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China is Working on Capabilities for Waging War in Space

Following the 2015 white paper, China established the PLA Strategic Support Force (PLASSF) to lead the development of Chinese military space doctrine while the PLA Rocket Force is in charge of operationally deployed anti-satellite weapons (ASATs)

China is working on complex strategies and capabilities for waging war in space due to its 2015 defence white paper, which states that, “Outer space has become a commanding height in international strategic competition. Countries concerned are developing their space forces and instruments, and the first signs of weaponization of outer space have appeared.”

The country has performed several tests of counter space capabilities over the past few years, such as direct-ascent delivery systems for kinetic-kill ASATs and more complex co-orbital capabilities ideal for ‘soft kill’ systems and collecting intelligence data.

Now, other nations are responding to China. For example, the Trump administration has decided to form an American space force, and India tested its own ASAT in March. Both these actions are a response to the threat posed by China’s space abilities.

The Secure World Foundation recently performed an analysis of global counter space capabilities, and found that China consistently emphasizes the need for the PLA to control space, and prevent access to its rivals. The report states that China wants to achieve space superiority, which they define as “ensuring one’s ability to fully use space, while at the same time limiting, weakening, and destroying an adversary’s space forces”. 

Another report from 2015 for the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission found an increased emphasis in China’s ASAT and counter space initiatives on directed-energy weapons, electronic warfare, jamming and dazzling, in addition to cyber attack methods including spoofing, instead of physical destruction.

China’s space access continues to depend on its government-run space program that the PLA and the China National Space Administration are in charge of. However, it appears that China is also beginning to form a commercial space sector similar to the ‘Space 2.0’ approach that has resulted in companies like SpaceX. If China’s commercial space sector comes to fruition, it could mean the development of spaceplane technology or reusable rockets that would make it easier for the country to access space more quickly and bolster China’s counter space capabilities.