China Developing Ultra-Low Earth Orbit Satellites With Possible Military Applications

Flatpack Starlink communications satellites aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

Flatpack Starlink communications satellites aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

“Compared with traditional orbits, ultra-low orbits can effectively reduce satellite development and launch costs, improve efficiency in collecting and transmitting data, and is suitable for satellite mass production with high-frequency launches.”

The following excerpt from Science & Technology Daily, the official newspaper of China’s Ministry of Science & Technology, quotes a senior leader of one of China’s main developers[i] of space and missile technologies discussing ultra-low earth orbit satellites, which could potentially be used for military applications. The article notes that ultra-low orbits range between 150-300 km. Low Earth Orbit (LEO) is typically defined as orbits at an altitude between 160-1000 km; the “Kármán line” at 100 km above sea level is typically used to describe where space begins.

As explained by Song Xiaoming, President of China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation’s Second Academy, China plans to begin testing ultra-low-earth orbit satellites in September 2023. These satellites have higher revisit rates and can achieve superior or equal resolution in imaging at lower costs in both financial and weight terms, allowing mass production. Separate reporting claims that a manufacturing facility for the satellites could produce upwards of 240 such satellites per year.

Spacecraft in ultra-low and low-earth orbits experience greater drag from the atmosphere than those in higher orbits, shortening their service life. Two efforts could help address these issues: miniature engines to raise their orbits, and orbital refueling to replenish maneuver and altitude-control thrusters. Chinese media reports suggest that progress has already been made in these areas. In September 2022, China successfully completed tests of Hall thrusters on its satellites, raising the altitude of a satellite in LEO by nearly 300 km.[ii] Hall-effect thrusters use magnetic fields to ionize and accelerate propellants at very efficient levels with minimal weight requirements, making them optimal for spacecraft. China reportedly first tested on-orbit refueling in 2016 with the Tianyuan-1 satellite.[iii] China has also recently tested orbital sails, which help de-orbit debris, as well as improved data-transmission satellites, space-based debris detection satellites, and other technologies.[iv]  If successful, the development of ultra-low earth orbit satellite constellations will further improve the revisit rate and volume of satellite imagery it is able to gather. However, the rapid revisit times, high-resolution imagery, quick manufacturing, and mass launch capabilities of satellites into these orbits strongly suggest they could be used for military applications as well.


“宋晓明委员:超低轨卫星星座首发星在研制 9月具备发射条件” (Committee Member Song Xiaoming: First Ultra-Low Earth Orbit Satellite is Under Development; Launch Planned for September), Science & Technology Daily [科技日报] (Official newspaper of PRC Ministry of Science & Technology [MOST]), 3 March 2023.  According to Song Xiaoming, President of CASIC’s Second Academy, his institution is currently developing satellites for an ultra-low orbit satellite constellation, the first of which is planned for launch in September. After being placed into orbit, tests of key technologies are planned, including flight technology, high-resolution ground imaging, on-board intelligent processing, and information transmission to user terminals. Ultra-low orbit usually refers to an orbit at an altitude of 150-300 kilometers. Compared with traditional orbits, ultra-low orbits can effectively reduce satellite development and launch costs, improve efficiency in collecting and transmitting data, and is suitable for satellite mass production with high-frequency launches. Satellites in lower orbits can achieve the same resolution as satellites in higher orbits at a significant reduction in weight and cost. During the “14th Five-Year Plan” period (2021-2025), China proposed development of a remote sensing space infrastructure system with global coverage and efficient operation. Song Xiaoming said that in the face of urgent requirements such as higher resolution, shorter revisit cycles, and faster transmission speed, the Second Academy used its institutional advantages in small satellite, low-earth orbit communications and intelligent manufacturing to quickly carry out research on ultra-low orbits. The development of ultra-low orbit satellite constellations is intended to achieve similar performance as traditional satellite systems at lower costs and with a faster response time superior to other satellites. Other goals involve mass production and efficient, high tempo launches.


[i] China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation’s (中国航天科工) Second Academy [二院] has historically had responsibility for the development of surface-to-air missiles. See: Peter Wood, Alex Stone China’s Ballistic Missile Industry, China Aerospace Studies Institute (Affiliated with USAF Air University), 11 May 2021.

[ii] “我国电推进系统首次完成低轨卫星升轨任务 (China’s Electric Propulsion System Carried Out Altitude Raising Mission for Low-Earth Orbit Satellites for First Time),” Xinhuanet, 21 September 2022.

[iii] The name of the satellite translates literally “space resources No. 1.” Wang Yaowen [王握文] Zhang Feibo [章飞钹], “我国实现在轨卫星 ‘太空加油’ (China Achieves ‘Space Refueling’ with a satellite in Orbit),” PLA Daily (the official newspaper of PRC military), 1 July 2016.

[iv] See: Peter Wood, “China Debuts New Space Capabilities,” OE Watch, 10-2022.

Image Information:

Image: Flatpack Starlink communications satellites aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket
Attribution: CC0, 24 May 2019

China Developing Improved Equipment for Deep Sea, Polar Exploration

Drift ice camp in the middle of the Arctic Ocean as seen from the deck of icebreaker Xue Long.

Drift ice camp in the middle of the Arctic Ocean as seen from the deck of icebreaker Xue Long.

“The Xuelong 2 is like a mobile laboratory at sea, sailing into many areas that were inaccessible in the past.”

China regards deep-sea[i] areas and polar regions as critical to its future development due to their abundant resources. President Xi Jinping even included them in his Holistic National Security Concept, which lays out domains that he regards as critical to China’s development and national security.[ii] However, both deep-sea exploration and polar regions pose significant technical challenges due to the extreme pressure or weather conditions encountered. As the following excerpts explain, China has made significant progress in overcoming these challenges.

