March 16, 2014

Chinese Military and "Dual-Use" Satellites

The use of Chinese ocean reconnaissance satellites to attempt to find Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 prompted me to inquire about the capabilities of China's reconnaissance satellites. Such satellites are not specifically equipped to find crashed aircraft.  

China has steadily been developing and deploying a wide range of military-intelligence satellites and "dual-use" military-civilian use satellites. As will be indicated below the Chinese military (Peoples Liberation Army (PLA)) use satellites for:

- reconnaissance of sea (including submarines) and land "targets" including collection of all types of intelligence on China's potential or actual adversaries, 

- for anti-satellite and perhaps satellite repair purposes

- global positioning for military operations including ballistic and cruise missile guidance

- more specifically missile targeting of large US warships (see ISSSP article below) and US submarines 

- electronic (including signals) intelligence (ELINT) for military and counter-terrorism uses (the latter in support of the Ministry of State Security (MSS)).

"Dual-use" military-civilian use satellites very as to the proportion of military and civilian uses. Some satellites might be authentically dual use while other may be primarily or wholly military-intelligence use under the cover of civilian company ownership. Below are descriptions and links of some Chinese military and dual-use satellites.

Connect with a later March 23, 2014 sighting by Chinese dual-use satellite (Gaofeng-1) of possible MH370 debris 

China fields several reconnaissance satellite systems, including the Shijiuns, Shiyans, Yaogans and  ZiyuansThe BeiDou or Beidou Navigation Satellite System (above) is also very military relatedI've bolded the names of satellites for easier reference.

The Chinese satellites can utilize their  ELINT sensors, Synthetic Aperture Radars (SARs) or electro-optical (EO) imaging sensors to detect submarines (submerged, snorkeling "snorting" or surfaced) - however their capabilities are unknown. If Chinese satellites become very efficient at detecting snorting Australian submarines (from the snorkel or near surface wake) these submarines may quickly become obsolete. Snorting-obsolescence is something for Australia's SEA 1000 decision makers to consider. Link with  

The 2049 Project in February 2014 produced the following commentary and list concerning reconnaissance satellites -

Satellite Platforms. To make up for its airborne platform deficiencies, the PLA has launched a large number of satellites that are capable of supporting theater missile operations with maritime reconnaissance data. These include electro-optical (EO) satellites for digital imagery in the visual and near infrared spectrum; synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellites for nighttime, all-weather imagery; and electronic intelligence
(ELINT) satellites for locating and identifying ships by their electronic emissions. In 2012 alone, the PLA launched 11 new remote sensing satellites. It also launched three communications satellites and one relay satellite for beyond visual line of sight contact with ground stations. More recently, China launched its third series of naval ocean surveillance system (NOSS) satellites in September 2013.28 This underscores the key
role space-based ISR plays in supporting the PLA’s strike capabilities.29

Name Launch           Date                   Satellite Typ
Yaogan 9 (A,B,C)      Mar. 5, 2010       Naval Ocean Surveillance System (NOSS) 
Yaogan 10                 Aug. 10, 2010      Synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imagery 
Tian Hui 1A               Aug. 24, 2010      Military mapping satellite 
Yaogan 11                 Sep. 22, 2010      Electro-optical (EO) imagery 
Shi Jian 11-03            July 6, 2011         Unknown, possible early warning satellite 
Shi Jian 11-02            July 29, 2011       Unknown, possible early warning satellite 
Hai Yang 2A              Aug. 15, 2011      Dual-use ocean monitoring satellite 
Yaogan 12                 Nov. 9, 2011        Electro-optical (EO) imagery 
Shi Yan 4                   Nov. 20, 2011      Earth terrain mapping satellite 
Yaogan 13                 Nov. 30, 2011      Synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imagery 
Zi Yuan 1C                Dec. 22, 2011       EO or SAR imagery satellite 
Zi Yuan 3A                Jan. 9, 2012          Dual-use mapping satellite 
Feng Yun 2F              Jan. 13, 2012        Meteorological satellite 
Tian Hui 1B                May 6, 2012         Military mapping satellite 
Yaogan 14                 May 10, 2012       Electro-optical (EO) imagery 
Yaogan 15                 May 29, 2012       Electro-optical (EO) imagery 
Shi Jian 9 (A & B)     Oct. 14, 2012        Unknown military payload, possible ELINT 
Huan Jing 1C             Nov. 18, 2012       Synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imagery 
Xin Yan 1                  Nov. 18, 2012       Unknown, possible NOSS 
Feng Niao (1 & 1A)  Nov. 18, 2012       Unknown, possible NOSS 
Yaogan 16 (A,B,C)   Nov. 25,2012        Naval Ocean Surveillance System (NOSS) 
Gao Fen 1                 Apr. 26, 2013        Electro-optical (EO) imagery 
Shi Jian 11-05           July 15, 2013         Unknown, possible early warning satellite 
Yaogan 17 (A,B,C)   Sep. 1, 2013          Naval Ocean Surveillance System (NOSS) 
Feng Yun 3C             Sep. 23, 2013        Meteorological satellite 
Kuai Zhou                 Sep. 25, 2013         Rapid reaction imagery satellite 
Yaogan 18                Oct. 29, 2013         Synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imagery 
Yaogan 19                Nov. 20, 2013        Electro-optical (EO) imagery 
Sources: Gunter’s Space Page, Space Daily, Project 2049 Institute  

