PRC Missile and Space Forces
These failures have left the PRC dependent on Western-manufactured satellites, which it purchases through multinational consortia in which the PRC maintains a controlling interest. These include the Asia Pacific Satellite Telecommunications Co., and China Orient Telecomm Satellite Co, Ltd. Satellites acquired by the PRC in this way include the Apstar-1, Apstar-1A, Apstar-2R, and ChinaStar-1.
It is likely that these failures have made the PLA dependent on Western communications satellites as well.
PRC Use of Very Small Aperture Terminals (VSATs)
The PRC has acquired Western-manufactured very small aperture terminals (VSATs) that could be used for military satellite communications.
VSATs are small satellite communications antennas used to transmit voice, data, video, fax, and computer-to-computer communications between multiple users. One VSAT terminal can be used to transmit communications from multiple users to different recipients via communications satellites.
The small size of VSAT terminals allows easy transportation between different locations and assembly in remote areas. These VSAT networks could improve the PLA's military command and control capabilities, by allowing mobile, reliable communications virtually anywhere.
The majority of VSAT terminals in use today in the PRC are U.S. manufactured. Hughes is by far the largest provider of VSAT networks to the PRC. The other significant U.S. supplier is Scientific Atlantic. Other providers include NEC of Japan and Spar of Canada.85
The PLA's Reconnaissance Satellite Program
The PLA has developed a photo reconnaissance satellite, known as the FSW (for the Fanhui Shi Weixing, or Recoverable Test Satellite). The current version of the Recoverable Test Satellite uses a recoverable capsule similar in concept to those used in the early U.S. Corona program. This PLA reconnaissance satellite provides the PRC with the ability to photograph U.S. military installations.
The first version of the satellite was successfully launched on November 26, 1975, using a Long March 2C rocket. After three days in orbit, the satellite capsule reentered and was successfully recovered by the PRC. Subsequent redesigns of the FSW-1 satellites allowed the PRC to increase its on-orbit life to five days before reentry. The PRC launched fifteen FSW-1 satellites, the last occurring in October 1993.86
The PRC's current, enhanced version of this satellite is known as the FSW-2. The FSW-2 is larger than the FSW-1 and has a longer on-orbit life. The FSW-2 military reconnaissance satellite has been launched three times since 1992.87 The most recent launch occurred in October 1996.
The PRC has also offered the FSW satellites as microgravity research platforms ó that is, scientific experiments are mounted on the military reconnaissance satellite itself. The commercial proceeds from such "piggy back" launches may in turn be used to subsidize the efforts of PRC entities. Starting in 1987, several FSW satellites have carried microgravity experiments for commercial customers including France and Germany.88
The PRC has also announced that it is going to deploy a new, more capable military reconnaissance satellite.
CBERS: A Prototype of the PRC's Acquisition of Western Technology
The CBERS-1 satellite program is an open program that has received considerable publicity. The Select Committee judges that the PRC is interested in promoting Western interest in this presumably civil satellite because it offers a means of acquiring technology that could be useful for future military reconnaissance satellites.
CBERS stands for the China-Brazil Earth Resources Satellite. The CBERS-1 satellite is a joint venture with Brazil for the development of a remote imaging satellite that will include a variety of Western technologies.
The CBERS remote imagery satellite is designed to include wide field imagery, a charge-coupled device (CCD) camera from the United States manufactured by Fairchild, and an infrared multispectral camera. The satellite is designed to provide global coverage at a variety of spatial resolutions and spectral bands to meet a range of commercial needs.
The CBERS-1 satellite, if successfully completed and deployed, will be able to image any location on the Earth within three days in the visible region, and 26 days in the infrared region.
The PRC's Other Military Satellite Programs
The PRC has developed and deployed a variety of other satellites for military purposes since its first launches in the 1970s.
It has been reported that the PRC may have developed a series of electronic intelligence (ELINT) satellites in the early 1970s.89 These satellites would have been useful for collecting data on Soviet defense, among other purposes.
The PRC has also developed two different types of meteorological satellites for military and civil purposes, known as Feng Yun (Wind and Cloud).
- The FY-1 series of satellites, first launched in 1988, are polar-orbiting. The FY-1 satellites have suffered a series of on-orbit failures. The first satellite operated for only 39 days of its one-year planned design life; the second satellite lost attitude control five months into its on-orbit life, was recovered 50 days later, and was again lost due to radiation damage.
- The FY-2 satellites were designed to provide meteorological information from geosynchronous orbit. The first satellite of this class, however, was lost due to an explosion during ground processing.90 The second of this class was launched on June 10, 1997 and was successfully placed into orbit.91
While the PLA has, to date, relied on the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS) and the Russian Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS) navigation satellites, the PRC has announced plans for its own navigation satellite system, known as the Twin Star. The GPS system of satellites, which provides three-dimensional positioning and timing data throughout the globe, consists of 24 satellites with several on-orbit spares. The Russian GLONASS system is intended to use 21 satellites with three on-orbit spares, but the financial crisis in Russia has reduced the number of operational satellites currently on orbit.
