India Works To Maintain Sri Lankan Foothold Amid Growing China Presence

New Delhi’s strategic and geographical compulsions barely allow it to sit back and watch Sri Lanka descend into chaos—a privilege that Beijing enjoys.

India is concerned that the Chinese involvement at the Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka will turn into a long-term Chinese military presence. The docking in August of China’s Yuan Wang-5, a research ship that can track satellites and ballistic missiles, raised additional questions in India about Chinese involvement at the Hambantota Port at a time when the Indian government has been dealing with the fallout of unrest in Sri Lanka.  The accompanying excerpted article from the Indian independent think-tank Observer Research Foundation provides an Indian perspective on the visit of the Chinese ship and what the Indian government might do with Sri Lanka going forward. The article reports that the visit took place after negotiations with the new government in Sri Lanka and that despite Indian efforts to prevent the visit, the Chinese government ultimately received permission to dock. The article compares Chinese and Indian assistance to Sri Lanka following weeks of civil unrest and the change in government there in July 2022, noting that India provided assistance with fewer conditions. In addition, Sri Lanka “reciprocated by cancelling Chinese projects in the Jaffna peninsula and consenting to India’s investments” in various endeavors, including a maritime rescue coordination center at the Hambantota Port. Lastly, the author states that “unlike China, India has no option but to assist Sri Lanka” and that the recent assistance from India “was not aimed to root out Chinese influence; it was out of compulsion and to reverse its lost influence.” As China is likely to continue using the Hambantota Port in various capacities, the Indian government appears to be maintaining a foothold for now.


Aditya Gowdara Shivamurthy, “Should India continue its assistance to Sri Lanka as China makes its way to Hambantota?,” Observer Research Foundation (independent think tank in India), 23 August 2022.

On 16 August, Yuan Wang-5—a Chinese naval vessel—finally docked in Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port. Operated by the People’s Liberation Army’s Strategic Support Force, this “research vessel” can monitor/gather satellite and technical intelligence and also track the trajectories of ballistic missiles. This episode has raised several questions about India’s assistance to crisis-hit Sri Lanka, Colombo’s lack of gratitude for India, and China’s relevance in the region…

…The Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry agreed to host the Chinese vessel on 12 July when its President had already fled. Initially, the Sri Lankan Defence Ministry rejected these claims in public. However, in late July, it was confirmed that the vessel would be docking in Hambantota from 11-17 August for “replenishment” purposes and that there was nothing unusual about it. However, considering the ship’s potential to track and survey Indian defence and nuclear instalments in its Southern states, New Delhi expressed its concerns.

…On 4 August, the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister met his Indian and Chinese counterparts in Cambodia and received verbal guarantees of further assistance from both. It is quite likely that China demanded guarantees to dock Yuan Wang-5 in these meetings, and India asked to deter the same. Soon after, the Sri Lankan government requested China to defer the vessel docking until further considerations…The Chinese embassy also sought an urgent meeting with the Sri Lankan authorities and allegedly held a closed-door meeting with the President. Following these meetings, China received its new dates of docking from 16-22 August…

…Beijing’s response to the Sri Lankan crisis has been passive. It has withheld Colombo’s requests for financial assistance, worth US$ 4 billion, and loan restructuring, hoping to leverage them to further its interests.

China has used Colombo’s compulsion to deliver a strong message to India and the world—regardless of its assistance, Beijing still holds significant leverage in Sri Lanka and could challenge India in its backyard. This is something that China could be more determined to show to the world as its tensions with Taiwan continue to escalate…

Contradictory to the Chinese approach, New Delhi’s response is based on Sri Lanka’s humanitarian needs and its self-interests. It has assisted Sri Lanka with US$ 3.8 billion, expecting the island nation’s government to respect its interests and sensitivities. India’s assistance has taken in the form of currency swaps, grants, credit lines, humanitarian supplies, and infrastructure development…

In return, Sri Lanka has reciprocated by cancelling Chinese projects in the Jaffna peninsula and consenting to India’s investments in the energy sector, Free-Floating Dock Facility, Dornier aircraft, and a Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre (MRCC). One of the sub-units of this MRCC will also be installed in the China-operated Hambantota port.

…unlike China, India has no option but to assist Sri Lanka. New Delhi’s strategic and geographical compulsions barely allow it to sit back and watch Sri Lanka descend into chaos—a privilege that Beijing enjoys. 

…India’s assistance was not aimed to root out Chinese influence; it was out of compulsion and to reverse its lost influence. It is no secret that China’s investments and loans still largely outweigh New Delhi’s financial assistance. In fact, even India knows that the IMF bailout solution it supports would require Sri Lanka to talk to China and restructure its loans.In the end, India should continue with its diplomatic engagement and assistance. India’s response to the crisis is not only strategic and status-oriented, but also symbolic since its Indo-Pacific partners expect it to play a significant role in the region. Any misadventure of denying or differing assistance to Sri Lanka also risks attracting more Chinese influence and undoing the positive gains of the last two years…

Chinese Tracking Ship Raises Controversy in Sri Lanka’s Hambantota Port

Chinese ship “Yuan Wang 2”.

Chinese ship “Yuan Wang 2”.

Sri Lanka has almost no real choice except to say ‘yes’ if a Chinese ship of whatever nefarious credentials wants to dock in Hambantota and if that is the wish of the Chinese state.

When the Yuan Wang 5, a Chinese third-generation tracking ship, entered the Port of Hambantota in southern Sri Lanka in September 2022, its presence intensified concern about Chinese intentions in the region. Indeed, it sparked what the Hong Kong-based, English-language newspaper South China Morning Post called a “diplomatic scuffle” with India that may be a microcosm of a broader power struggle in the Bay of Bengal. While Chinese media described the vessel as a “scientific research vessel” and merely part of “very normal exchanges between the two countries that enjoy a longstanding friendship,” Indian media was not convinced. According to the Indian English-language news magazine India Today, there are numerous reasons India should be concerned about the Yuan Wang 5’s port visit. One cause of the concern, according to the newspaper, is that China uses the vessel to track rocket and spacecraft launches for the country’s space program and moon exploration missions. Second, the Yuan Wang 5’s state-of-the-art technology also makes it effective at keeping tabs on many of India’s strategic facilities, such as key ports, military bases, nuclear bases, and space launch center.

