01 April 2012

China’s Navigation in Space: What New Approaches will China’s Space Tracking Take?

Andrew Erickson and Amy Chang, China’s Navigation in Space: What New Approaches will China’s Space Tracking Take?U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, 138.4 (April 2012): 42-47.

The People’s Republic of China’s “Long View” space-tracking and telemetry system enhances space situational awareness and operations while offering military potential. Yet this sea-based approach suffers from inherent dependencies and liabilities. The program appears at a crossroads, with the development of additional overseas ground stations a tempting alternative. How Beijing proceeds will shape its capabilities critically; the United States should monitor related developments closely.

China relies on space-event support ships far more than does any other power today—its fleet is rivaled only by that of the United States. But in contrast to the United States, Russia, and other modern global military powers, a regionally focused China has no overseas military bases and only limited space and domestic ground-based assets on which to rely. The country’s Yuanwang (Long View) ships fill this void by performing a variety of useful roles in peacetime, including monitoring and tracking space vehicles such as rockets, spacecraft, and missiles; as well as communicating and coordinating with ground assets. China’s diverse, rapidly evolving, interactive command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) architecture remains different from that of the United States even as it increases in coverage and sophistication. In the event of conflict, mobile ship-based C4ISR could have significant advantages over fixed ground installations, from providing tracking information and guidance for missiles to intercepting foreign satellite data. Yet no English-language study to date has covered the Yuanwang vessels in depth, let alone explored their possible military applications.