Space, China’s Tactical Frontier?


In recent decades, many hotly debated topics have come under the scrutiny of China’s strategic specialists; one such topic is its capacity to support space surveillance to enable the tracking of hostile forces.

The latest issue of Journal of Strategic Studies, includes a special section of highly topical articles, debating ‘Space, China’s Tactical Frontier’. The original article, titled ‘Space, China’s Tactical Frontier’, written by Eric Hagt and Matthew Durnin discusses the ‘stunning’ increase in China’s earth-observing satellite capabilities, and ability to support tactical naval operations from space in recent years.

According to Hagt and Durnin, China’s People’s Liberation Army is capable of supporting its anti-access/area denial weapons systems against United States Navy warships operating close to its shores with real-time satellite reconnaissance.

“China’s constellation of satellites is transitioning from the limited ability to collect general strategic information, into a new era in which it will be able to support tactical operations as they happen,”

” Next to China, only the United States possesses more capable tactical support systems in space for tactical operations. “

Circulation of advanced drafts of this article sparked debate. In order to provide readers with a sense of the key technical issues upon which this important controversy turns, the editors asked David Wright, the Co-Director and Senior Scientist of the Global Security Program of the Union of Concerned Scientists, to contribute to a brief critique of the essay.

Wright’s critique, Response to ‘Space, China’s Tactical Frontier’ by Eric Hagt and Matthew Durnin, makes several challenges to the technical analysis used by Hagt and Durnin and argues that “conducting a credible quantitative analysis of China’s program, and a quantitative comparison to that of other countries, requires considerably more technical rigor than they have applied to the problem.”

In turn Hagt and Durnin vigorously defend their original analysis and conclusions in the article Response to David Wright’s Commentary, stating that “Wright’s criticisms do not hold up under scrutiny”.

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