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

Military/Intelligence Bulletin 1/2018 – North Korean Missile Threat.

What is North Korea’s current missile capability?

North Korea’s increasingly frequent missile tests are signalling their improving capability in the region and sending warning signals to the US and its Allies, in the main South Korea and Japan.


The KN-02 Toska, is a North Korean reverse-engineered locally produced short-range ballistic missile, provided by the Soviet Union via Syria. No serious threat to South Korea, Japan or the US a range  of less than 200km.

Photo-credit. Created by the Center for Nonproliferation Studies for the Nuclear Threat Initiative.


Scud-B, a tactical ballistic missile developed by the Soviet Union. North Korea obtained its first Scud-B’s from Egypt in 1979/80. Again reverse-engineered, then reproduced at the 125 factory at Pyongyang and the research and development institute at Sanum-dong and the Musudan-ri launch facility. Known as the Hwasong-6, and with a range of up to 300km, this does pose a threat to South Korea.


The Hwasong-6, a modified Scud-C, has a much greater range, 500km. With this range, it is capable of just reaching the coast of Japan.


The Hwasong-7, an Extended Range Scud on the other hand, launched by the North Korean’s on the 6 March 2017, with a range of 1,000km, went beyond the coast of Japan. For the first time, the Iwakuni air base in western Japan was in range of North Korean missiles.

The Nodong1 and Pukgeuksong 2 increased the range further to 1,700km.


The Hwasong-12, launched on the 28th August 2018, changed the game completely. With a range of 2,700km, it was only a few hundred kilometres short of Guam, an unincorporated and organised territory of the United States.

A further Hwasong-12 missile was launched on 14th September 2017, reaching a staggering 3,700km, well beyond the island of Guam.


Image credit – Rodong Sinmun

In November 2017, the Hwasong-15 ballistic missile was launched and reached a ceiling of just under 5,000km, theoretically capable of reaching the United States mainland.

The pace of North Korea’s nuclear and missile programme continues along with the rhetoric behind it. Although progress continues, North Korea’s Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles are still under development and their is still some doubt about the credibility of their nuclear deterrent.

Post copyrighted to Harvey Black

Military/Intelligence Bulletin 02/2017 – Russian Satellite capability in decay?

What is the current state of Russia’s satellite fleet?

Although the Russian Federation is attempting to upgrade its satellite capability, at the moment it is small and very outdated.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia has suffered a serious deterioration of its satellite signals intelligence and radar imaging capability.


The Kondor-E synthetic aperture radar satellite, the export version of the original Kondor, which no longer appears to be operational.

Kondor-E-Synthetic aperture radar satellite. image credit: NPOMash


September 2015, saw the last descent of a Russian Yantar 42KM photoreconnaissance satellite. This, a Kobalt-M series, was the last of its type that sent back its pictures to earth in a return capsule.  Whereas the US and China last used this type of film-return satellite back in 1986 and 2005 respectively, switching to digital imaging satellites.



The US launched the first of its Kennen (later called Crystal) satellites that used CCD technology as early as 1976, launching a further 14, of which four are still in orbit.


Image from a KH-11/Crystal satellite of the construction of a Kiev-class aircraft carrier (1984).  Janeskh11leakedphoto 


It has taken Russia many years to catch up with the West. It wasn’t until after 1983 that Russia developed a satellite camera that was able to come close to the Kennen. Russia had 10-20 of these new generation satellites, but by May 2001, all of these had been de-orbited, leaving Russia without any digital reconnaissance satellites in space.

In July 2008, Russia launched the first of its Persona satellites, Kosmos-2441. Russian media reported its loss only two months later as a consequence of the memory boards in the on-board computer crashing due to charged particles.

The next one, Kosmos-2486, fitted with hardened electrical components, was launched into orbit in June 2013, but soon encountered problems and was crippled by software issues by November 2013. This problem may have been resolved by the following year.


Persona satellite (Kosmos 2486) Image By w:User:-=HyPeRzOnD=- – 


The third Persona, Kosmos-2506, was launched in June 2015.  If the two currently operational satellites survive their expected life of seven years, they could deliver images until 2020 and 2022.

Russia’s new generation of satellites are due to be launched in 2019, 2022 and 2024, but the current western imposed sanctions could delay this as Russia would need to find replacements for western imported electronic components. Meanwhile, Russia has introduced digital topographic mapping satellites, one in 2015 and one in 2016 (design-life of 5 years). Four more are believed to be under construction.



Resurs-P non-military Earth observation satellite. image credit: TsSKB


Russian military can also make use of civilian remote sensing satellites. Although of a low resolution, they could help to identify, for example, fighter aircraft types parked up on airfields. They currently have access to three of the above Resurs-P satellites.