In comparison, the PRC's proposed Twin Star positioning system program, as planned, would utilize two satellites in geosynchronous orbit for positioning, messaging, and timing services.92 The Twin Star system represents the PRC's attempt to become independent of the United States' GPS and the Russian GLONASS navigation satellites.
The Asia-Pacific Mobile Telecommunications (APMT) Satellite
Hughes is currently designing a geosynchronous communications satellite for a PRC-controlled consortium, Asia-Pacific Mobile Telecommunications, Ltd. (APMT). The stated purpose is to provide regional mobile communications throughout Asia.93
Unlike previous communications satellites, however, this satellite uses a very large antenna array, which has raised concerns that the satellite could be used not simply for telecommunications, but also for space-based signals intelligence (SIGINT) collection.
This would give the PRC the capability to eavesdrop electronically on conversations not only in the PRC, but also in neighboring countries. Since the APMT satellite's antenna array is significantly larger than any that has been provided to the PRC by any Western nation, it is likely that the PRC would seek to exploit the APMT design for a future PRC SIGINT satellite.
Other concerns have been raised about the participation of the son of a PLA general in the program's technical interchange meetings, as described in greater detail below.
When Hughes was awarded this contract, PRC entities had at least a 51 percent share in the international consortium that made up APMT. PRC entities involved included China Aerospace Corporation, China Launch and Tracking Control General, Chinasat, a subsidiary of the PRC Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, and UNICOM, the PRC's second telephone network. Originally, two Singaporean companies, Singapore Telecommunications, Ltd. and Singapore Technologies Telemedia, owned twenty-five percent of APMT.94 In 1998, however, Singapore Telecommunications pulled out of the APMT project, stating that the project no longer met its business requirements.95 Thailand is also listed by Hughes as an "other" shareholder in APMT.96 In 1998, Hughes reported that the shareholders for APMT included:
- China Aerospace Corporation
- China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology
- China Satellite Launch & Tracking Control General
- China Communications Systems Co. Limited
- China Resources Holdings Co. Ltd (PRC)
- Communications Authority of Thailand
- Telephone Organization of Thailand
- China Telecommunications Broadcast Satellite Corporation
- China Asia-Pacific Mobile Telecommunications Satellite Co. Ltd.
- Asia-Pacific Mobile Telecommunications (Singapore) Pte. Ltd.
- Sunburst Technologies Investments Pte. Ltd. of Singapore
- Mitsubishi Corporation of Japan
- NTT Mobilecommunications Network Inc. of Japan
- Future Hi-Tech Co., Ltd. of Thailand97
In the early 1990s, APMT held a competition among satellite manufacturers for a regional mobile communications satellite system that would use 50,000 small, portable handsets similar to cellular telephones. The system called for a communications satellite in geosynchronous orbit, which would transmit communications between handsets or rout them through "gateways" into the local telephone network.98 Among the competitors were Hughes and Loral.99
Hughes won the APMT contract. In 1996, Hughes requested an export license from the Commerce Department for the APMT satellite.100 If approved for export, the APMT satellite was to be launched on a Long March 3B rocket from the PRC.101 Hughes' design proposal, as originally submitted to the Commerce Department, included two HS 601 satellite buses with a 12-year design life. The satellites were to be equipped with a 40 foot L-band antenna.102 The license was originally approved by the Commerce Department in 1996.103
In April 1998, Hughes submitted a second license request to the Commerce Department due to changes in the satellite bus design.104 Hughes wanted to use the more powerful HS-GEM bus, in place of the HS 601, which would have permitted them to achieve design commonalities and hence production efficiencies with another satellite sale to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The design change for the UAE satellite was the result of a requirement by Hughes' Thuraya satellite customer, who wanted to reduce the power used by the handsets when transmitting. This required an increase in the sensitivity and power of the satellites and their antenna.105 The original contract also called for two on-orbit satellites. This was modified to one on-orbit satellite and one spare satellite.106
The 40-foot antenna, which uses a truss-like outer ring and mesh reflector surface, is the unique aspect of the APMT satellite design. It has led to concerns that the PRC could use the APMT satellite for signals intelligence collection against a wide spectrum of communications.107
The satellite, however, is designed to collect and process only communications in the same bandwidth as is allocated to the handsets.108 Communications satellite antennas are designed to receive their own frequency and reject all others. To do otherwise would add unnecessary expense and complexity to the satellite.
In an attempt to reduce interference from other satellites using the same frequency bands, the APMT satellite antenna will use "left-hand circular polarization" which gives its signals a unique signature. The satellite will not collect other signals that use right, vertical, horizontal, or no polarization. These factors thus limit the satellite's ability to engage in signals intelligence to the collection of information transmitted by APMT system users. That volume of information, however, would be substantial.
When the handsets in the proposed APMT system are used, even for handset-to-handset conversations that are not bounced off the satellite, copies of the transmissions are downloaded to a central ground station. This capability is typically required of most satellite communications systems. Only Iridium, which uses inter-satellite cross-links, does not downlink its communications to a ground station. This downlink would allow the PRC to monitor the communications of APMT's users across the Asian region.
Back | Forward