New Sats Bring Chinese GPS, Targeting Systems Closer to Reality
By WENDELL MINNICK
TAIPEI — China is creating a global positioning system (GPS) and reconnaissance targeting satellite network that could have strategic consequences for the U.S. Navy as China prepares to field a new antiship ballistic missile (ASBM), the Dong Feng 21D.
The recent launch of a fifth Beidou (Compass) GPS and communications satellite Aug. 1 and the launch of a Yaogan-10 synthetic aperture radar satellite Aug. 9 bring China closer to an independent navigation and targeting network. Two other Beidous were launched earlier this year, on Jan. 17 and June 2.
Beidou chief designer Sun Jiadong was quoted in the state-run China Daily as saying that China would launch 13 to 15 Beidou satellites by 2012 to cover regional service and, within 10 years, the network would be expanded to 30 satellites covering the planet.
When complete, it will allow China’s military to be autonomous from the rival U.S. GPS, European Galileo and Russian Global Navigation Satellite System.
The Yaogan-10 launch follows the April launch of the Yaogan-9 ocean surveillance and targeting satellite and the April 2008 launch of a Tianlian data relay satellite.
“All add to China’s goal of creating a robust military satellite system that will prove to be a pillar of a Chinese military increasingly capable of global power projection,” said Richard Fisher, a China military specialist at the Washingtonbased International Assessment and Strategy Center.
China has been developing a GPS network in response to fears the United States and European systems would be “turned off” during a war with the U.S., said Ian Easton, a specialist on Chinese missile technology at Washington-based Project 2049 Institute.
An independent Chinese GPS will remove one point of U.S. leverage, and in a war, would mean the United States will be “facing an opponent with potentially thousands of highly precise, Beidou-guided, long-range ballistic and cruise missiles,” Easton said. “Positioning, navigation and timing capabilities the Beidou will provide are key for optimizing missile strikes to overwhelm air and missile defenses.”
China is improving constellation control capability via the Aerospace Command and Control Network Multiple Mission Management Center and a new automated satellite management system that will help to expand its ability to track and target U.S. aircraft carriers, Easton said.
“Of course, precision guidance is key to an effective ASBM system and Beidou will help provide that. Recent Chinese missile testing on the coast of the Yellow Sea in response to the U.S.-South Korean ‘Invincible Spirit’ exercises underscores the seriousness of the threat,” he said.
China’s Navy also needs an independent satellite system to project force beyond its territorial waters. China’s Navy has been conducting anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden since December 2008, but is still reliant on foreign GPS networks.
When China achieves global coverage, expected by 2020, the implications of that should be “worrisome” and it “behooves” the U.S. to begin developing means to deny China’s military “access to Beidou in a crisis or a conflict the way they are developing and fielding the means to deny us GPS in a conflict,” Easton said.