17 November 2015
Report Flags China's Space Prowess; Challenges Decades of U.S. Dominance in Space
By Leonard David
Inside Outer Space


Long March-3C rocket lifts off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center.
Credit: China Space

The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC) released today its 2015 annual report to Congress.

The 2015 report provides information on and analysis of developments in the U.S.-China security dynamic, U.S.-China bilateral trade and economic relations, and China’s evolving bilateral relationships with other nations.

Within the report, a Section 2 delves into China’s space and counterspace programs, provided to Inside Outer Space by the USCC.

Steady investment

In an introduction to that section, the report notes that China “has become one of the top space powers in the world” after decades of high prioritization and steady investment.

“China’s aspirations are driven by its assessment that space power enables the country’s military modernization and would allow it to challenge U.S. information superiority during a conflict,” the report states.

Among other purposes, the report contends, China’s space and counterspace programs are designed to support its conduct as part of its antiaccess/area denial strategy to prevent or impede U.S. intervention in a potential conflict.

China is rapidly developing robotic and human spaceflight skills.
Credit: CMSE

The U.S. Department of Defense defines ‘‘antiaccess’’ actions as those that are intended to slow deployment of an adversary’s forces into a theater or cause them to operate at distances farther from the conflict than they would prefer.

‘‘Area denial’’ actions affect maneuvers within a theater, and are intended to impede an adversary’s operations within areas where friendly forces cannot or will not prevent access.

Antisatellite systems

The report is rich in factoids and citations about China’s aspirations in space – both for civil and military purposes, including that country’s expanding deep space exploration agenda.

China’s human spaceflight program is moving forward on a multimodule space station in the 2020s.
Courtesy: CMSE

As listed in the report’s section focused on space, some of the conclusions are:

  • Although China’s space capabilities still generally lag behind those of the United States and Russia, its space program is expanding and accelerating rapidly as many other nations’ programs proceed with dwindling resources and limited goals.
  • China’s aspirations in space are driven by its judgment that space power enables the country’s military modernization, drives its economic and technological advancements, allows it to challenge U.S. information superiority during a conflict, and provides the Chinese Communist Party with significant domestic legitimacy and international prestige.
  • European Space Agency (ESA) has outlined a number of space cooperation projects.
    Credit: CMSE/Wei Yan Juan

  • China likely has capitalized on international cooperation to acquire the bulk of the technology and expertise needed for most of its space programs. China probably will continue to pursue close cooperation with international partners to overcome specific technical challenges and to meet its research and development objectives and launch timelines.As China’s developmental counterspace capabilities become operational, China will be able to hold at risk U.S. national security satellites in every orbital regime.
  • China is testing increasingly complex co-orbital proximity capabilities. Although it may not develop or operationally deploy all of these coorbital technologies for counterspace missions, China is setting a strong foundation for future co-orbital antisatellite systems that could include jammers, robotic arms, kinetic kill vehicles, and lasers.
  • Civilian projects, such as China’s human spaceflight missions, directly support the development of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) space, counterspace, and conventional capabilities. Moreover, Chinese civilian and commercial satellites likely contribute to the PLA’s command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) efforts whenever it is technically and logistically feasible for them to be so utilized, and they would probably be directly subordinate to the PLA during a crisis or conflict. Given the PLA’s central role in all of China’s space activities, U.S. cooperation with China on space issues could mean supporting the PLA’s space and counterspace capabilities.
  • China’s rise as a major space power challenges decades of U.S. dominance in space—an arena in which the United States has substantial military, civilian, and commercial interests.

Note: The full report is now available at:


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