Military/Intelligence Bulletin 02/2018 – What can China see?

Military/Intelligence Bulletin 02/2018 – What can China see?

How capable is China’s long-range surveillance to support its existing military requirements?

China, to support its plans to expand its control over its maritime approaches, along with a desire to operate further afield, has been developing its long-range surveillance capabilities to support this.


Liaoning is China’s first in-service aircraft carrier, seen here entering Hong Kong waters on the 7th July 2017.  With a planned growth in its carrier fleet, and a wish to operate further afield, China will require an equal enhancement in its long-range surveillance capability.

China needs the capability to achieve air, surface and subsurface surveillance in the East China Sea, along with the South China Sea, the Philippine Sea and the West Pacific. With the growth of their carrier force, China will also need eyes on the Sea of Japan and Indian Ocean.

Its not only eyes on that is required, but the ability to provide targeting data for its large inventory of long-range anti-ship cruise missiles, along with China’s anti-ship ballistic missiles.

Photo credit – By Baycrest – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5


Chinese VHF radar on the South China Sea Island (Fiery Cross Reef).

China certainly requires Over-the-horizon radar (OTH) and is one of the few countries to have developed this. A Chinese warship would only be able to detect an enemy ship on the horizon out to about 50km. Airborne radar, at a height of say 10km, would increase this range out to around 200km.

But much greater ranges are required. This can be achieved by exploiting the backscattering (B) effect of the electromagnetic waves emitted by the radar reflected by the ionosphere in the Earth’s upper atmosphere. The OTH-B radar has to use frequencies in the High Frequency band (3-30MHz), this is a lower frequency than most radars use, and so require large arrays.  Usually, these arrays will be a few hundred metres in length for the transmitter array and 2-3km for the receiver array. Also, to avoid interference, the two arrays need to be sited at least 100km apart.


The Large phased-array radar, LPAR at Huanan, east of Harbin, is aligned to the north, and may be set up to detect ballistic missiles on a polar trajectory. Equally, it could be used as a space tracking radar.

North of Taiyuan, there is an Over-the-horizon back scatter (OTH-B) base.

The Hangzhou and Yiyuan (just southeast of Ji’nan) LPARs, are both aligned in the same direction, possibly there to support China’s ant-ship ballistic missile targetting.

Northwest of Hangzhou, there is a OTH-B transmitter and receiver.

At Korla, southwest of Urumqi, China has positioned a trainable array, its primary use for tracking ballistic missiles during tests.

At Jiuquan, Xichang and Wencheng are primarily used as Space launch sites.


Large phased-array radar.

China now has coverage out to 2,500 kilometres from the coast, just a few hundred kilometres

short of Guam.


China is also enhancing its satellite coverage and currently has 192 satellites in orbit, versus US 593 and Russia’s 135.

On the 29 September 2017, a three Yaogan surveillance surveillance satellites were launched on a Long March 2c rocket from China’s Xichang Satellite Launch Centre. In November, a further three  were sent into orbit.

Photo credit – Xinhua


Separation of a YG-30-01 surveillance satellite.


Eighteen of the Yaogan satellites are believed to have an Electronic Intelligence, ELINT, function. The none ELINT Yaogan satellites have placed in a near-polar, sun synchronous orbit. It is believed that six of these are military surveillance satellites.

China, therefore, has a comprehensive capability for long-range surveillance out to 2,500 kilometres from its coastline. A technological milestone for China will be the building of an imaging satellite that can support target identification and tracking from a 35,000 kilometre orbit.


Post copyrighted to Harvey Black

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