For its part, Sri Lanka is caught in the middle of the row between the countries. While Sri Lanka has strong bilateral relations with India, its ties to China have grown over recent years.  As prominent north Indian daily The Tribune pointed out, China has helped to fund many projects in Sri Lanka, including the Hambantota harbor.  As a result, China has “complete control of the Hambantota harbor as Lanka leased it to China Merchant Ports Holdings Company Limited for 99 years in 2017.”


Ling Xin, “Why Did Chinese Ship Yuan Wang 5 Spark a Diplomatic Scuffle?” South Chinese Morning Post (Hong Kong Chinese daily, once considered independent but now suspect of promoting China soft power abroad), 20 August 2022.

The vessel tracks rocket and spacecraft launches for China’s manned space programme and moon exploration missions. But some have called it a “spy ship”, which has led to the current controversy.

Yuan Wang 5 is a large tracking ship China uses to monitor and control rockets, satellites and test missiles while they are over the ocean and beyond the range of ground stations.

Built in 2007, Yuan Wang 5 has been regularly deployed by its operator – China Satellite Maritime Tracking and Control Department – to the Centra Pacific and the Indian Ocean to support satellite launches… Yuan Wang 5 has been heavily involved in China’s manned space programme, moon and Mars exploration as well as the construction of the Beidou navigation satellite system.

“China’s Research Vessel Yuan Wang 5 Docks at Sri Lankan Port, Dispels India’s Alienation of Ties,” Global Times (Daily tabloid newspaper falling under Chinese Communist Party’s People’s Daily), 16 August 2022.

“The scientific research vessel successfully and smoothly docked at Hambantota Port. This is very normal exchanges between the two countries that enjoy a longstanding friendship,” said Ambassador Qi in an interview after the welcoming ceremony…

Wang (Wenbin) stressed that Yuan Wang 5’s scientific research activities are in accordance with international law and common practice and should not be interfered with by third parties.

“Why Docking of Chinese Spy Vessel Yuan Wang 5 at Sri Lanka Port is Dangerous for India,” India Today (Weekly Indian English-language news magazine), 16 August 2022.

Here are the reasons why India is concerned about the presence of the Chinese vessel near its southern tip.

– The vessel has state-of-the-art technology, making it one of the newest generations of tracking ships in the Chinese Navy. It can be used for transoceanic aerospace observation using satellite pictures.

– Known for its excellent record in space and satellite tracking, it has been used for many months now. It can track the launch of satellites, rocket launchers, and also intercontinental ballistic missiles.

– It can also send information to tracking stations in Beijing or other parts of China.

– It has the capability and the range to keep tabs on strategic military establishments, including nuclear ones, in the peninsular region.

– Using this vessel, China can collect information about India’s military bases in the peninsula, the navy, and nuclear submarine bases in South India, including Kalpakkam and Kudankulam.

– Ports in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra on China’s snooping radar will also be within the radar of this Chinese vessel.

– Isro’s launch centre in Chandipur can also be snooped upon.

Sasanka Perera, “Yuan Wang Has Maritime Lessons for India,” The Tribune (prominent north Indian daily with a focus that includes defense issues), 5 September 2022. However, in today’s circumstances, Sri Lankan reality is not the ideal referred to above. Sri Lanka is seriously in debt to China monetarily due to numerous white elephant projects undertaken with Chinese loans, including the Hambantota harbour itself, along with other loans with no significant returns. On the other hand, the Chinese have complete control of the Hambantota harbour as Lanka leased it to China Merchants Port Holdings Company Limited for 99 years in 2017. In this overall context, Sri Lanka has almost no real choice except to say ‘yes’ if a Chinese ship of whatever nefarious credentials wants to dock in Hambantota and if that is the wish of the Chinese state. That is exactly what happened with Yuan Wang 5.

Image Information:

Image: Chinese ship “Yuan Wang 2”
Source: YuanWang2c – Yuan Wang-class tracking ship – Wikipedia
Attribution: Gadfium, Public Domain

PLA Education Reforms: Problems Remain After More Than 20 Years

The PLA’s Leading Military University: National Defense University.

The PLA’s Leading Military University: National Defense University.

At present, problems such as imprecise connection between college education and army training still exist to varying degrees.

The question of professional military education (PME) effectiveness is on the table in China given the questionable efficacy of the last round of reforms to People’s Liberation Army (PLA) PME programs. It has been 20 years since the PLA’s Central Military Commission issued its 20-year Strategic Project of Military Talent with the objective of building up a contingent of command officers capable of planning and directing informationized wars [1]. Around the same time, now-President Xi Jinping’s “Triad New Military Personnel Education System of Systems,” which focuses on developing joint talent as well as integrating military universities with unit training, emerged [2]. The Triad reforms attempted to update courses and recruit talented faculty with projects like the “Famous Teachers” program to establish a stable faculty system that critiques reform efforts; active-duty officers are brought in to teach courses and instructors are sent to field training..

As the accompanying official PLA newspaper PLA Daily articulates, problems with China’s PME systems remain. The article describes some PLA PME universities and colleges as failing to train personnel for war and the battlefield despite continuing efforts to couple educational institutions with military personnel to better link the classroom to the battlefield.  The article highlights the need to improve courses and describes major programs in China’s military universities to cultivate command talent and generate new combat capabilities.  Faculties require improvement, and the author suggests the elimination of outdated courses and course material. The article also cites the need to develop scientific and technological skills required to operate modern weapons and equipment, as well as understand new concepts of operations. It claims the PLA lacks technological literacy in network systems, intelligent technologies, and unmanned systems that are critical to future warfare concepts. Despite President Xi’s renewed efforts to jump start the Triad reform, these problems will adversely affect the PLA’s ability to develop talent capable of conducting modern combat operations.