The first excerpted article, from an early March 2023 edition of the official newspaper of China’s Ministry of Science & Technology, examines some of the equipment China has completed or is developing to explore deep sea and polar regions as part of its efforts to become a powerful maritime country. The article focuses on two technologies: icebreakers and deep-sea drilling rigs. The Xue Long 1 [GRLCUT(1] and Xue Long 2 [GRLCUT(2] icebreakers, originally based on a Ukrainian design, have improved China’s ability to explore polar regions. The article cites an acoustic engineer with experience studying polar environments, who highlighted how the Xuelong 2 had opened many previously inaccessible areas to exploration.

The latter half of the article focuses on deep sea drilling, noting the advances made with the “Manatee II” deep sea drilling rig, which is reportedly capable of operating at depths of 2,000 m or more and has set world records by drilling over 200 m into the ocean floor. A major priority for exploitation by this and future rigs is “combustible ice,” a mixture of frozen water and natural gas present on the sea floor in the deep sea. According to the article, the Manatee II has carried out exploration missions searching for combustible ice in many areas surrounding China, as well as for traditional offshore oil and gas deposits. Due to the experience from operating the Manatee, China has improved its technologies in this niche but important area, and the first of China’s next generation of deep-sea drilling ships is expected to be completed in 2024.[iii] It will reportedly be capable of drilling in waters deeper than 10,000 m.[iv] The minerals and natural gas potentially recoverable by these drills could create an economic bonanza and help China offset its reliance on imported energy.   The second article is based on an interview with Sun Bo, Party Secretary of the China Polar Research Center Polar Research Institute of China, which is part of China’s Ministry of Natural Resources. Sun Bo noted how vital China’s second icebreaker, the Xuelong 2, completed in 2019,[v] has been for China’s polar exploration efforts, highlighting that having two icebreakers now allows China to effectively support research teams at both poles at the same time. While these articles underscore how China has clearly made important strides in overcoming technical bottlenecks, it might now face legal ones. The UN recently concluded negotiations about exploiting biological and mineral resources on the high seas, which might constrain China’s activities in polar and deep-sea regions.[vi]


He Liang [何亮], “科技扬帆,引领海洋探索挺进深蓝” (Science and Technology Set Sail, Setting a Course for Ocean Exploration into the Deepest Blue Sea), Science & Technology Daily [科技日报] (Official newspaper of PRC Ministry of Science & Technology [MOST]), 6 March 2023.

Accelerating [China’s] development into a maritime great power and making good use of marine resources is not possible the important support of science and technology. To protect the marine ecological environment, it is necessary to strengthen basic research and fully understand the ocean’s riches; to develop marine resources, it is necessary to address the urgent requirements of improving development of technologies and equipment of scientific research for technology and equipment, and concentrate efforts to develop more “national strategic weapons.”[i]

“With the help of more and more advanced equipment, China’s polar scientific research has maritime, land and aerial capabilities.” Yin Jingwei [殷敬伟], vice president of Harbin Engineering University[ii], has long been engaged in research on polar acoustic technology….According to Yin [Xuelong 2’s] superior ice-breaking capabilities allow more scientific research facilities and supplies to be transported into the Antarctic regions. “It is like a mobile laboratory at sea, sailing into many areas that were inaccessible in the past.”

As of September 28, 2021, China has completed 12 Arctic expeditions. However, China is not an Arctic nation, and its deep-sea and polar-related research work started relatively late compared to other countries, and its support capabilities have also been limited to a certain extent. There are still many weak links and capabilities in the fields of polar science and technology research, polar equipment development, and deep-sea polar exploration. missing.

Yin Jingwei told the Science and Technology Daily reporter of that China does not yet have nuclear-powered icebreakers and underwater equipment capable of breaking ice in the polar regions, and the ability to collect maritime below the ice is also very weak. Additional efforts are needed to overcome technological and environmental hurdles to move forward.

“深耕新疆域,推动极地科考再上新台阶——海洋领域专家谈建设海洋强国” (Exploring New Frontiers and Taking Polar Scientific Research to a New Level—Maritime Experts Discuss Building a Maritime Great Power), Science & Technology Daily [科技日报] (Official newspaper of PRC Ministry of Science & Technology [MOST]), 19 January 2023 today’s world polar regions have become a “new frontier” for development and a focal point for global governance, a new high ground for technological competition, an area with new sea routes and a new source of resources. The China Polar Research Center of the Ministry of Natural Resources adheres to the principle of “understanding, protecting, and using” these regions proposed by General Secretary Xi Jinping, and is committed to providing support for China’s polar scientific research. China continues to improve its independent innovation capabilities and overall there is momentum to continue improvements. The China Polar Research Center independently built the “Xuelong 2” icebreaker with, filling a major gap in China’s capabilities required for polar scientific research and developed a way to use both the Xuelong and Xuelong two effectively in concert. This new pattern of “Double Xuelong” Polar exploration (one assigned to each polar region) has greatly improved the on-site support capabilities for China’s polar scientific investigations.


[i] Deep-sea areas are typically defined as those below 200 meters. According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 80 percent of the Earth’s ocean floor remains unmapped and unexplored. “How much of the ocean have we explored?,” NOAA [Accessed March 2023].

[ii] See: Peter Wood, “China’s Holistic Security Concept Explained,” OE Watch, 07-2018.