As well as electronic-optical satellites, Russia also operates synthetic aperture radar satellites, especially to provide imagery at night and through cloud cover. The Soviet Union first launched radar-equipped satellites in the late 1980s, but the programme collapsed with the fall of the Soviet Union. Their next launch, Kosmos-2487 (Kondor), was in June 2013. Although observations have shown no manoeuvres have been completed by the satellite since September 2015, the suspicion being that it may not be operational.


Strela Space Rocket, used to launch the Kondor satellites. Photo: Roscosmos


After a recent visit to ISS Reshetnev by the Russian minister of defence Sergei Shoigu, several photographs taken by a TASS reporter, and later released, revealed a potential new, until then unknown, Russia satellite. A Repei (burdock) S and a sister satellite, Repei-V. The belief is that these will be used as either communication satellites or signals intelligence satellites.

Repei-V.   Photo: Business Wire

Just a brief insight into the status of Russian satellite capability. It is a huge subject which requires detailed research to fully understand where Russia currently sits in the intelligence gathering area.  since the collapse of the Soviet Union 25 years ago, Russia has finally started to field a new generation of satellites, but is still way behind the US and China in both numbers and performance.

Post copyrighted to Harvey Black

Military/Intelligence Bulletin 01/2017 – South China Sea.

Conflict? Will Vietnam and China face up to each other in the South China Sea?

Is Vietnam becoming increasingly concerned with China’s policy in the South China Sea?


Spratly Islands – South China Sea. By Voice of America 

What does Vietnam need to protect?

Thirty plus Islands for a start, including Spratly Island itself.  But with a coastline of over 3,000 kilometres, it has a major seafood industry to secure. Therefore it is imperative that it maintains control of its coastline and occupied islands.

Oil. The Gazprom Group (with Russian interests) is dipping a toe in at Vietnam’s request. Gazprom International is currently hydrocarbon prospecting in the area of Vietnam and the South China Sea. It is already engaged in developing oil and gas blocks on the shelf of the South China Sea. In the area of the Islands, the aggregate reserves are estimated to be 55 billion cubic metres of natural gas and 21 million tons of gas concentrate.

What about China?

There is an ongoing territorial dispute between the People’s Republic of China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam concerning the ownership of the Spratly Islands group.

The motivation for China’s actions in the South Sea has three strands. Their primary one is that of defence, flexing its military muscle. Then comes resources, followed by pure self-interest. During the last century, China has continued to stake a claim on the islands situated in the South China Sea.

Both countries have artificially expanded their territory around the spratly islands. Vietnam has extended Sin Cowe island, probably trebling it in size. Now with a small harbour, helipad, sensor post and defensive positions.

China on the other hand, is reinforcing the Paracel archipelago. The militarisation of the largest of the Islands, known as Woody Island, 300 km southeast of Hainan in China, continues. There is an airport, port, and even a hospital, school and library. Dredging, land reclamation and construction on and around the island continues. In 2015, Beijing temporarily deployed fighter aircraft to Woody Island.

Fiery Cross Reef is also being expanded.


Fiery Cross Reef


What is Vietnam’s response?

China retains a significant military advantage over Vietnam, so the country needs to bolster its defensive and offensive capability.

A number of investments have been made. The Bastion-P anti-ship missile system is based on its southern coast and has a range of 300km. This only protects the coastline, but if moved to Spratly Island, its 300km range would cover China’s Fiery Cross Reef and other islands occupied by them.

Vietnam troops operating the Russian made Bastion-P anti-ship missile.

Although not yet operational, the four Kilo class SSK submarines, purchased from Russia, with the Klub cruise missile, could pose a significant threat to Chinese occupied locations.

Hanoi Kilo 636


Klub cruise missile (range 220km). By Allocer – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0


Both countries operate the J-11B fighter aircraft, which would allow China to cover the entire group of islands, including the Paracels to the north. Vietnam would be able to threaten the same area.




J-11B Flanker, air superiority aircraft.


China’s counter to this, is the HQ-9, medium to long-range surface-to-air missile, with a range of 200km. Deployed to Fiery Cross Reef, puts Spratly Island in range.

HQ-9 Surface-to-Air missile TEL. By Jian Kang – 2009.beijing.

Just a brief insight into what may be brewing in the South China Sea. The conclusion being that there are a number of triggers for conflict in the South China Sea.

Competition over marine resources: hydrocarbons and fish.

Oil: Vietnam wanting the Spanish energy company, Repsol, to drill appraisal wells 270km offshore. China Has leased the same area of sea to a Hong Kong-based company, Brightoil. A conflict in the making.

State claims: Due to the large number of competing state claimants there is a real possibility of an incident emerging that could develop beyond the control of the leadership in Beijing.


Spratly Island

Post copyrighted to Harvey Black