“构建战教耦合育人 (Constructing a new pattern of teaching war coupled with educating people),” PLA Daily (official newspaper of the People’s Liberation Army), 1 September 2022.

Optimize the layout of disciplines, majors, and curriculum systems. Disciplinary majors and curriculum systems are the key foundational support and talent training plan for running schools and educating people.…

Build a team of excellent teachers who know how to fight. Establish the concept of “Famous teachers must know actual combat”, make the basic quality requirements for the teaching staff to be familiar with operational theory, familiar with combat regulations, grasp operational requirements, and understand advanced military technology, and guide teachers to grasp the internal law of the transformation from teaching ability of colleges and universities to the generation of combat effectiveness of the army , … proficient in the organization, implementation, demonstration, inspection and evaluation of actual strive to become a famous combat teacher who is good at clearing the “fog of war”, familiar with the characteristics of modern warfare, making good use of information technology and new forces in new fields, and strives to understand actual combat. … Actively provide conditions for the majority of instructors to participate in major training activities and major weapons and equipment tests, increase follow-up research and training efforts, and promote the team of instructor’s abilities and talent in military practice. Actively recommend instructors to participate in joint military exercises and training, overseas military operations, and major special tasks, and improve their ability to know and understand through actual combat training and exercises.

Accelerate forward-looking research on new fields and new qualities. With the accelerated development of the new military revolution, high-technology and high-tech equipment such as networks, intelligence, and unmanned systems have a profound impact on the game strategies of modern warfare, strategic design, and operational guidance have an increasing impact on the outcome of wars, and require higher and higher scientific and technological literacy for officers and soldiers participating in the war. … Create a platform, environment and mechanism that is conducive to innovation, increase the training of young scientific and technological talents, vigorously promote cutting-edge scientific and technological innovation, realize the positive interaction between more achievements and more talents, and promote the ability to transform traditional disciplines by means of “military +” and “technology +.”

By organizing research on new fields and new quality directions such as military intelligence and unmanned operations, and holding high-level military academic lectures, we will promote new theories, new tactics, new training methods, new technologies, and new equipment in the military field into classroom teaching.


[1] “Informatization” is the concept of automated data systems-driven input for decision-making.

[2] “Triad New Military Personnel Education System of Systems 三位一体新型军事人才培养体系

Image Information:

Image: The PLA’s Leading Military University: National Defense University
Attribution: CC BY-SA 3.0

PLA Cognitive Domain Operations: Considering Preemption and Hard Kill

Strategic Support Force Space Engineering University.

Strategic Support Force Space Engineering University.

In order to fight military and political battles well in future wars, we should deeply grasp the characteristics and laws of offensive and defensive operations in the cognitive domain and improve our ability to fight the “five battles”.

Numerous articles in the PLA’s official newspaper PLA Daily examine various soft, or noncombat, aspects of cognitive warfare. An article by an author from the PLA Strategic Support Force’s Space Engineering University diverges from these by advocating the integration of hard kill and preemption with noncombat aspects of cognitive domain operations to help the PLA severely degrade and disrupt an opponent to dramatically shape the battlespace and seize the initiative. The author notes that local wars and armed conflicts have become hybrid confrontations in multiple domains and employing multiple methods. Cognitive warfare attempts to influence the target’s cognitive faculties in the areas of physiology, psychology, and value judgments in a multi-domain battlespace. The author believes that there are five key objectives of cognitive warfare: to systematically restrict and control the opponent’s decision-making, to create chaos in international communications, to attack the opponent’s strategic focus, to actively shape the battlefield, and to seize strategic initiative. To achieve this, however, the author stresses a kinetic, proactive approach. Particularly, the article advocates preemptive strikes to destroy the enemy’s decisionmaking center, communications hubs, reconnaissance and early warning system, and other key nodes.


瞄准未来争打好五仗(Aiming at the Future War and Fighting the Cognitive ‘Five Battles’),” PLA Daily (official newspaper of the People’s Liberation Army), 23 August 2022.

Recognize that information is the king of combat, expand the field and fight a good supporting battle. Future wars cannot be separated from strong information support, and system integration should be accelerated to gain data advantages. First of all, accelerate the construction of cognitive offensive and defensive combat theory base, databases, talent base, case example base and operational method base, dynamically collect and update the current situation of the enemy’s cognitive offensive and defensive combat capability construction, and provide all-round support for cognitive offensive and defensive combat. Second, we will accelerate the building of a media communication matrix, improve and perfect our own platform system, step up the promotion of network platforms, pay attention to system integration, collaboration and linkage, break through the “barriers” of information connectivity as soon as possible, and achieve cognitive integration, sharing and comprehensive effects. Thirdly, we will accelerate the coupling and linkage of information and cognitive domain operations, vigorously develop core technologies such as neural network systems, artificial intelligence applications, cognitive decision-making and psychological attack and defense, mine and analyze cross domain and heterogeneous cognitive information, improve cognitive means and information fusion systems, and provide for “the faculty of forecasting” and “being omniscient” to win future wars.

Cognitive warfare should be coordinated, and multi-dimensional efforts should be made to fight a good overall battle. The future war is a joint operation in the land, sea, air, space, network, electromagnetic and other fields. We should adhere to the systematic thinking, strengthen the awareness of coordination, and improve the compatibility and coordination of cognitive domain operations and other military actions. For example, it can integrate human intelligence, geographical intelligence and open-source intelligence, rapidly collect and process massive amounts of data, eliminate the false and retain the true, accurately and efficiently seize the cognitive space, and achieve complementary advantages and full coverage to form cognitive advantages. Through the networking of decentralized and multi domain forces, a joint force in all fields with high connectivity, collective action and overall attack capabilities will be established to achieve the effect of “integrated deterrence”. By integrating national resources, strengthening strategic communication, using cognitive momentum to amplify the effects of political disintegration, economic sanctions, diplomatic offensives, and cooperation with the target object by multi-dimensional pressure of military action, we strive to defeat the enemy without fighting.

