China’s ‘eye-in-the-sky’ nears par with US

Posted: July 11, 2011 in World News

Simon Rabinovitch
Financial Times
July 11, 2011

China’s rapidly expanding satellite programme could alter power dynamics in Asia and reduce the US military’s scope for operations in the region, according to new research.

Chinese reconnaissance satellites can now monitor targets for up to six hours a day, the World Security Institute, a Washington think-tank, has concluded in a new report. The People’s Liberation Army, which could only manage three hours of daily coverage just 18 months ago, is now nearly on a par with the US military in its ability to monitor fixed targets, according to the findings.

“Starting from almost no live surveillance capability 10 years ago, today the PLA has likely equalled the US’s ability to observe targets from space for some real-time operations,” two of the institute’s China researchers, Eric Hagt and Matthew Durnin, write in the Journal of Strategic Studies.

China’s rapidly growing military might has unnerved its neighbours, many of whom are US allies, while a series of disputes this year with Vietnam and the Philippines have added to the concerns.

China’s military build-up has accelerated in recent years, as it has developed an anti-ship ballistic missile, tested a stealth fighter and is poised to launch its first aircraft carrier. The fast-growing network of reconnaissance satellites provides China with the vision to harness this hardware.

Admiral Mike Mullen, America’s top military official, said at the weekend in Beijing that it was clear that the PLA is focused on “access denial” – a term that describes a strategy of pushing the US out of the western Pacific.

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