relies on foreign technology, acquisition of key dual-use components, and focused indigenous research and development (R&D) to advance military modernization. The Chinese utilize a large, well-organized network to facilitate collection of sensitive information and export-controlled technology from U.S. defense sources. Many of the organizations composing China’s military-industrial complex have both military and civilian research and development functions. This network of government-affiliated companies and research institutes often enables the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to access sensitive and dual-use technologies or knowledgeable experts under the guise of  civilian research and development. The enterprises and institutes accomplish this through technology conferences and symposia, legitimate contracts and joint commercial ventures, partnerships with foreign firms, and joint development of specific technologies. In the case of key national security technologies, controlled equipment, and other materials not readily obtainable through commercial means or academia, China has utilized its intelligence services and employed other illicit approaches that involve violations of U.S. laws and export controls.

A high-priority for China’s advanced technology acquisition strategy is its Civil-Military Integration policy to develop an
innovative dual-use technology and industrial base that serve both military and civilian requirements. China’s defense industry has benefited from integration with its expanding civilian economy and science and technology sectors, particularly sectors with access to foreign technology. Examples of technologies include: advanced aviation and aerospace (hot section technologies, avionics and flight controls), source code, traveling wave tubes, night vision devices, monolithic microwave integrated circuits, and information and cyber technologies.

DoD China textboxDifferentiating between civil and military end use is very challenging in China due to opaque corporate structures, hidden asset ownership, and the connections of commercial personnel with the central government. Some commercial entities are affiliated with PLA research institutes, or have ties to and are subject to the control of government organizations such as the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission.

In March 2012, Hui Sheng Shen and Huan Ling Chang, both from Taiwan, were charged with conspiracy to violate the U.S. Arms Export Control Act after allegedly intending to acquire and pass sensitive U.S. defense technology to China. The pair planned to photograph the technology, delete the images, bring the memory cards back to China, and have a Chinese contact recover the images.

In June 2012, Pratt & Whitney Canada (PWC), a subsidiary of U.S. aerospace firm and defense contractor United Technologies Corporation (UTC), pleaded guilty to illegally providing military software used in the development of China’s Z-10 military attack helicopter. UTC and two subsidiaries agreed to pay $75 million and were debarred from license privileges as part of a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice and State Department. PWC “knowingly and willfully” caused six versions of military electronic engine control software to be “illegally exported” from Hamilton Sundstrand in the United States to PWC in Canada and then to China for the Z-10, and made false and belated disclosures about these illegal exports.

In September 2012, Sixing Liu, aka “Steve Liu,” was convicted of violating the U.S. Arms Export Control Act and the
International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) and possessing stolen trade secrets. Liu, a Chinese citizen, returned to China with electronic files containing details on the performance and design of guidance systems for missiles, rockets, target locators, and unmanned aerial vehicles. Liu developed critical military technology for a U.S. defense contractor and stole the documents to position himself for employment in China.


PLA strategists regard the ability to utilize space and deny adversaries access to space as central to enabling modern, informatized warfare. Although PLA doctrine does not appear to address space operations as a unique operational “campaign,” space operations form an integral component of other PLA campaigns and would serve a key role in enabling A2/AD operations. Publicly, China attempts to dispel any skepticism over its military intentions for space. In 2009, PLA Air Force Commander General Xu Qiliang publically retracted his earlier assertion that the militarization of space was a “historic inevitability” after President Hu Jintao swiftly contradicted him. General Xu Qiliang is now a Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission and the second highest-ranking officer in the PLA.

The PLA is acquiring a range of technologies to improve China’s space and counter-space capabilities. China demonstrated a direct ascent kinetic kill anti-satellite capability to low Earth orbit when it destroyed the defunct Chinese FY-1C weather satellite during a test in January 2007. Although Chinese defense academics often publish on counterspace threat technologies, no additional anti-satellite programs have been publicly acknowledged. A PLA analysis of U.S. and coalition military operations reinforced the importance of operations in space to enable “informatized” warfare, claiming that “space is the commanding point for the information battlefield.” PLA writings emphasize the necessity of “destroying, damaging, and interfering with the enemy’s reconnaissance…and communications satellites,” suggesting that such systems, as well as navigation and early warning satellites, could be among the targets of attacks designed to “blind and deafen the enemy.” The same PLA analysis of U.S. and coalition military operations also states that “destroying or capturing satellites and other sensors…will deprive an opponent of initiative on the battlefield and [make it difficult] for them to bring their precision guided weapons into full play.”

Medium and Intercontinental Range Ballistic Missiles (Credits: US Department of Defense)

China’s Medium and Intercontinental Range Ballistic Missiles (Credits: US Department of Defense)

Missile and Space Industry

China’s production of a range of ballistic, cruise, air to-air, and surface-to-air missiles for the PLA and for export has likely been enhanced by upgrades to primary final assembly and rocket motor production facilities over the past few years. China’s space launch vehicle industry is expanding to support satellite launch services and the manned space program. The majority of China’s missile programs, including its ballistic and cruise missile systems, are comparable to other international top-tier producers, while its surface-to-air missile systems lag behind global leaders. China’s missile industry modernization efforts have positioned it well for the foreseeable future.