 [iii] The ship was developed by China State Shipbuilding Corporation’s (CSSC) 708 Research Institute and is subordinate to the China Geological Survey Bureau. The bureau also operates ships involved in mapping the seafloor in potential sensitive areas, which has drawn the alarm of nearby nations. See for example, Naoki Inoue, Tsukasa Hadano and Jun Endo, “Chinese survey ships straying into other nation’s EEZs, data shows”, Nikkei, 31 January 2021.

 [iv] “China’s first ultra-deepwater scientific research drilling ship achieved main hull penetration today” [我国首艘超深水科考钻探船今日实现主船体贯通], China Mining News [中国矿业报 ], 18 December 2022.

 [v] See: Les Grau, “China Developing More High Latitude Equipment”, OE Watch, 11-2019.

 [vi] “UN delegates reach historic agreement on protecting marine biodiversity in international waters,” United Nations, 5 March 2023.   


 [i] This phrase, 国之重器, is frequently used to describe strategically impactful or game-changing weapons systems (ballistic missile submarines, aircraft carriers etc.,) and civilian technologies such as nuclear reactors.

 [ii] Harbin Engineering University is one of the “Seven Sons of National Defense,” which are universities that work closely with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army.

Image Information:

Image: Drift ice camp in the middle of the Arctic Ocean as seen from the deck of icebreaker Xue Long.
Attribution: Timo Palo, CC BY-SA 3.0

Chinese Military Exercises Highlight Improvements in Joint Operations

Chinese J-10B.

Chinese J-10B.

Since the end of last year, the brigade selected target drone operators to study at PLAAF academies and training institutions, and also invited PLAAF pilots to explain flight modes and attack methods of various aircraft types to the air defenders to help them improve their combat skills.

China continues to improve the realism of its training through extensive use of Opposition Force (OPFOR) training.[i] The following excerpted articles describe the recent integration of PLA Airforce (PLAAF) opposition forces into PLA Army (PLAA) brigade training. In the first excerpt from the Chinese military news outlet PLA Daily, PLAAF advisers helped a PLA ground forces brigade improve its air defense training. The unnamed brigade leader notes that, for over a year, his unit has dispatched air defense personnel to PLAAF academies and technical schools to better absorb tactics and skills. In the full article, the reporter also noted the presence of PLAAF pilots and electronic countermeasures teams from an unnamed unit. This appears to be occurring across multiple theater commands. The second excerpted PLA Daily article describes joint training between other PLAAF and PLAA units in the Southern Theater Command that occurred in January 2023. More broadly, the PLA has also embraced OPFOR training as a means to rapidly improve home station training at lower levels. A separate report in PLA Daily from March 2020, for example, indicated that at least some brigades in the Eastern Theater command were establishing dedicated OPFOR platoons in each battalion to enhance realism in training as well as the tempo with which they could conduct training.[ii]


Tong Zujing (童祖静), Sheng Yangdi (盛洋迪), Jiangwu Jingwen (江吴靖文吴靖文); “陆军演兵场迎来空中 ‘联合蓝军’ (PLAA Exercise Area Welcomes ‘Joint OPFOR’),” PLA Daily [解放军报] (Official Newspaper of the Chinese military), 9 February 2023.

A brigade of the 72nd Group Army and PLA Air Force (PLAAF) cooperated to innovate, adopting a new approach to confrontation training, improve joint interoperability training and preparation for war…The brigade leader explained that since the end of last year, they selected target drone operators to study at PLAAF academies and training institutions, and also invited PLAAF pilots to explain flight modes and attack methods of various aircraft types to the air defenders to help them improve their combat skills.

The addition of a “Joint OPFOR” to the training area introduced essential elements of Air Force penetration and assault operations into the brigade’s target drone flight training. The new training included different regions, mission profiles, and opponents using optimized flight routes and altitudes, along with operations in new domains and jamming helped force the brigades’ air defense units to improve their tactics.

Nie Dongfang, the acting squad leader of the brigade’s target support squad, together with several Air Force pilots, focused on conducting flight effectiveness tests and demonstrations on the operational use of target drones in different scenarios and under different target conditions. The reporter also learned that they have carried out strenuous flight training[i] many times in complex conditions such as the Gobi Desert, jungle covered mountain areas, etc…The brigade’s leader said that they will coordinate and absorb more joint elements into training, planning and design, and explore the creation of a regular confrontation drill mechanism. This will improve military training help shift attitudes toward training against a powerful opponent.

Chen Dianhong (陈典宏), Ye Xingguo (叶星国), Feng Dengya (冯邓亚); “陆空对抗锤炼实战本领 (Land-Air confrontation tempers actual combat skills China Military Online),” China Military Online/PLA Daily (PRC official military media outlets), 28 January 2023.

In the middle of the night, the air defense sirens sounded suddenly, and an unnamed Air Force unit playing the role of the “Blue Army” (OPFOR) took advantage of the night to launch a surprise attack on the brigade’s air defense position. In the command vehicle, battalion commander Li Chuan [李川] responded calmly and quickly deployed his force. Personnel immediately rushed to positions to build an emergency communications and command network, sending commands through the integrated command platform in real time. The surface-to-air missile group, anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) group, and MANPAD group quickly formed up and waited for the “enemy” aircraft.

“A knife doesn’t sharpen quickly, a soldier doesn’t practice well alone, and an opponent is the best whetstone” Li Chuan told reporters, pointing at the radar screen. We should continue carrying out exchanges, setting up difficult tasks for each other to sharpen skills, make up for gaps in each other’s abilities and establishing set up growth strategies for each other’s difficulties, accelerate the transformation and upgrading of military training, and improve the level of actual combat training.

