Defense specialists are warning that China’s Beidou (北斗) satellite-based navigation system, which began providing services on Tuesday, could pose a long-term threat to Taiwan’s security and they are calling for countermeasures.
Xinhua news agency announced on Tuesday that the Beidou (“Compass”) Navigation Satellite System had begun providing initial positioning, navigation and timing services for China and the surrounding areas. Hoping to diminish its reliance on the US’ global positioning systems (GPS), China began work on the Beidou system in 2000.
Ten satellites which form the Beidou “constellation” have been launched since 2007, with six more launches scheduled for next year to provide extended coverage for the Asia-Pacific region. By 2020, the Beidou constellation will comprise 35 satellites.
At present, only the US and Russia, with its Glonass constellation of 24 satellites, have fully operational satellite-based navigation services, with the EU’s Galileo expected to enter full service in 2013.
According to an October 2008 article by Jane’s Defence Weekly, China’s involvement in the Galileo project might have benefited the development of the Beidou constellation, especially dual-use technology used by the EU consortium.
Although China claims Beidou will provide commercial services, such as mapping, fishery, transport, meteorology and telecommunications, the system could also be of great assistance to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
The US military relies primarily on GPS satellite navigation data for military vehicles and precision-guided munitions and the US Air Force operates the more than 30 satellites on which the GPS is based.
Once it becomes fully operational, Beidou will provide tracking and imaging at a resolution to within 10m, greatly enhancing the PLA’s ability to launch “surgical” missile attacks using precision-guided munitions. It could also provide guidance for unmanned vehicles, or “drones.”
China Satellite Navigation Office director Ran Chengqi (冉承其) said the system is also intended for military use, adding that it would enhance the tracking abilities of the PLA by 100 to 1,000 times and reduce military spending.
Arthur Ding (丁樹範), a professor of international relations at National Chengchi University, said as the Chinese system represents a long-term threat to Taiwan, the latter should develop counterattack technology that can disrupt the Beidou system’s “ears and eyes.”
Taiwan does not need to destroy China’s weapons-guidance satellites, Ting said, adding that disruptive technology could be developed at relatively low cost.
Other measures adopted over the years are multi-layered air defense architecture through the acquisition and development of early-warning systems, radar and missile interceptors, such as the US-made Patriot and the Tien Kung I and II “Sky Bow.”
Taiwan has also been upgrading its “Skyguard” short-range air defense system by switching to Advanced Hit Efficiency And Destruction munitions, which are ideal to shoot down precision-guided munitions and unmanned aerial vehicles.
At a regular press conference in Beijing yesterday, Taiwan Affairs Office spokesman Yang Yi (楊毅) sought to assuage fears in Taiwan of potential military uses for the Beidou system, saying those were “unnecessary” and “misplaced,” adding that the navigation system “would only enhance the well-being of compatriots on both sides” of the Taiwan Strait.
China in recent years has also launched a series of “scientific” satellites that defense watchers believe could also have military applications. In several cases, China has never made public the results of the scientific experiments purportedly conducted by the satellites.
Constellations of Shijian orbiters could be used for anything from naval signals reconnaissance to time difference of arrival assessments or geolocation to track objects over large expanses of territory, such as carrier battle groups at sea.
Additional reporting by CNA and Bloomberg
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