Image Information:

Image: Strategic Support Force Space Engineering University

China Develops World’s First Small Modular Reactor

The project (Linglong No. 1) is the world’s first onshore commercial small modular reactor and demonstrates that my country is at the forefront of small modular reactor technology…. Another beautiful business card for Chinese-made original technology.”

China recently developed the world’s first small modular reactor (SMR), which could have military, economic, and geopolitical implications.  Chinese-language multimedia website Běijīng zhōngguó hédiàn wǎng (Beijing China Nuclear Power Grid) is touting the “Linglong No. 1,” also known as ACP-100, as a milestone technology that can make China the leader in developing small reactors.  The Linglong No. 1 is a multi-purpose pressurized water reactor.  Its single module and standardized design are expected to make mass producing them less costly.  Furthermore, the unique modular design technology will allow them to be built in a factory and installed elsewhere.

The article also explains that the idea of a SMR jumped in popularity following the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan.  Since then, China had been competing with the United States, Russia, Japan, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and other countries to develop the first one.  According to the article, the Linglong No. 1’s high safety standards are one of its most prominent features.  In the event of an accident, the core heat dissipates through passive means, such as gravity and natural circulation, to achieve long-term cooling.  According to the article, the Linglong No. 1 also offers a cleaner energy option.  It can generate 125,000 kilowatts, with an annual capacity of 1 billion kilowatts, which is enough to meet the power needs of 526,000 households.  Each Linglong No. 1 is expected to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 880,000 tons per year, which is the equivalent to planting 7.5 million trees.

While the article does not talk specifically about the military, it notes that the Linglong No. 1’s smaller power and volume size make it suitable for more diverse applications, such as use on remote islands and reefs to provide desalination of seawater, heat, electricity, and steam production.  This would make it an ideal source of energy for those atolls and reefs in the South China Sea and other remote areas China has been building up since early 2014.  Finally, the article describes the Linglong No. 1 as a “double dragon” for the China National Nuclear Corporation, the owner and operator of the project, to compete in overseas markets, as part of China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative.  It concludes that the safe and intelligent design of the small modular reactor will likely promote the country’s technological leadership in the field of nuclear energy, “becoming another beautiful business card for Chinese-made original technology.”


“核能领域的“移动充电宝”——记全球首个陆上商用模块化小堆玲龙一号研发 (Nuclear Energy Field ‘Mobile Power Bank’ – Development of the World’s First Commercial Small Modular Reactor Linglong No. 1),” Beijing China Nuclear Power Grid (Multimedia Chinese-language news website covering China’s nuclear energy sector), 26 August 2022.

After ten years, the China Nuclear Power Research and Design Institute, which has been closely following the development of nuclear energy around the world, has developed its own multi-purpose small modular pressurized water reactor, which is a major achievement in independent innovation and fills a domestic gap.

The International Atomic Energy Agency first began advocating the development of small and medium-sized reactors as early as the 1970s and 1980s. This prompted more and more countries, including the United States, Russia, Japan, South Korea, and the United Kingdom to compete in the development of SMRs.

When the Nuclear Power Institute began researching SMRs, their efforts were aimed at desalination, electricity production, heating, steam production, etc. They completed the conceptual scheme, safety, and economic evaluation….

Construction of a demo small modular reactor officially kicked off on 13 July 2021.  So far, the project is the world’s first onshore commercial small modular reactor and demonstrates that my country is at the forefront of small modular reactor technology.

…the Linglong No. 1 has a smaller footprint due to its small size. Smaller power and volume are suitable for more diverse applications. It can be used on both land and on offshore platforms; on remote islands and reefs, etc. to provide heat, power, cogeneration, and multi-field, multi-scenario, and multi-demand applications… providing stronger support for the development of my country’s economic growth.

At the same time, Linglong No. 1 is modular. By having a single module with a standardized design, mass producing them can be less costly.  The small modular reactor system is simple. The equipment is small, making transporting and operating them more convenient. The unique modular design technology allows them to be built in a factory and installed at a different site, which greatly shortens the construction period…

… The most prominent features of the Linglong No. 1 are the integrated design, modular construction, high inherent and passive safety features. In the event of an accident, the core heat dissipates through passive means, such as gravity and natural circulation, to achieve long-term cooling…

As clean energy, nuclear power has multiple advantages…. Linglong No. 1 can generate 125,000 kilowatts, with an annual capacity that can reach 1 billion kilowatts… It can meet the power needs of 526,000 households…. It will greatly reduce the consumption of fossil fuel-based energy in my country and promote energy conservation and reduce emissions. At the same time, each Linglong No. 1 will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 880,000 tons per year, which is equivalent to planting 7.5 million trees…Cooperation between Linglong No. 1 and my country’s mega-kilowatt independent third-generation nuclear power, the Hualong No. 1, has become a “double dragon” for China National Nuclear Corporation to compete in overseas markets and can support the country’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative. It is foreseeable that the safe and intelligent design of the small modular reactor will promote my country’s technological leadership in the field of nuclear energy and take the lead, becoming another beautiful business card for Chinese-made original technology.

China Debuts New Space Capabilities

CZ-7 (space launch vehicle).

CZ-7 (space launch vehicle).

If deorbit sails are configured, the orbit time can be shortened to less than ten years.