The radar screen showed that multiple groups of “enemy” planes were rapidly approaching, attempting to attack important targets of the “Red force.” Xin Chengcheng, a radar technician, calmly operated the system, firmly locking onto the target. Suddenly, the simulated enemy aircraft disappeared from the screen. Analyzing the situation on the battlefield, Li Chuan judged that the “enemy” aircraft was penetrating at an ultra-low altitude, and then ordered adjustments to the systems’ search range.

Soon, the close-air blind-filling radar identified the low-flying target, leaving only five seconds to engage. Li Chuan decisively gave the command to shoot. Seconds later the point on the screen disappeared with the targets successfully destroyed.

“Get ready for the ‘Blue Army’ to attack again!” called Li Chuan as he issued a new order. He told reporters that in recent years, the amount and intensity of real combat training for troops has increased, including during poor weather conditions. Extended training under extreme conditions and through the night are now carried out on a regular basis.

….After several hours the land-air confrontation exercise, came to an end as dawn’s light crept up from the east. There was no time to rest, and the red and blue teams conducted an after action review of problems revealed by the drill.


[i] In PLA parlance, the Red Team represents Chinese forces while the Blue Team is the opposing force.

[ii] “Setting up ‘OPFOR’ platoons in each combined arms battalion to enhance confrontation exercises (在各合成营组建“蓝军”排,增强演练对抗性),” PLA Daily, 9 March 2020.

[i] The term used here, 极限飞行训练, which might also be translated as “flight training testing limits,” appears to refer to extended training covering long periods or multiple days, including day and night operations and during poor weather conditions.

Image Information:

Image: Chinese J-10B
Attribution:, CC BY 4.0

New Domain Forces and Combat Capabilities in Chinese Military Thinking

“Central Military Commission Joint Staff Department Patch”.

“Central Military Commission Joint Staff Department Patch”.

“With the support of intelligent network information systems, the new domain forces with new combat capabilities can make full use of intelligent [AI-enabled] technology based on the autonomous and intelligent real-time command and control of the battlefield.”

In 2021 the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) adopted “Multidomain Precision Warfare” as its core operational concept. While few sources address this topic in much detail, a related concept has remained prominent in Chinese media. In October 2022, in his speech at the 20th Party Congress, President Xi Jinping declared that China must “increase the proportion of new-domain forces with new combat capabilities.[i] New-domain forces with new combat capabilities are also a focus area for Chinese military force development for the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025). While these concepts are abstract and rarely include more than vague descriptions of what they entail, Chinese media emphasize them as essential to the PLA’s evolution from informatization toward intelligent warfare. The following excerpt from Chinese party-owned media outlet PLA Daily provides some insights into what is meant by these ideas and how they may take shape in coming years.

The excerpt, a commentary, acknowledges that clarity about the “newness” of some of the domains covered in this effort is important. The author provides an overview of the characteristics of these new domain forces and capabilities, which include flexible architectures, dynamic reorganization, and mutation of operational concepts in response to new technologies.

Terms[ii]Characteristics and Examples
New Domain ForcesFlexible architecturesReliant on intelligent systems (integrated command platform, etc.)Dynamic reorganizationMutability in response to technological developmentsCross-domain strikesFocus on achieving strategic paralysis of the enemy
New Combat Capabilities[iii]Uncrewed systems (air, sea, and ground-based)PLA Strategic Support Force[iv]PLA Ground Force long-range rocket artillery (MLRS)[v]

Fundamentally, these concepts demonstrate a recognition that the most effective use of combat capabilities will not be the single-domain clash between similar forces and that the PLA must instead be able to flexibly deploy forces across domains against enemy weaknesses to maximize their effects. Of course, Chinese military thinking does not develop in a vacuum. Multi-domain precision operations appear to have many of the same core assumptions about the future of war as in other countries’ concepts, such as “Multidomain Operations” (MDO).[vi]  However, despite the rhetorical similarities to U.S. concepts, at a more basic level, Chinese warfighting is likely to unfold differently due to core differences resulting from the direction and structure of PLA, which has Chinese Communist Party committees and political officers throughout as an essential part. The PLA’s development of an integrated command platform and other informatized tools, such as those referenced in the article, appear intended to not only make its forces more survivable in modern informatized or intelligentized war but also to be “designed to” the PLA’s structure itself and improve the speed of decision making that its structure might otherwise impede.[vii] While China’s focus on achieving multidomain effects is noteworthy, in the interim much of these concepts may remain aspirational for the PLA, a military that has, for much of its recent history by its own admission, struggled to effectively train to the standard of being able to carry out combined arms operations, much less joint operations.


Liu Haijiang (刘海江), “新域新质作战力量 ‘新’在哪里 (Explaining the ‘new’ in new-domain forces with new combat capabilities),” PLA Daily (Official newspaper of China’s armed forces), 29 November 2022. hxxp://

With the expansion of the scope of human activities and the development of national interests, where military struggle takes place has moved beyond traditional domains such as land, sea, and air and continues to expand into the deep sea, space, electromagnetic spectrum, and other domains. As required by the times, forces and types of combat power to be fielded in these domains have emerged.

Driven by advanced technology, new domain and new quality combat forces have broken through traditional spaces such as land, sea, air, and space, and the scope of activities has become more three-dimensional and diverse. Deep sea, space, underground, and polar regions have all become new territories where new domains and new quality combat forces compete.

New-domain forces with new combat capabilities involve dynamic reconfiguration and cross-domain integration of combat elements. With the support of intelligent network information systems, the new domain forces with new combat capabilities can make full use of intelligent [AI-enabled] technology based on the autonomous and intelligent real-time command and control of the battlefield.


[i] “New combat capabilities” is the more anodyne translation used in the official version of Xi’s remarks, but the Chinese here means something closer to “enabled by new capabilities.” For consistency, “new combat capabilities” is used throughout.

