China’s Shenlong space plane is part of growing space warfare program: Gertz

Illustration of China’s Shenlong ‘Divine Dragon’ space plane


China’s military space program is getting a boost from a recent reorganization within the People’s Liberation Army.

A Chinese military expert disclosed earlier this month that a Chinese space plane known as the Shenlong will likely be deployed with the newly formed Strategic Support Force, the PLA’s new high-technology warfare unit.

China announced in late December the launching of a significant reorganization within the PLA that includes the renaming of its missile forces as the Rocket Forces, and creating the Strategic Support Force that is designed for high-technology warfare, including space, cyber and electronic warfare.

A Jan. 8 report in Hong Kong’s Tung Fang Jih Pao quotes official military commentator Song Zhongping as saying the Strategic Support Force will be made up of an Internet Army, an Aerospace Army and Electronic Warfare Troops.

Song went on to say that the new force would be equipped in the future with the Shenlong space plane that is capable of traveling in both space and air. The plane is said to be China’s version of the Pentagon’s experimental X-37B space plane.

The Shenlong – Divine Dragon – employs high speed with maneuverability and radar-evading stealth features. It will be capable of long-range flight.

Space weapons platform

According to Song, the unmanned Shenlong is being developed as space weapons launch platform, as well as for surveillance, intelligence and early-warning missions.

It was the first time an official Chinese military representative linked the Shenlong to China’s growing space warfare capabilities.

“This confirms my longstanding assessment that Shenlong was always a military program and that space warfare is a principle mission of the new Strategic Support Force,” Rick Fisher, a China military affairs analyst with the International Assessment and Strategy Center, said of Song’s comments on the Shenlong.

Fisher believes it is very likely the PLA will launch an operational Shenlong for both civilian and military missions. The plane is a key test bed for China’s plans to develop larger space planes that could be built in the early 2020s.

Capturing enemy satellites

“Space planes are attractive militarily because they are reusable, can be configured to perform passive or active military missions, such as capturing and returning an enemy satellite,” he added.

David M. Finkelstein, a China analyst with Center for Naval Analysis, says China’s government has been vague about the new Strategic Support Force.

Full article: China’s Shenlong space plane is part of growing space warfare program: Gertz (Asia Times)

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