Since the beginning of 2022, new capabilities of several significant systems in China’s space program have been tested. These include space-based orbital debris tracking sensors, a new spaceplane, a new series of datalink satellites, and tests of a deployable “sail” to facilitate deorbiting of satellites. Chinese state media China News Online describes the success of an orbital space debris monitoring system.  As satellites and components from past launches accumulate in orbit, the danger of an accidental collision increases, threatening critical systems. “Space Domain Awareness” is crucial for both civilian and military applications as it involves precision tracking of known satellites and debris. While China has built an extensive ground-based system of radars, lasers, and optical sensors for tracking this debris, orbital sensors avoid many issues faced by ground-based systems, such as atmospheric distortion and sensor overload due to daylight.  The same article also notes that China has made improvements to on-orbit image processing, an increasingly important technology, as the volume of data to be sent to ground stations increases.

China’s National Space Administration media outlet China Space Culture describes the successful test of a “de-orbital sail,” which uses the minimal atmosphere present in low Earth orbit to gradually lower and finally deorbit a satellite.  Giving more control over deorbiting satellites is a priority as they can sometimes fail to burn up fully in the earth’s atmosphere.  As Chinese companies begin to test large-scale constellations of satellites for communications and other purposes, the ability to better control their reentry or remove them from orbit at the end of their service life is a significant development.

The third notable development is the launch of a new generation of “Tianlian” or “sky chain” data-relay satellites [1].  These satellites are a key component of China’s space-based infrastructure, passing massive volumes of data from communications and Earth observing satellites from orbits on the other side of the world to other communications satellites where they can then transmit the data to ground stations [2]. According to the article in government-run Science and Technology Daily, the new satellites enable the completion of China’s space-based data network, allowing a shift from “intermittent” to “continuous” communication.  The article also notes that the new generation of data-relay satellites capitalizes on the development of improved high-throughput communications satellites based on the Dongfanghong-4 bus. An even more capable Dongfanghong-5 system intended to operate in the Extremely High-Frequency Q/V bands was launched in January 2020 [3].

Finally, China recently tested a reusable sub-orbital spaceplane, which can travel much faster than conventional aircraft due to the lower atmospheric pressure at the altitudes where they operate. Spaceplanes capable of achieving orbit offer the ability to maneuver more readily than traditional satellites and may act as testbeds for orbital technologies, which can then be brought back to Earth to collect data or further research.  Much of the technologies required for both types of systems are similar.  China wants to be a leader in space-based services and next-generation technologies. The development of such transatmospheric vehicles offers China a chance to not only improve its ability to operate in the space domain but to lead in emerging technologies. Space capabilities are the epitome of systems of systems.  As the aforementioned developments show, China is rapidly developing not only its ground-based support systems but its capacity to launch, maneuver on-orbit, and field resilient space-based systems as well.


“天舟三号飞船搭载显成果 空间碎片探测载荷在轨运行超9个月 (The Tianzhou-3 spacecraft carried remarkable achievements, and the space debris detection payload has been in orbit for more than nine months),” China News Online (PRC State Media), 8 July 2022.

According to the China Manned Space Engineering Office, the Tianzhou-3 cargo spacecraft launched on 20 September 2021 carried payloads, including space debris detection systems. As of March 2022, The space debris detection payload has acquired thousands of images in orbit. At present, the payload has been operating in a stable orbit for more than nine months.

According to reports, the space debris detection payload includes an optical camera, an on-orbit data processing unit, and a temperature control unit. At present, the payload has been running stably in orbit for more than nine months.

As of March this year, the space debris detection payload has acquired thousands of images on-orbit and made breakthroughs testing the design of the optical system of the large-field high-sensitivity detection system, on-orbit algorithmic detection and identification and processing of dim and weak space targets, and the rapid transfer of massive amounts of data.

“China’s Largest De-orbital Sail Successfully Deployed (国内最大离轨帆成功在轨展开),” China Space Culture (China National Space Administration [CNSA] Official Weibo Account), 5 July 2022.

On 23 June, the Long 2 March carrier rocket was successfully launched. On 26 June, it successfully deployed a deorbit sail device. This is the largest de-orbital sail used by China, with a surface area of over 25 square meters once fully unfolded. With the sail, a 300kg satellite will re-enter the atmosphere within two years, freeing up valuable orbits and reducing space debris.

Without using measures [such as the sail] to deorbit itself, a 15-kg satellite in orbit at an altitude of 700km will remain in orbit for 120 years or more after the end of its service life; if deorbit sails are configured, the orbit time can be shortened to less than ten years. Moreover, the deorbiting sail is used to implement deorbiting without consuming fuel. Even if the spacecraft fails or is out of control, deorbiting can be effectively implemented.

“天链新星 ‘入列’ 我国第二代中继卫星系统建成 (“New Tianlian ‘Enters Service’ China’s Second-generation Relay Satellite System Has Been Completed),”

Science and Technology Daily (State media outlet managed by the PRC Ministry of Science and Technology), 14 July 2022.

On 13 July, the Tianlian-2-03 satellite, developed by China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation’s (CASC) 5th Academy, was successfully launched from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center aboard a Long 3 March B carrier rocket.

After achieving a stable orbit, the satellite will form a network with the previously launched Tianlian-2 01 and 02 satellites to create China’s second-generation data relay satellite system. Both generations will be in orbit at the same time, significantly improving space-based Telemetry, Tracking and Command (TT&C), and data relay capabilities.

After the Tianlian-2 satellite is in orbit, it will work in cooperation with the Tianlian-1 system. It is mainly used to provide data relay and TT&C services for manned spacecraft, space laboratories, and space stations. It can also support remote sensing, mapping, meteorological and other satellites in medium- and low-earth orbits.

“我国亚轨道运载器重复使用飞行试验取得圆满成功 (China’s Test of Reusable Suborbital Vehicle Complete Success),” Xinhua (PRC State News Agency), 26 August 2022.

On 26 August, a flight test of a reusable lift-type suborbital vehicle independently developed by the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT), a subsidiary of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), was a complete success.After the first successful flight test, the vehicle was inspected and recertified for launch and was launched vertically again from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, after which it completed its suborbital flight according to the plan and landed smoothly at the Alxa Youqi Airport, successfully realizing the suborbital transport in China. The complete success of this flight test has strongly promoted the leap-forward development of China’s space transportation technology from one-time use to repeated use.


