NEWS AND ANALYSIS:
China’s government is investing billions of dollars in space systems and plans to dominate space to promote its communist system of government, according to a Pentagon study.
China has adopted a grand strategy for economic and military dominance in space over the next several decades and has launched an information campaign domestically and is seeking foreign partnerships, the report said.
“China’s success seeks to not only shape humanity’s future in space, but a new international order that embraces communism and autocracy here on Earth within the 21st century,” the report states.
The United States needs to counter the push by launching a new space race with China to prevent Beijing from expanding its system, according to the military and defense report made public last week.
The report, “State of the Space Industrial Base 2022: Winning the New Space Race for Sustainability, Prosperity and the Planet,” was produced jointly by the Space Force, the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit, the Department of the Air Force and Air Force Research Laboratory. The report called strategic competition in space “a paramount concern.”
“China continues to compete toward a strategic goal of displacing the U.S. as the dominant global space power economically, diplomatically and militarily by 2045, if not earlier,” the report says.
Numerous space experts took part in the latest annual review of the space industrial base and are urging the U.S. government to seek space-based means of producing propulsion and electrical power, space manufacturing and conducting lunar research. The new tools are needed to compete in what the report estimates will be a trillion-dollar space economy.
“In order to protect the planet, we must get off-planet,” the report said.
Commercial space technology has altered the nature of conflict between nations through remote sensing, advanced analytics and broadband communications, as seen in the current fighting in Ukraine.
Russian forces disabled Ukraine’s Viasat ground terminal communications early in the conflict. Within days, however, the U.S. company SpaceX sent over 15,000 Starlink terminals that allowed Ukraine to restore domestic communications, despite Russian hacking and jamming attempts.
“We can expect [similar] measures will be employed by adversaries to disrupt these assets,” the report said.
The United States is falling behind China in developing space systems, with Beijing on track to spend $200 billion a year more than the U.S. on research and development by 2030. The report urges speeding up development of commercial American space systems for both civilian and national security space applications.
The report calls for “urgent action” similar to the U.S.-Soviet space race of the 1960s to prevent falling behind the Chinese.
“Specifically, the U.S. lacks a clear and cohesive long-term vision, a grand strategy for space that sustains economic, technological, environmental, social and military (defense) leadership for the next half-century and beyond,” the report states.
Critical infrastructure will include high-technology space launch ranges for increased rocket launches. Hypersonic wind tunnels and test facilities for nuclear-powered rockets also will be needed, as well as space-based infrastructure such as propellant depots, moon landing pads, greater space navigational and domain awareness sensors.
The report also urges creation of an “outernet” – a space-based internet that will facilitate communications and commerce.
Col. Eric Felt, director of the Air Force Research Laboratory said China is not limiting its actions to the theft of U.S. space technology.
“They are becoming the leader in a number of areas in space and that’s why we’re especially concerned that within the next decade, they could become the overall space leader and that would not be a favorable outcome for the United States,” he said during a conference held to release the report.
Report outlines U.S.-China war
China’s rise in power on the world stage may produce a low-intensity conflict or a major war with the U.S. in the future, according to a Pentagon-sponsored analysis by the RAND Corp., the defense-oriented think tank, although the immediate risk of a war remains low.
But mounting tensions between Washington and Beijing could trigger regional conflict, one that could quickly escalate into a major conventional war, the report, produced under contract for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, concluded.
“China and the United States routinely feud over an array of political, economic, technological and ideological issues,” the report says. “The two countries also maintain a tense standoff over dangerous flash points near China and argue over the role of human rights, democracy, and individual freedoms in international politics.”
China’s increasing power increases the risk Beijing will take military action in the South China Sea or Taiwan.
As China expands both its ideological ambitions and economic reach through the Belt and Road initiative, “the United States could one day find itself confronting a peer rival for global leadership possessing far greater power than the Soviet Union ever held,” the report said.
Low-intensity indirect war could involve non-U.S. militaries or non-state groups and paramilitary and defense contractors that wage “chronic” gray zone conflicts. “These proxy U.S.-China conflicts could be waged as part of intrastate or interstate conflict” near Chinese Belt and Road projects, the report said, adding that the conflicts likely would involve cyberattacks and information warfare.
A high-intensity war between the United States and China could emanate from the low-level wars over whether the United States or China will be the dominant world power. According to RAND: “China’s ambition to shatter U.S. power could motivate it to rapidly escalate an initial clash arising from a crisis in Asia by striking U.S. military assets and facilities throughout the theater.”
The report urges Pentagon war planners to prepare for a broader range of both low-level and major conflicts with China and to strengthen U.S. indirect warfare capabilities.
U.S.-China military forums killed by Beijing
Decades-long efforts by the Pentagon to build trust with the Chinese military through often one-sided military exchanges and ship visits have been set even further back by Beijing’s recent cancellation of three U.S.-China military forums.
The military exchange program with China has been underway since the 1990s, based on the notion that meetings and talks with People’s Liberation Army leaders would reduce the risk of a conflict.
Critics of the exchanges say they fail to recognize the PLA is an organ of the Chinese Communist Party, not a national army like the U.S. military and other Western militaries. The primary mission of the PLA is not to defend China but preserve the power of the ruling CCP.
The failed policy of seeking trust-building measures with the PLA recently was evident during the recent crisis over House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan.
The visit sparked official outrage in Beijing and renewed threats for allegedly undermining Chinese claims of sovereignty over the island state.
In early August, Chinese military leaders refused to accept several telephone calls from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who reached out to their counterparts in a bid to lower tensions over the speaker’s visit and subsequent PLA missile firings and war games encircling Taiwan.
The “ghosting” of the two defense leaders, first reported by Politico, was then followed by the cancellation of the three military forums: the U.S.-China Theater Commanders Talks; the U.S.-China Defense Policy Coordination Talks; and the U.S.-China Military Maritime Consultative Agreement (MMCA) meetings.
The MMCA, set up in the late 1990s, is designed to defuse often-contentious naval and aerial encounters between U.S. and Chinese military forces.
— Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @BillGertz.