[ii] This table is partially constructed from other articles in PLA Daily that were either too short or did not have enough details and explanation to warrant translation.

[iii] The delineation between “new combat capabilities” and “New Type Combat Forces” [新型作战力量], another buzzword of PLA modernization, is unclear.

[iv] China’s 2019 Defense White Paper describes the PLA Strategic Support Force (PLASSF). The PLASSF is a new type of combat force for safeguarding national security and an important driver for the growth of new combat capabilities. China’s National Defense in the New Era [新时代的中国国防] State Council Information Office [国务院新闻办公室] 24 July 2019.

[v] One article in August 2022 described new long-range rockets launched by PLA ground force units belonging to the Eastern Theater Command toward the vicinity of Taiwan in response to then-U.S. Speaker of the House’s visit using the same language. “Our ground forces’ development of new combat capabilities continues to advance long-range rocket forces represent a new era of precision firepower” [我陆军新质作战力量建设持续推进 远程火箭炮兵成为新一代火力精兵], PLA Daily, 29 October 2022.

[vi] In his article, Liu Haijiang also highlights the U.S. Army’s fielding of the AI decision-making assistant FIRES Synchronization to Optimize Responses in Multi-Domain Operations (FIRESTORM) as indicative of the future direction of intelligent warfare.

[vii] Peter Wood, “PLA Fields New Integrated Command Platforms, Improving Combined Arms Operations,” OE Watch, December 2021.

Image Information:

Image: “Central Military Commission Joint Staff Department Patch”
Source: Peter Wood
Attribution: Author-created

China Addresses Food Security at Home, Uses “Food Diplomacy” Abroad

China: Total Rice Production (2015-2019).

China: Total Rice Production (2015-2019).

“China is actively committed to promoting international food security cooperation.”

The combination of COVID-19 and the outbreak of war in Ukraine have demonstrated the vulnerability of the global food supply through prevalence of price shocks leading to increasing hunger. For its part, China is taking threats caused by food insecurity seriously. China’s leader, Xi Jinping, included food security in his 2014 articulation of a “Holistic National Security Concept.”[i] As illustrated in the following excerpts, food security remains a driving force for Chinese policy, including efforts to improve its self-reliance and insulate itself from global food market shocks, while at the same time advancing relations with strategically important trade partners and diversifying its trade partners to reduce impacts from market fluctuations.

In March 2021, China issued its latest five-year plan, which will guide policy through 2025. The excerpted portion of the plan below lays out some of the core elements of China’s domestic initiatives to improve food security. These include efforts to better use mechanization and bring small agricultural plots together for greater efficiency. The plan also called for increasing soil restoration projects to return arable land that had been polluted. In January 2022, the State Council commissioned a national soil survey to systematically study the level of pollution, which previous surveys had found to be significant.[ii] In his speech at the 20th Party Congress in October 2022, Xi reinforced many of these themes, calling for greater efforts to ensure that China’s target of arable land is protected, existing land is used more efficiently, and better seed technologies are incorporated. 

Xi also sees food security as central to his foreign policy. Xi’s Global Development Initiative,[iii] introduced in an address to the UN General Assembly in September 2021 as a complement to China’s Belt and Road, makes food security and “food diplomacy” an important plank.[iv] The excerpted article by Zhang Lubiao, Director of China’sMinistry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs’ Foreign Economic Cooperation Center in People’s Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee, lays out some examples of China’s food diplomacy. Zhang cites China’s historical commitment to the export of these technologies and the training of thousands of technical personnel since 1979. Notably, the article highlighted how China had helped several countries, including Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, improve yields and the variety of key staples, leading Nigeria to become a major rice-producing country itself. Going forward, food security—and China’s sprint to reduce its exposure to global markets—are likely to remain a major theme of both its foreign and domestic policies.


“中华人民共和国国民经济和社会发展第十四个五年规划和2035年远景目标纲要 (Outline of the People’s Republic of China 14th Five-Year Plan for National Economic and Social Development and Long-Range Objectives for 2035),” Xinhua (PRC State Media), 13 March 2021.

We will consolidate the foundation of grain production capacity and ensure the supply of important agricultural products…We will enforce the strictest possible system for protecting farmland, strengthen the protection of the quantity of available farmland and enhance its quality to ensure that the total area of China’s farmland remains above the red line of 120 million hectares [十八亿亩耕地红线] (~296.5 million acres[i]), prevent the use of farmland for non-agricultural and non-grain purposes… Focusing on functional zones for grain production and protected areas for the production of major agricultural products, we will build a ‘national food security industrial belt’, implement high-quality farmland development projects, and build contiguous high-quality farmland of more than 71.67 million hectares.

It is essential to improve the systems to guarantee the supply of major agricultural products and to the production, purchase, storage, marketing, and sale of grain, to ensure absolute security of staples, basic self-sufficiency of grain, and adequate supply of major agricultural products and byproducts products. Efforts will continue to develop grain production, further implement the strategy of sustainable farmland use and innovative application of agricultural technology for national food security, carry out research to overcome the technological bottleneck of superior seed sources, and improve self-reliance and control[ii] of seed types.

Zhang Lubiao, “中国杂交水稻技术助力维护全球粮食安全 (Hybrid Rice Technology is a Hallmark of China’s International Agricultural Cooperation),” People’s Daily (Official Newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee), 13 November 2022.

While simultaneously addressing the problem of domestic self-sufficiency, China is actively committed to promoting international food security cooperation and working with all parties to enhance global sustainable agricultural production capacity…. China has also trained more than 14,000 hybrid rice professionals from more than 80 developing countries through international training courses.