[1] “Tianlian” data-relay satellites [天链, lit. “sky chain”]

[2] For more information on the “Tianlian”, see Peter Wood, “China Launches New Communications Relay Satellite,” OE Watch May 2019.

[3] For more information on the Dongfanghong-5 system, see Peter Wood, “China Launches Test-bed For High-Bandwidth Communications Satellites,” OE Watch, May 2020.

Image Information:

Image: CZ-7 (space launch vehicle)
Attribution: CS BY 4.0

New Chinese Aerial Refueling Aircraft Enters Service

Y-20 Aerial Refueling Aircraft.

Y-20 Aerial Refueling Aircraft.

The YY-20 aircraft represents China’s new generation of aerial refueling equipment

Chinese officials recently confirmed that an aerial tanker variant of the Y-20, the YY-20, strategic transport aircraft has entered service [1]. The Y-20 is China’s largest indigenously produced military transport aircraft. As China’s interests overseas continue to expand, the ability to deploy forces rapidly using the base transport variant of the Y-20 will continue to be more important. China’s armed forces previously relied on the HY-6, a modified variant of China’s H-6 bomber, a design that dates to the 1960s. While few details are forthcoming, Chinese media coverage has described the new tanker as having three times the capacity of the HY-6. The YY-20 now likely provides China’s PLA Air Force and PLA Naval Aviation with greater flexibility, endurance, and range, not only for strike aircraft but also for critical enablers such as airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft [2].  The new tanker could also be used to support China’s nascent aerial component of its nuclear triad, which includes an H-6 variant equipped with an aerial refueling probe.


“我军新一代空中加油机运油-20投入练兵备战 (The Chinese Military’s New Generation Aerial Refueling Aircraft Has Entered Service),” PLA Daily (Official PRC Military Newspaper), 5 August 2022.

At the Air Force Aviation Open Event and Changchun Air Show press conference on 31 July, PLA Air Force spokesman Shen Jinke announced that recently, Air Force Yunyou-20 and J-16 aircraft have carried out aerial refueling training at sea, improving the level of realistic combat training.

Under the guidance of Xi Jinping’s thought on strengthening the military, the Air Force has developed high-tech weapons and equipment systematically in accordance with the strategic goal of “integrated air and space capability; simultaneous preparation for offensive and defensive operationsThe YY-20 aircraft represents China’s new generation of aerial refueling equipment, which can effectively enhance the long-range maneuverability of the aviation force while also undertaking the same aerial delivery tasks as the Y-20 aircraft.


[1] In Chinese military nomenclature both Transport [运 yun; transport] and Tanker [油 you; lit, gas/oil] start with Y, hence the YY designation.

[2] For a breakdown of likely capabilities and comparison to U.S. tankers, see: Peter Wood, “China to Modify Y-20 Transport Aircraft for Aerial Refueling,” OE Watch, January 2019.

Image Information:

Image: Y-20 Aerial Refueling Aircraft
Attribution: N509FZ, CC BY-SA 4.0

“Chronic Instability” Atop Algerian Military’s Foreign Intelligence and Security Directorate

President of the Democratic People's Republic of Algeria Abdelmadjid Tebboune (2021).

President of the Democratic People’s Republic of Algeria Abdelmadjid Tebboune (2021).

…a politico-military regime… which cuts off heads instead of questioning the structural reasons for its inadequacy.

The Algerian military seems plagued by internal rifts that negatively affect leadership and cohesion.  Some evidence of this can be found in what the widely read Moroccan news website Le360 characterizes as”chronic instability” atop Algeria’s foreign intelligence and security agency, the General Directorate of Documentation and External Security (DGDSE).  The Le360 article considers the instability atop DGDSE leadership as proof of a political-military regime that “cuts off heads instead of questioning the structural reasons for its inadequacy,” in ways that “destabilize both the officers and the troops.” 

In early September 2022, Major General M’henna Djebbar was appointed as director of the DGDSE, making him the fifth person to hold the position since current President Abdelmadjid Tebboune assumed office in December 2019.  The volatility is noteworthy, given that for approximately 25 years, from 1990 until 2015, Algerian intelligence services were controlled by a single man: Mohamed Mediene, also known as “Toufik.”  Since then, factional struggles within the military and between the military and intelligence services have led to sudden falls from grace within the DGDSE, as one-time powerbrokers have been dismissed, indicted, or imprisoned for being on the losing side of a factional battle.  Djebbar, who is a longtime associate of Mohamed Mediene, was briefly jailed in 2019-2020, during the purge led by then-chief of staff Ahmed Gaid Saleh, following the ouster of longtime president Abdelaziz Bouteflika.  According to the accompanying excerpt from the France-based online news and analysis website Maghreb Intelligence, Djebbar has become a close ally to President Tebboune but is distrusted by Said Chengriha, the army’s current chief of staff. 

Major security challenges, including Libya’s civil war, Morocco’s annexation of the Western Sahara, and lawlessness in the Sahel are also likely to affect Algeria’s military performance.  Indeed, some recent DGDSE directors seem to have been appointed expressly to deal with the various crises of the moment.  The first head of the DGDSE in the Tebboune era, Major General Mohamed Bouzit, was a Libya specialist appointed in April 2020 at a time of growing Turkish influence in Libya.  After nine months on the job, he was dismissed and subsequently arrested on espionage charges. A report published at the time in the Africa-focused political weekly magazine Jeune Afrique argued that failure to curb Turkish influence in Libya was behind his fall.  His replacement, nicknamed “Polisario” due to his strong ties with leaders in the Western Sahara independence movement, was likely appointed to deal with Algerian concerns over growing international support for Moroccan claims on the Western Sahara. Domestically, the military-controlled Algerian government seems to be in a position of relative strength, having largely neutralized the protest movement that overthrew Bouteflika in 2019.  Algeria’s natural gas reserves and relatively stable relations with both Russia and Europe have yielded newfound geopolitical leverage in the shadow of war in Ukraine.  The Algerian military is strong on paper, thanks to substantial purchases of advanced Russian and Chinese weaponry in the past decade. Still, the chronic instability atop the DGDSE may be symptomatic of internal leadership and cohesion issues which, while not visible on the surface, should be considered when assessing Algeria’s military capabilities.