Espionage Supporting Military Modernization

China utilizes a large, well organized network of enterprises, defense factories, affiliated research institutes, and computer network operations to facilitate the collection of sensitive information and export-controlled technology, as well as basic research and science that supports U.S. defense system modernization. Many of the organizations comprising China’s military industrial complex have both military and civilian research and development functions. This network of government-affiliated companies and research institutes often enables the PLA to access sensitive and dual use technologies or knowledgeable experts under the guise of civilian research and development. The enterprises and institutes accomplish this through technology conferences and symposia, legitimate contracts and joint commercial ventures, partnerships with foreign firms, and joint development of specific technologies.

As in previous years, China utilized its intelligence services and employed other illicit approaches that involve violations of U.S. laws and export controls to obtain key national security technologies, controlled equipment, and other materials not readily obtainable through commercial means or academia. Based on investigations conducted by the law enforcement agencies of the Department of Defense, Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, and Department of Commerce, China continues to engage in activities designed to support military procurement and modernization. These include economic espionage, theft of trade secrets, export control violations, and technology transfer.

  • In August 2010, Noshir Gowadia was convicted of providing China with classified U.S. defense technology. This assisted China in developing a low signature cruise missile exhaust system capable of rendering a cruise missile resistant to detection by infrared missiles.
  • In September 2010, Chi Tong Kuok was convicted for conspiracy to illegally export U.S. military encryption technology and smuggle it to Macau and Hong Kong. The relevant technology included encryption, communications equipment, and Global Positioning System (GPS) equipment used by U.S. and NATO forces.
  • In September 2010, Xian Hongwei and Li Li were arrested in Hungary and later extradited to the United States for conspiring to procure thousands of radiation-hardened Programmable ReadOnly Microchips, classified as defense items and used in satellite systems, for the China Aerospace and Technology Corporation. Both defendants pleaded guilty and were sentenced in September 2011 to two years in prison.
  • In January 2012, Yang Bin was arrested in Bulgaria and later extradited to the United States based on a December 2011 criminal indictment related to the attempted export of military-grade accelerometers used in “smart” munitions, aircraft, and missiles.
  • In July 2012, Zhang Zhaowei, a naturalized Canadian citizen, was arrested while entering the United States, based on a sealed January 2011 indictment alleging Zhang attempted to illegally acquire and export military gyroscopes used in unmanned aerial systems and for tactical missile guidance.
  • In September 2012, Zhang Mingsuan was arrested in the United States and indicted after attempting to acquire up to two tons of aerospace-grade carbon fiber. In a recorded conversation, Zhang claimed he urgently needed the fiber in connection with a scheduled Chinese fighter plane test flight.

In addition, multiple cases identified since 2009 involved individuals procuring and exporting export controlled items to China. These efforts included attempts to procure and export radiation-hardened programmable semiconductors and computer circuits used in satellites, restricted microwave amplifiers used in communications and radar equipment, export-restricted technical data, and thermal imaging cameras. There were also at least two cases in 2011 in which U.S. companies working on Department of Defense contracts subcontracted manufacturing work on small arms and replacement parts to Chinese companies in violation of the Arms Export Control Act.

Special Topic: Space-based Imaging and Remote Sensing

China has developed a large constellation of imaging and remote sensing satellites under a variety of mission families. These satellites can support military objectives by providing situational awareness of foreign military force deployments, critical infrastructure, and targets of political significance. Since 2006, China has conducted 16 Yaogan remote sensing satellite launches. The Yaogan satellites conduct scientific experiments, carry out surveys on land resources, estimate crop yield, and support natural disaster reduction and prevention. Additionally, China has launched two Tianhui satellites designed to conduct scientific experiments and support land resource surveys and territory mapping with a stereoscopic imaging payload. China has three Huanjing disaster monitoring satellites currently on orbit (the third of which was launched in November 2012). The Ziyuan series of satellites are used for earth resources, cartography, surveying, and monitoring. China also operates the Haiyang ocean monitoring constellation and Fengyun weather satellites in low Earth and geosynchronous orbits. China will continue to increase its on-orbit constellation with the planned launch of 100 satellites through 2015. These launches include imaging, remote sensing, navigation, communication, and scientific satellites, as well as manned spacecraft.

You have been reading excerpts from the US Department of Defense report “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China.” For the full report visit


About the author

Merryl Azriel

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Having wandered into professional writing and editing after a decade in engineering, science, and management, Merryl now enjoys reintegrating the dichotomy by bringing space technology and policy within reach of an interested public. After three years as Space Safety Magazine’s Managing Editor, Merryl semi-retired to Visiting Contributor and manager of the campaign to bring the International Space Station collaboration to the attention of the Nobel Peace Prize committee. She keeps her pencil sharp as Proposal Manager for U.S. government contractor CSRA.

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