In order to promote hybrid rice technology, China has sent a large number of agricultural technical experts. According to incomplete statistics, by the end of 2021, under the framework of China-FAO South-South Cooperation alone, China has sent nearly 1,100 agricultural experts and technicians to more than 40 countries and regions, accounting for nearly 60% of the total number of dispatched experts.

Cooperative hybrid rice projects involving China, Nigeria, Uganda and other countries have also achieved remarkable results. China has helped Nigeria make great progress in the field of rice planting by sending experts, promoting improved crop varieties, and providing technical support, and has become one of the major rice-producing countries in Africa.

Sources Notes:

[i] The original phrase is 1.8 billion “mu,” a Chinese unit of measure. For comparison, in 2021 the U.S. had 895 million acres of farmland. While China is slightly larger than the U.S. in size, much of its land is mountainous, plateaus, or desert areas unsuitable for farming. See: “Farms and Land in Farms 2021 Summary,” USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service, February 2022.  

[ii] Here, control is referring to rights including patents. China still relies heavily on seed types that are patented by foreign countries.


[i] “Holistic National Security Concept” [总体国家安全观].

[ii] “The State Council Notice on the Third National Soil Survey” [国务院关于开展 第三次全国土壤普查的通知], PRC State Council (Chinese Government), 29 January 2022.

[iii] Global Development Initiative (GDI) [全球发展倡议].

[iv] Food security was mentioned second after poverty alleviation in a list of specific measures in a section discussing development. See: Xi Jinping, “Speech by Xi Jinping at the General Debate of the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (full text),” [ 习近平在第七十六届联合国大会一般性辩论上的讲话(全文)], Xinhua, 22 September 2021.

Image Information:

Image: China: Total Rice Production (2015-2019).
Source: US Department of Agriculture, Foreign Agricultural Service,
Attribution: USG/Public Domain

New Chinese Small Arms at Weapons Expo

Chinese Small Arms.

Chinese Small Arms.

“Compared to the previous Type-95 series of rifles, the Type-20 series are lightweight and more portable. A major technological breakthrough for the new rifles is improvements in reliability and service life.”

Several examples of China’s new series of small arms were recently shown at the Zhuhai airshow. Formally known as the China International Aviation & Aerospace Exhibition, the event is held every two years and includes displays of a wide range of new equipment. While most weapons are meant primarily for export, the expo also showcases equipment that has been adopted by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The following excerpt from Chinese state media describes a new series of small arms developed by China Ordnance Equipment Group Corporation[i] known as the “Type 20 New Weapon Series.”[ii]

In 2019, China showed troops equipped with a new battle rifle, the Type 191,[iii] during the military parade that was part of celebrations of the 70th founding of the People’s Republic of China. New camouflage uniforms were also shown for the first time.[iv] Since then, Chinese media reporting has shown more units being equipped with the new rifles and wearing the new camouflage. As highlighted by Zhang Lu in the excerpt, the Type 20 weapons feature improvements in their lifespan and reliability. The rifles use M-LOK and Picatinny rail systems to allow easy modification and use of accessories, including grips, lasers, and optics. When the Type 191 was initially introduced, it appeared with an optic using a loop of fiberoptic to provide illumination of the reticle without the need for batteries. Since then, numerous other optics have appeared in use, and images from the expo showed a wide variety of thermal and low-light optics. Other weapons belonging to the Type 20 series have appeared in other Chinese media reporting, including new dedicated marksman rifles, sniper rifles, and the Type 201 5.8mm Squad Machine Gun, a replacement for the Type 95-derived squad support weapon (QBB-95[RG1] ).[v] This new machine gun gives up the bull-pup design and drum magazine of the QBB-95 for a traditional belt-fed design. Other parts of the Type 20 series include a 9mm submachine gun with an extendable stock and holographic sight and a new handgun. While the new weapons will take some time to be fielded across the force, these minor improvements are important to increasing the combat power of Chinese military units and will help make them more effective in a variety of scenarios.


“‘硬核’的中国制造!20式新枪族 ‘组团’ 亮相 (“Hard core” made in China! The parts of the Type-20 series of weapons have appeared),” China Central Television [央视网] (PRC State Media), 8 November 2022.

The 14th China Air Show began on 8 November. The new Type 20 series of firearms which was independently developed by China, made a “Group” appearance.

According to Zhang Lu [张路], Assistant to the General Manager of Chongqing Construction Industry [重庆建设工业](a subsidiary of China Ordnance Equipment Group Corporation, developer of the weapons), “The Type 20 series have high reliability, and easy adaptability to the needs of global combat environments.”

Compared to the previous Type-95 series of rifles, the Type-20 series are lightweight and more portable. A major technological breakthrough for the new rifles is improvements in reliability and service life. In the past, a gun could only fire 5,000-10,000 rounds. The Type 20 series doubles this service life.

The largest group within the Type 20 series is the new generation of 5.8mm rifles which include standard battle rifles, carbines, and three precision variants.

Compared with the Type-95 series and the Type 20 series various optics can be used making them suitable for different combat requirements. The series also adopts a transparent magazine for rifles to make it clearer how many rounds remain.


[i] China Ordnance Equipment Group Corporation [中国兵器装备集团有限公司].

[ii] Type 20 New Weapon Series [20式新枪族].

[iii] For greater detail regarding the new rifle see: Peter Wood, “China Introduces New Battle Rifle for the PLA,” OE Watch, December 2019.

[iv] For more details regarding the camouflage types see: Peter Wood, “PLA Adopts New Digital Camouflage for All Services,” OE Watch, May 2020.

[v] For background regarding China’s previous squad support weapons see: Peter Wood, “Why the PLA Adopted the Type 95 Light Support Weapon,” OE Watch, May 2020.

