Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) at a ceremony on July 30 officially commissioned China’s BeiDou-3 satellite navigation system. The constellation of satellites, which is now fully operational, was completed six months ahead of schedule.
Its deployment means that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is now in possession of an autonomous, global satellite navigation system to rival the US’ GPS, Russia’s Glonass and the EU’s Galileo.
Although Chinese officials have repeatedly sought to reassure the world that BeiDou-3 is primarily a civilian and commercial platform, US and European military experts beg to differ.
Teresa Hitchens, a senior research associate at the University of Maryland’s Center for International and Security Studies, has conducted an in-depth study into the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Strategic Support Force.
According to Hitchens, one of the three small satellites launched into orbit by the PLA in 2013 was equipped with a robotic grappling arm capable of interfering with or even destroying other satellites.
From an early stage, Beijing sought to exploit space technology for its military value.
In 2014, the PLA’s in-house newspaper People’s Liberation Army Daily and Huabei People’s Militia, a monthly periodical published by the PLA’s then-Beijing Military Region Political Department, featured an identically worded paragraph, which proves China’s intention to militarize space:
“Whoever controls space occupies Earth’s commanding heights. Whoever occupies this commanding position will be able to gain the initiative during war.”
Additionally, the Pentagon’s 2015 annual report to the US Congress on China’s military power revealed that all civilian satellites which China has launched into orbit use technology that can support its military’s operations west of the first island chain to perform a range of military tasks including day and nighttime reconnaissance and the transmission of intelligence.
As the PLA is aware that mastering space would be key to winning wars, any communications, intelligence and navigation system based in space would be an important factor in the PLA’s joint war-fighting capability and its ability to achieve victory on the modern battlefield.
According to the Study Times, the newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Party School, the more than decade-long operations of the older BeiDou-1 system allowed the PLA to make significant advances in a number of areas, including conducting exercises, logistics, patrolling China’s borders, directing its forces into theaters of conflict and providing emergency disaster relief.
For example, during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, BeiDou-1 enabled the PLA to rapidly position troops for disaster relief.
With its increased scale and scope, BeiDou-3 would not be limited to providing civilian-based services, such as basic navigation, short message communication, and international search and rescue, as Beijing claims.
It would give the PLA the ability to carry out long-range weapons targeting and provide round-the-clock, all-weather global positioning and precision weapons guidance, and even allow the PLA to destroy the satellite technology of other nations.
Taiwan’s national defense and national security apparatus must research how the nation can deal with and prevent the PLA’s possible use of BeiDou-3’s military functions in its Taiwan Strait combat planning, which could include using it to completely destroy the Taiwanese military’s precision guidance and combat communications capabilities.
Yao Chung-yuan is an adjunct professor and former deputy director of the Ministry of National Defense’s strategic planning department.
Translated by Edward Jones
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