Professor S. Chandrashekar and Professor Soma Perumal of International Strategic & Security Studies Programme (ISSSP), National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS) Bangalore, India, have written China’s Constellation of Yaogan Satellites & the Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile – An Update (December 2013)

The Executive Summary (pp. ii-iii) is very informative – indicating the Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile of some of  China’s reconnaissance satellites. By their estimated resolutions the anti-submarine potential of the imaging satellites can be very roughly estimated. Executive Summary reads: 

"With the recent launch of the Yaogan 19 satellite China has in place an advanced space capability to identify, locate and track an Aircraft Carrier Group (ACG) on the high seas. This space capability is an important component of an Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM) System that China has set up.

[see a list of all Yaogan satellites then, within that site, click on hyperlinks for each Yaogan satellite to get an animation of the real-time flight of each satellite - eg.  YAOGAN 17A listed as an “intelligence gathering” satellite.]

The current 19 satellite constellation consists of ELINT [Electronic Intelligence] satellites, satellites carrying Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) sensors as well as satellites carrying optical imaging sensors.

Based on the orbit characteristics, their local time of equatorial crossing and other related parameters, these satellites can be grouped into different categories that perform the various functions for identifying, locating and tracking the ACG.

Yaogan 9 (Yaogan 9A, 9B, 9C), Yaogan (16A, 16B, 16C) and Yaogan 17 (17A, 17B, 17C) are the three clusters that are equipped with ELINT sensors that provide broad area surveillance over the Oceans. With a coverage radius of about 3500 Km, they provide the first coarse fix for identifying and locating an ACG in the Pacific Ocean.

Yaogan 13, Yaogan 10, Yaogan 18 and Yaogan 14 are the satellites carrying a SAR sensor. resolution of 1 to 3 m , they provide all weather as well as day and night imaging capabilities over the regions of interest.[perhaps able to detect a submarine's snorkel, periscope, wake and of course, surfaced shape]

Yaogan 11, Yaogan 4, Yaogan 2 and Yaogan 7 constitute the high resolution optical satellites in the current constellation. The sensors they carry may have resolutions of between 1 to 3 m. [perhaps able to detect a submarine's snorkel, periscope and of course, surfaced shape]

Yaogan 19 and Yaogan 15 optical imaging satellites with medium resolution (5 to 10 m) capabilities. [perhaps able to detect a submarine's surfaced shape]

The Yaogan 12 which replaced the Yaogan 5 has the orbital characteristics of a SAR mission. Yaogan 18 SAR satellite. Having two satellites spaced so close to each other makes it unlikely that it is a SAR mission. Most probably this is a high resolution optical imaging satellite that complements the broad area coverage provided by the 1200 km orbit of the Yaogan 15 and Yaogan 19 satellites.

This seems to be an important component of a larger Chinese Access and Area Denial Strategy focused around a conflict over Taiwan..." see WHOLE PAPER 

Notes on satellites other than the Yaogan series are :

-  SY-7 / Shi Yan 7, launched July 19, 2013 Orbit 666 km x 673 km x 98.1 with an anti-satellite and/or satellite maintenance mission: Shiyan-7 has a system for testing a manipulator arm to capture other space objects About Chinese anti-satellite efforts generally see

-  ZY-3 / Zi Yuan III launched January 9, 2012 Orbit: 498 km x 506 km x 97.5° Ziyuan III is probably a 2,650-kg military photo surveillance satellite. It is reported that it is carrying an electro-optical imaging payload comprising three pointing forward, down and aft. The ground-facing camera has a resolution of 2.5 metres. The spacecraft also features an infrared spectrometer. According to Chinese press, Ziyuan II is a high-resolution remote-sensing satellite for civilian use”

-  ZY-1 02C / Zi Yuan I-02C launched December 22, 2011 Orbit: 770 km Mission: Ziyuan I-02C is probably a high-resolution military photo surveillance satellite.

-  SJ-6/4A / Shi Jian 6/4A and SJ-6/4B / Shi Jiun 6/4B  both launched October 6, 2010 588 km x 604 km x 97.8° Mission: Officially, the Shijian VI-04 group are designed to probe space environment But Shijian satellites are believed to have some kind of military surveillance role. They may also test technology demonstration and space research experiments.

-  The Beidou Navigation Satellite System is very Chinese military related. It consists of a limited test system that has been operating since 2000, and a full-scale global navigation system currently under construction. The full-scale global navigation system, officially called the BeiDou Satellite Navigation System (BDS) and also known as COMPASS or BeiDou-2, will be a global satellite navigation system consisting of 35 satellites. It became operational in China in December 2011, with 10 satellites in use, and began offering services to customers in the Asia-Pacific region in December 2012. It is planned to begin serving global customers upon its completion in 2020.

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