Mohammed Ould Boah. “Les non-dits des nouveaux changements  à la tête des services du renseignement algérien (What goes unsaid about new changes in the leadership of Algerian intelligence services),” Le360 (widely read Moroccan news website), 16 July 2022.

This chronic instability at the head of Algerian foreign intelligence is indicative of the improvisation, mistakes, even casting errors, of a politico-military regime visibly incapable of scoring points and which cuts off heads instead of questioning the structural reasons for its inadequacy. At this rate of purges, the Algerian army has become leaderless – in the sense of lacking a head. Decapitated, this army capsizes according to the news and thinks of reassuring the chain of command by changing commander each time. This destabilizes both the officers and the troops.

Ilyes Aribi. “Algérie: la cruelle désillusion des partisans du général M’henna Djebbar (Algeria: the cruel disillusion of General M’henna Djebbar’s supporters),” Maghreb Intelligence (French-based online news and analysis website), 20 July 2022.

In 2021, M’henna Djebbar convinces Tebboune to include him in his inner circle to consolidate his faltering presidential power… But since June 2022, M’henna Djebbar’s plans have been troubled by the strong comeback of his number one opponent: Said Chengriha, the head of the Algerian military institution, who has worked to slow down the rehabilitation of former generals from the 1990s, fearing their stranglehold on Algerian power.

“Algeria: Is the Russia-Turkey rivalry at the heart of the Bouzit affair?” Jeune Afrique (Africa-focused political weekly magazine), 24 September 2021.

Major General Mohamed Bouzit (aka Youcef ), the former head of Algerian foreign intelligence, was appointed in April 2020 and replaced in January 2021. He was placed in detention in the Blida military prison, 60km south of Algiers, following his arrest on 7 September 2021…

Bouzit… is accused of having left the field open for Turkey to extend its field of intervention in Libya by installing several military bases, among other things… [and] is suspected of having misled Algerian diplomacy and favouring Ankara’s Libyan interests…

Therefore, the Bouzit affair is just another episode in the clan struggle that dominates the Algerian political-military seraglio. This muted war is taking place between President Tebboune’s close advisors, Chengriha’s entourage and even generals from Ahmed Gaïd Salah’s former team, who are all prepared to ally themselves with one or another of the factions to avoid joining their comrades in prison.

Image Information:

Image:  President of the Democratic People’s Republic of Algeria Abdelmadjid Tebboune (2021)

Iran Wants Sukhoi-35 Fighters From Russia

Russian Sukhoi-35 at the 2015 MAKS Airshow.

Russian Sukhoi-35 at the 2015 MAKS Airshow.

We hope to get these fourth-generation fighters in the future.

Recent reporting suggests that Iran is working to modernize its air force, which is widely considered the most deficient branch of its military. The deficiency in Iran’s air force rests largely on its outdated and increasingly obsolete jet fighters. Iran continues to fly F-14s sold to the Shah before the Iranian Revolution, and Iran is the only country that continues to fly the U.S.-made F-4 Phantom II, last produced more than 40 years ago. Iran also flies the Sukhoi SU-24, whose manufacture Russia ended 30 years ago; 40-year old MiG-29s; and a few Chengdu J-7s, a Chinese license-built version of the MiG-21. Iran claims its air force possesses more than 100 fighter jets, which is likely an exaggeration that does not take into account the end of production runs, natural attrition and aircraft losses, and cannibalization of some planes for spare parts.

In a bid to rectify these deficiencies, the excerpted article from the Borna News Agency, an outlet affiliated with Iran’s youth and sports ministry, suggests that the Iran is in the market to upgrade and overhaul its fleet. It quotes the commander of the Iran’s Army Air Force as saying that the Iranian military is considering the purchase of Russian Sukhoi-35s, an upgraded version of the Sukhoi-27 that it currently possesses. The article describes the Sukhoi-35 as “one of the most powerful 4th generation fighters in the world,” claiming it can engage up to eight air-to-air targets simultaneously. While in recent years Iran has concentrated its acquisitions and developments on drones and precision missiles, it now appears that a potential Iranian shopping spree—enabled by high oil prices and potential sanctions relief—will also aim to revitalize its air force. Such a purchase would also cement a long-term training relationship with Russia.


“Kharid-e Jangandeh Sukhoi-35 as Rusiya dar Dastor-e Kar-e Artesh-e Iran (The Purchase of Sukhoi-35 fighters from Russia is on the agenda of the Iranian army),” Borna (media outlet affiliated with the Islamic Republic’s youth and sports ministry), 4 September 2022.بخش-سیاسی-3/1372678-خرید-جنگنده-سوخو-از-روسیه-در-دستور-کار-ارتش-ایران

Army Brigadier General Hamid Vahidi, commander of the Islamic Republic’s Army Air Force, told the security and defense Correspondent of the Borna News Agency about the purchase of fighter jets for the Army Air Force, saying that the purchase of Russian Sukhoi-35 fighters is on the agenda. He stated that the purchase of Sukhoi-30 is not in the plan but currently the purchase of Sukhoi-35 from Russia is under consideration and added: “This issue is on the agenda and we hope to get these fourth generation fighters in the future.” The commander of the Air Force also emphasized that the final decision on the purchase of Sukhoi-35 fighter jets from Russia rests with the Army Command and the Armed Forces General Staff.

