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Beware the Military Agenda Behind Shenzhou
Asian Wall Street Journal

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by Richard Fisher, Jr.
Published on October 16th, 2003

The successful launch of the Shenzhou V will inevitably lead to calls for greater American and European cooperation with China in space. This would be unwise, as any space cooperation with China is bound to assist its considerable military-space ambitions, which are already being fed by Russian and European technology.

Let there be no doubt: China's ambitious manned space program is at least as tied to military-space warfare goals as is the case in the United States. Perhaps even more so. After all, the U.S. National Air and Space Administration is a civilian organization, led by a civilian, though its activities are intertwined with American military-space programs. China's manned-space program, on the other hand, is led by the director of General Armament Department of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), who also sits on the Central Military Commission of the Chinese Communist Party. The first PLA General to be identified as director of China's manned space program was Cao Gangchuan, who is now Minister of Defense.

The fusing of military and manned missions started with the unmanned Shenzhou test missions that began in November 1999. China's spacecraft differs from its Russian Soyuz progenitor in that Shenzhou's orbital module is designed for extended missions following the return of the manned capsule. The orbital modules for Shenzhou I had a curious antennae structure which Swedish expert Sven Grahn argues persuasively was for gathering electronic intelligence. Pictures of the orbital modules for Shenzhous III and IV show structures more consistent with cameras, and pictures of the manned Shenzhou V orbital module very clearly show two camera-like structures. Chinese press reports have also long commented on the photo-reconnaissance capabilities of the later Shenzhou test flights. Mark Wade, chronicler of the extensive Encyclopedia Astronautica Web site has correctly noted that "it may be inferred that the main mission of China's first manned spaceflight will be military imaging reconnaissance."

On Monday, the Communist Party's flagship newspaper People's Daily went even further, "Manned spacecraft can carry out missions of reconnaissance and surveillance better and enable the military to deploy, repair and assemble military satellites that could monitor and direct and control military forces on Earth." This raises the prospect that future Chinese manned space stations, which could be lofted before the end of the decade, will have multiple military missions. It is noteworthy that the U.S. considered but abandoned the idea of manned military space stations in the early 1960s, and that only a few of the early Soviet Salyut space stations were dedicated to military missions.

That future Chinese space stations could enable the launching and repairing of other military satellites serves to highlight China's already extensive investment in this area, with considerable foreign help. These are intended to cue and guide future PLA precision guided weapons such as terminally-guided ballistic missiles or new land-attack cruise missiles. For example, by 2006 China hopes to launch four high-resolution electro-optical satellites and four cloud-penetrating radar satellites. These eight satellites will allow twice daily monitoring of any target on Earth.

Having found their targets, future PLA missiles will need precise location signals that can be provided by navigation satellites. Since Washington could deny the PLA access to data from the U.S. Navstar or Global Positioning Satellite system in the event of a conflict, China is investing in an indigenous navigation-satellite program, and in the new European Galileo navigation-satellite program. With an expected down payment of over $200 million, China will soon become an official "partner" in the Galileo constellation, which will provide the PLA with an alternative source of precision location signals for targeting its weapons.

In addition, the PLA is quickly gathering the capability to shoot down U.S. and other adversary satellites. On Sept. 16 it tested its first Pioneer KT-1 mobile solid-fuel space-launch vehicle for launching small satellites into low Earth orbit. Such mobile space-launch vehicles allow one to launch an interceptor in the anticipated path of a target satellite. With the help of Britain's Surrey Space Systems, the PLA now has the technology to make micro and nanosatellites that can be used as interceptors. Subsequent KT-2 and KT-2A launch vehicles will be based on the DF-31 and DF-31A Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles and will allow interceptions in the polar orbits used by many U.S. military satellites.

All of this is coming together to pose a threat to Taiwan, its supporters, and India. The PLA already has an estimated 500 ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan, and hundreds of new land-attack cruise missiles are expected to be deployed, beginning in 2005. A new 620 mile range version of the DF-15 short-range ballistic missile, existing precision-guided DF-21C intermediate range missiles, and new cruise missiles, will also be able to target U.S. forces on Okinawa that could come to Taiwan's aid. And on October 3 Pakistan launched its new Ghaznavi short-range ballistic missile, which is a modified version of the Chinese DF-11 Mod 1 missile. The Pakistani missile has larger control fins near the nose, perhaps indicating a greater degree of precision control, which would require input from new PLA imaging and navigation satellites.

To be sure, the successful launch of the Shenzhou V allows the Chinese communist leadership to bask in the accomplishments of its engineers and pilots. And as China's experience in manned space increases, there will be more calls, especially from Europe, to allow China on the International Space Station and to increase cooperation. But Washington should resist these calls as long as China proliferates dangerous missiles, protects North Korea's nuclear program, and continues to threaten a democratic Taiwan. Peace with China on Earth should precede cooperation in space.

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