China intends to launch eight maritime surveillance satellites over the next eight years, a senior official from the National Satellite Ocean Application Service has announced, amid efforts by China to improve its surveillance capabilities in the contested waters of the East and South China Sea.
Jiang Xingwei (蔣興偉), director of the service, said four of the satellites would be used to monitor sea coloration and two to keep track of sea currents which would bring China up to speed with other developed countries on oceanographic surveillance.
Of special interest to other countries involved in territorial disputes with China over islets and waters in the area, including Taiwan and Japan, the other two orbiters are to act as maritime radar satellites to reinforce China’s jurisdiction over those areas.
China currently relies on aircraft and three orbiters to conduct surveillance of its territorial waters and islands — including the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) and Scarborough Shoal (黃岩島, Huangyan Island) — but those do no have the ability to lock on fixed locations, Jiang said, adding that the two new maritime radar satellites would remedy that shortcoming.
Two Hai Yang-1 (HY-1) and one HY-2 oceanography satellites were launched in 2002, 2007 and last year respectively. However, their sun-synchronous orbit means that the satellites are to pass over the same location every two to three days.
Jiang said the additions would also bolster China’s remote-sensing capabilities over waters near other contested islands, including the Paracels (Xisha Islands, 西沙群島) and Spratlys (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島) in the South China Sea by augmenting overall surveillance.
The National Development and Reform Commission has already approved the program, Xinhua news agency reported Jiang as saying yesterday. It is not known whether the new satellites are to be from the HY family or from a different type. According to NASA, China plans to launch HY-2B, HY-2C and HY-2D this year, in 2015 and in 2019.
According to an official from the State Oceanic Administration, since its launch three years ago, the China Oceanic Information Network has expanded its coverage from offshore waters to distant areas and now covers about 300,000km2 of ocean.
Satellite imagery and data are used by the China Marine Surveillance to monitor the “legitimate” and “illegal” use of China’s territorial waters and areas within its exclusive economic zone, as well as to provide maritime services with key information on oil spills and emergencies.