Image Information:

Image: Russian Sukhoi-35 at the 2015 MAKS Airshow
Source: Dmitry Terekhov,
Attribution: CCA – SA 2.0

The Appeal of “Duginism” in the Middle East

Aleksandr Dugin, at the Civilizations of the Eurasian Area meeting on February 26, 2018 at the Faculty of World Studies, University of Tehran.

Aleksandr Dugin, at the Civilizations of the Eurasian Area meeting on February 26, 2018 at the Faculty of World Studies, University of Tehran.

A special role in the project is given to Sufism, not only in Turkey but also in other countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

Whatever one thinks of Russian political theorist Aleksandr Dugin’s esoteric cultural-geopolitical theories, his influence in Arabic-speaking countries is worthy of attention. Dugin, a Russian political philosopher who rose to prominence among Russian military and foreign policy elites with the 1997 publication of his book “Foundations of Geopolitics,” has long called for Russia to annex Ukraine to counter “Atlanticist” encroachment. Several of Dugin’s books are available in Arabic translation, most recently a tome published last July by prominent Qatari think tank The Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies. Two elements of Dugin’s ruminations on culture and geopolitics are finding receptive audiences in the Middle East: one, his opposition to U.S. regional involvement; and two, his appeals to cultural conservatism and civilizational identity.

Dugin’s strident critique of U.S. presence in the Middle East has been attractive to members of the Iranian-led “Resistance Axis,” which includes Palestine, Syria, and Lebanon and opposes the “West,” Israel, and Saudi Arabia.  Following the assassination of Dugin’s daughter Daria in August 2022 in Russia, allegedly by the Ukrainian government, a top Lebanese Hezbollah official issued a condolence statement that praised Dugin’s support for “the Palestinian cause and the legitimate struggle against American hegemony, Zionist occupation and takfiri terrorism.” Indeed, Dugin’s strong critiques of Israel seemingly appeal to a broad spectrum of the Arab public, including leftists and liberals who may otherwise disagree with many of his far-right-leaning ideas.

Furthermore, Dugin’s cultural conservatism seemingly endears him to a spectrum of Middle Eastern religious movements and organizations, both Sunni and Shi’ite.  Perhaps most interesting in this regard are Dugin’s appeals to Sufism, a diverse and varied Sunni school of thought and practice.  Broadly speaking, Sufism is associated with a mystical, esoteric approach to Islam, in contrast to the strict textualism of fundamentalist Salafi or Wahhabi groups.  The accompanying excerpt from the leftist, pro-Hezbollah Lebanese daily al-Akhbar, translates a 2020 piece written by Daria Dugin on Russia’s approach to the Middle East.  In it, she argues for establishing a Russian alliance with the “Islamic Civilization” via Iran and Turkey, with special emphasis on Turkey due to its historical links with Sufism. Dugin’s appeal among Arab intellectuals and pundits has its limits, however.  Arab liberals, in particular, are likely to be skeptical of Dugin’s “anti-imperialism” and distrust his appeals to cultural conservatism.  As a recent piece in the independent Lebanese news website al-Modon argues, Dugin supports the idea of self-determination yet also “theorizes conquests, profit-sharing, and access to the warm waters of oceans and seas,” and as such is little more than an ideologue seeking to justify Russia’s imperial ambitions.


Source: The Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies (prominent Qatari think tank), July 2022.

As part of its “translation series,” The Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies has published a book titled “Geopolitics of Postmodernity: The Age of New Empires, General Outlines of Political Geography in the Twenty-First Century,” by Alexander Dugin.


“الموسوي: جريمة اغتيال داريا دوغينا تشكل عملاً ارهابياً قذرا

(Al-Moussawi: The assasination of Daria Dugin is a dirty act of terrorism),” al-Manar (Lebanese Hezbollah media outlet), 24 August 2022.

Hezbollah’s official in charge of Arab and international relations, Ammar al-Moussawi, issued the following statement:

On the occasion of the tragic incident that claimed the life of Mrs. Daria Dugin, the daughter of the Russian thinker and philosopher Alexander Dugin, I would like to express my condemnation of this crime, which constitutes a filthy terrorist act. I also take this occasion to express my great appreciation for Mr. Dugin’s position and courageous stances in defense of his country and people, as well as of just and righteous causes, including the Palestinian cause and the legitimate struggle against American hegemony, Zionist occupation and takfiri terrorism.


“روسيا والشرق الأوسط: استراتيجيات آفاق وتوقعات

(Russia and the Middle East: Strategies, Prospects and Expectations),” al-Akhbar (leftist, pro-Hezbollah Lebanese daily), 22 August 2022.

A special role in the project is given to Sufism, not only in Turkey but also in other countries in the Middle East and North Africa, with the exception of countries where Wahhabism, Salafism and Takfirism predominate (Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar)… Reviving the traditions of Rumi, Bektashi, and Yunus Emre may also change the role of Ankara, which has a chance to become a true leader of the Sunni world. Sufism, while remaining outside Middle Eastern operations, is at least as mobilizing as Salafism, and could play a role in uniting the Muslim world against Atlanticism and the Wahhabism it supports…

Thus, Moscow, Ankara and Tehran will return to their traditional roots and become centers of three spiritual civilizations (Orthodox, Sunni and Shiite). Together, they will oppose the West. It is interesting to note that these three nations, with imperial traditions, may have fought each other in the past, but today they have learned to overcome historical contradictions and realize the geopolitical inevitability of this tripartite partnership. 


“الدوغينيون العرب

(The Arab Dugins),” al-Modon (independent liberal Lebanese news website), 25 August 2022.

Indeed, in some of his books, Dugin theorizes conquests, profit-sharing, and access to the warm waters of oceans and seas. In short, the Russian Dugin is nothing but the other side of the American ideologues who have exposed us to creative chaos and what resulted from creative chaos, and democracy and what resulted from democracy…

Image Information:

Image: Aleksandr Dugin, at the Civilizations of the Eurasian Area meeting on February 26, 2018 at the Faculty of World Studies, University of Tehran.
Attribution: CCA 4.0 INT