24 May 2012

5 Things the Pentagon Isn’t Telling Us About the Chinese Military

Trefor Moss, 5 Things the Pentagon Isn’t Telling Us About the Chinese Military,” Foreign Policy, 23 May 2012.

In its annual appraisal of the Chinese military published last week, the U.S. Department of Defense seems to be describing an object it finds both familiar and mysterious. The report certainly answers many of the important issues concerning China’s military, including its attempts to develop an anti-ship ballistic missile and its continuing fixation on Taiwan.

Yet for many crucial aspects of China’s strategy, the Pentagon seems like it’s just guessing. Here are the five most important questions about Beijing’s defense strategy that remain stubbornly unanswered. …

4. What kind of space capabilities is China developing?

China is becoming increasingly proficient in space. The report mentions that China is assembling its own GPS-style satellite network, blasted the Tiangong-1 spacelab into orbit in 2011, and has developed a ground-launched anti-satellite missile to improve its counter-space capabilities. But the Pentagon neglects to mention one of China’s most ambitious space programs: the development of the Shenlong spaceplane and the possible associated development of advanced propulsion systems, whose existence increases the risk of a military space race with the United States.

It is not yet known whether Shenlong is anything more than a hi-tech experiment. But because of Shenlong’s military potential, any information about it could allay or exacerbate growing fears within the U.S. military that the PLA Air Force has more than a passing interest in space operations. …

For the original article referenced here, see Andrew Erickson and Gabe Collins, “Shenlong ‘Divine Dragon’ Takes Flight: Is China developing its first spaceplane?” China SignPost™ (洞察中国), No. 58 (4 May 2012).