Image Information:

Image: Chinese Small Arms.
Source: Created by Author
Attribution: Image by Peter Wood

Xi Jinping Sets Milestones for Next Five Years of Chinese Military Modernization

20th CCP Central Military Commission (2022-2027).

20th CCP Central Military Commission (2022-2027).

“We will establish a strong system of strategic deterrence, increase the proportion of new-domain forces with new combat capabilities, speed up the development of unmanned, intelligent combat capabilities, and promote coordinated development and application of the network information system.”Xi Jinping

Every five years, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) holds a party congress, an event that brings together nearly 2,300 delegates drawn from the CCP’s over 96 million members. The most recent of these was held in mid-October 2022. These congresses are important for several reasons.

First, key positions are filled as politicians age out or are replaced. This includes the membership of the Politburo Standing Committee, which represents the apex of power in China, and the Central Military Commission, China’s highest military decision-making body. Some insights regarding Xi’s plans for the Chinese armed forces can already be drawn from the new composition of the Commission, which saw three generals replaced (Xu Qiliang, Wei Fenghe and Li Zuocheng). The CMC’s new membership still includes at least two combat veterans of the Sino-Vietnamese War (1979-1991), including Vice-Chair General Zhang Youxia and General Liu Zhenli.[i] The former has also been on the CMC since the previous Congress and has long experience in China’s organizations for military equipment development and modernization (the Equipment Development Department and its predecessor, the General Armaments Department). Other figures, such as General Li Shangfu, have extensive experience in units dedicated to space operations, highlighting the strong focus of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) on the domain. Two others, Admiral Miao Hua and Zhang Shengmin, are political officers and play important roles in maintaining the Party’s control over the military.

A second important part of the Congress is a “work report” delivered by the Party General Secretary (Xi Jinping) at the beginning of the Congress. The most recent report, as described by state-run Xinhua News Agency summarizes the Party’s efforts over the past five years and sets out guideposts for the next five years. The language of the most recent report is always a staple of subsequent official pronouncements and state media discussions, and language including that in the excerpted portions below are likely to feature prominently in official media.

One additional note is that Chinese military modernization is frequently linked to important dates, such as the centenary of the founding of the CCP (which passed in 2021), centenary of the founding of the PLA in 2027, and of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, by which time China wishes to “fully transform the people’s armed forces into world-class forces.” China likely missed some of its targets for the 2021 milestone, such as “achieve completion of efforts of mechanization… with significantly enhanced informationization and greatly improved strategic capabilities.” Perhaps, as a result, there is a palpable urgency in the language of the report in Xi’s demands to continue radical improvements to the PLA.

In terms of military modernization, three major themes[ii] can be seen in the excerpted text: first, faster development and iteration of high-tech weaponry and ‘new-domain forces’ and unmanned systems; second, enhanced combat preparedness—particularly through realistic, joint, and OPFOR training; and third, a systemic approach to bringing the entirety of China’s capabilities to bear. The first acknowledges that China is in a race with its competitors to build strategic capabilities, which include not just nuclear weapons, but also critical technologies and the ability to operate in new or emerging domains. The second, an emphasis on realistic and joint training, is perhaps one of the most difficult modernization efforts despite the PLA making major headway in recent years. The last of these comes in a rather innocuous-sounding phrase: “We will consolidate and enhance integrated national strategies and strategic capabilities.” This consolidation of national strategies represents the culmination of China’s military-civil fusion strategy, which attempts to achieve efficiencies through resource sharing between civilian and military sectors and, more broadly, to coordinate China’s economic developmental and military modernization efforts so that they are self-reinforcing.

Looking ahead, China is facing strong domestic economic and demographic headwinds—many of which are the true focus of this recently released work report. However, despite these challenges, the language used here demonstrates the continued emphasis on the speedy transformation of the PLA, seen since Xi first took the reins of the CCP in 2012 at the 18th Party Congress. 


Xi Jinping [习近平], “高举中国特色社会主义伟大旗帜为全面建设社会主义现代化国家而团结奋斗一一在中国共产党第二十次全国代表大会上的报告 (Hold High the Great Banner of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics and Strive in Unity to Build a Modern Socialist Country in All Respects – Report to the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China),” Xinhua News Agency, 16 October 2022.

Achieving the goals for the centenary of the People’s Liberation Army in 2027 and more quickly elevating our people’s armed forces to world-class standards are strategic tasks for building a modern socialist country in all respects. To this end, we must apply the thinking on strengthening the military for the new era, implement the military strategy for the new era, and maintain the Party’s absolute leadership over the people’s armed forces…

We will simultaneously carry out operations, boost combat preparedness, and enhance our military capabilities. We will continue integrated development of the military through mechanization, informatization, and the application of smart technologies and work faster to modernize military theory, organizational forms, personnel, and weaponry and equipment. We will enhance the military’s strategic capabilities for defending China’s sovereignty, security, and development interests and see that the people’s armed forces[i] effectively fulfill their missions and tasks in the new era…

We will intensify troop training and enhance combat preparedness across the board to see that our people’s armed forces can fight and win. We will study and gain a good grasp of the characteristics of informatized and intelligent warfare and the laws that govern it, provide new military strategic guidance, and develop strategies and tactics for People’s War.[ii]

We will establish a strong system of strategic deterrence, increase the proportion of new-domain forces with new combat capabilities, speed up the development of unmanned, intelligent combat capabilities, and promote coordinated development and application of the network information system.

We will improve the command system for joint operations and enhance our systems and capacity for reconnaissance and early warning, joint strikes, battlefield support, and integrated logistics support.

We will intensify military training under combat conditions, laying emphasis on joint training, force-on-force training, and high-tech training…We will speed up the development of modern logistics, implement major projects to develop defense-related science and technology, weaponry, and equipment, and move faster to translate scientific and technological advances into combat capabilities…

We will consolidate and enhance integrated national strategies and strategic capabilities. We will better coordinate strategies and plans, align policies and systems, and share resources and production factors between the military and civilian sectors. We will improve the system and layout of science, technology, and industries related to national defense and step-up capacity building in these areas.


[i] Liu Zhenli replaced Li Zuocheng, who was awarded for his actions in combat during that war. Based on public descriptions of his career Co-Vice Chair He Weidong also has a long history in operational PLA units, but it is unclear if he served during the conflict.

[ii] Not included in the excerpts below but which are repeatedly highlighted in the full text are mentions of political work—which involves not only loyalty to the CCP but also morale. National pride is a major point of emphasis in the speech. Notably, Xi mentions that there are additional efforts being made to improve the “institutions and mechanisms” of the Chairman’s responsibility system, which refers to Xi’s personal control over Chinese military affairs.

[i] While PLA is often used generally to refer to the Chinese military, according to Chinese law, the Chinese Armed Forces are, “composed of the active and reserve forces of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, the Chinese People’s Armed Police Force and the Militia.”

[ii] Chinese official publications define “People’s War” as referring to confronting foreign aggression or safeguarding national unity by arming and relying on the people (i.e., a whole of nation approach).

Image Information:

Image: 20th CCP Central Military Commission (2022-2027).
Source: Peter Wood
Attribution: Peter Wood

Provincial Exercises Highlight China’s Whole-of-Government Preparations for Conflict

Emblem of the Chinese People’s Civil Air Defense.

Emblem of the Chinese People’s Civil Air Defense.

“The boundaries between front and rear in modern warfare are blurred, and ground targets are vulnerable to air strikes. We must pay attention to protection and rescue work,”

As described in the excerpted article from official government source China National Defense News, a recent exercise in Shandong Province sheds light on Chinese efforts to ensure that all parts of the government can support combat operations in the event of conflict. Chinese municipalities prepare not only for natural disasters such as floods, typhoons, and earthquakes, but also for large-scale military conflict. To this end, many cities host large, and often intra-regional or inter-city emergency exercises.[i] China has civil air defense offices in most cities, which are intended to act as direct support to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). In the exercise described here, associated units practiced providing emergency rescue services and putting out fires from enemy air raids. With support from an expert repair team, the training also tested rapid road repair, quickly restoring a road’s ability to handle heavy wheeled and tracked vehicles.

The exercise was primarily focused on three phases: preparations made before air attacks, including using camouflage and moving critical facilities into underground spaces; how to respond during an air raid, such as using obscurants and aerial barriers (balloons or wires to interfere with low-flying aircraft); and post-strike operations, which involves repairs and emergency response. The exercise also highlighted how newer technologies, such as quadcopters, are being adapted in practical ways to support operations. Accompanying images in the article showed quadcopter drones being used to deliver medical supplies. The report indicated that these drones could carry 10kg (22 pounds) over 10km (6.2 miles). UAVs are regarded as an optimal delivery system as they would not be limited by traffic in a dense urban environment during a crisis.

The article also highlights the fact that cities are also making agreements with local companies to ensure that the latter’s resources can be quickly brought into support in a crisis, following the PLA’s lead in working with China’s major technological and logistic companies under the rubric of the “Military-Civil Fusion Strategy.”[ii] Taken collectively, these efforts likely mean that China will be able to mobilize effectively if a crisis were to strike, and that many aspects of Chinese society may show resiliency during a conflict.


Wang Dongliang [王栋梁] and Chen Maoxin [陈毛欣], “既支援前线,又防护后方——“鲁中支援-2022”国民经济动员保障演练剪影 (Not only supporting the front line but also protecting the rear – ‘Luzhong Support-2022’ outline of a national economic mobilization support exercise),” China National Defense News (official Chinese government publication on defense matters), 14 October 2022.

Recently, the ‘Central-Shandong Support-2022’ National Economic Mobilization Support Exercise was held in Zibo City, in Shandong Province.[i] Breaking with previous exercises, this not only involved support to front-line units but also added new content involving support to areas behind the battle line.

In recent years the city has worked with large-scale enterprises to establish a number of national economic mobilization centers. Combined with statistical analysis of (the cities’ base potential to support) national defense mobilization, it is necessary to determine the potential of each mobilization center, how many are necessary, how many personnel are required, and how to operate in a given situation, laying a solid foundation for rapid and precise mobilization.

“The boundaries between front and rear in modern warfare are blurred, and ground targets are vulnerable to air strikes. We must pay attention to protection and rescue work,” explained Fang Shijun [房施军], director of the Military District’s Combat Readiness Construction Division.


[i] See: Peter Wood, “Civil Air Defense Organizations in South China Sign Cooperative Agreement” OE Watch, February 2020.; Peter Wood, “Civil Air Defense Exercises Held in Western China” OE Watch, August 2019.

[ii] For more on how the PLA is supported by Chinese companies, see: Peter Wood, “Military-Civil Fusion Cooperation in China Grows in the Field of Logistics,” OEW, February 2019.

Notes Sources:

[i] The name for this exercise, “Luzhong” [鲁中] is derived from 鲁, the shorthand for “Shandong province,” and 中, meaning “central.” Zibo, the city where the exercise was held, is in north-central Shandong, a province on China’s east coast.

Image Information:

Image: Emblem of the Chinese People’s Civil Air Defense
Source: Chinese Government
Attribution: Public Domain

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