China’s military minds fret over US missiles, Starlink, while reading Ukraine war

BEIJING/HONG KONG, March 8 (Reuters) – China needs the ability to shoot down Starlink satellites in low-Earth orbit and protect tanks and helicopters against shoulder-launched javelin missiles, according to Chinese military researchers studying Russia’s struggles in Ukraine. Planning for a possible conflict with US-led forces in Asia.

A Reuters review of nearly 100 articles in more than 20 defense journals reveals efforts across China’s military-industrial complex to examine the impact of U.S. weapons and technology that could be used against Chinese forces in a war on Taiwan.

Chinese-language journals examining Ukrainian sabotage activities reflect the work of hundreds of researchers at a network of People’s Liberation Army (PLA)-affiliated universities, state-owned arms manufacturers, and military intelligence think tanks.

While Chinese officials avoid overtly critical comments about Moscow’s actions or battlefield performance, calling for peace and dialogue, publicly available press articles are more candid in their assessments of Russian shortcomings.

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China’s Defense Ministry did not respond to a request for comment on the researchers’ findings. Reuters could not determine how closely the results reflected the thinking of China’s military leaders.

Another diplomat familiar with two military ties and China’s defense research, the Communist Party’s Central Military Commission, headed by President Xi Jinping, ultimately sets and directs research requirements, and it was clear that Ukraine was an opportunity for the military leadership. He wanted to capture. The three and other diplomats spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss their work publicly.

Despite differences with the situation in Taiwan, the Ukraine war has provided China with insights, a US defense official told Reuters.

“An important lesson for the world to take from the swift international response to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is that aggressive actions will be met with more solidarity,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic. Addressing concerns raised in Chinese research about specific US capabilities.

Starlink casing

Half a dozen documents by PLA researchers highlight Chinese concerns about the role of Starlink, the satellite network built by Elon Musk’s US space exploration company SpaceX, in protecting Ukraine’s military’s communications amid Russian missile attacks on the country’s power grid.

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“The outstanding performance of ‘Starlink’ satellites in this Russo-Ukrainian conflict will certainly prompt the US and Western countries to expand the use of ‘Starling’ in potential hostilities in Asia,” said a September paper co-authored by researchers at the University of Military Engineering. of the PLA.

The authors felt it was “urgent” for China, which aims to build its own satellite network — to find ways to shoot down or disable Starling. SpaceX did not respond to a request for comment.

The conflict has created an apparent consensus among Chinese researchers that drone warfare deserves more investment. China has been testing drones in the skies over the self-governing democracy of Taiwan, which Beijing has vowed to bring under its control.

“These unmanned aerial vehicles will serve as the ‘door kicker’ of future wars,” noted an article in Tank Warfare Journal, published by state-owned arms manufacturer NORINCO, a supplier to the PLA, describing their ability to neutralize enemy defenses. .

Some journals are run by provincial research institutes, while others are official publications for federal government agencies, such as the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense, which oversees weapons production and military development.

An article in the administration’s official journal in October noted that China should improve its ability to protect military equipment, given the “severe damage to Russian tanks, armored vehicles and warships” caused by Stinger and Javelin missiles fired by Ukrainian fighters.

Singapore’s S. Colin Goh, a defense lecturer at the Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said the Ukrainian conflict has inspired long-standing efforts by China’s military scientists to develop cyber-warfare models and find better defenses against modern Western weapons.

“Starlink is really something new that they have to worry about; a military application of advanced civilian technology that they can’t easily duplicate,” Goh said.

Beyond the technology, Koh said it is not surprising that Ukrainian special forces operations inside Russia are being scrutinized by China, which, like Russia, moves troops and weapons by rail, making them vulnerable to sabotage.

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Despite its rapid modernization, the PLA lacks recent combat experience. China’s invasion of Vietnam in 1979 was its last major war – a war that lasted until the late 1980s.

Reuters’ review of the Chinese journals comes amid Western concerns that China may be plotting lethal aid to Russia for its attack on Ukraine, which Beijing denies.

Taiwan and beyond

Some Chinese articles stress the relevance of Ukraine, risking a regional conflict that pits China against the United States and its allies, perhaps over Taiwan. The US maintains a policy of “strategic ambiguity” on whether to intervene militarily to defend the island, but is bound by law to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself.

US Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns said Xi had ordered his military to be ready for an invasion of Taiwan by 2027, while noting that the Chinese leader was unsettled by Russia’s experience in Ukraine.

A paper published in October by two researchers from the PLA’s National Defense University examined the effect of the US delivery of high-mobility artillery rocket systems (HIMARS) to Ukraine and whether China’s military should be concerned.

It concluded that “If Himars dares to intervene in Taiwan in the future, what was once called an ‘explosive device’ will face a different fate in the face of different adversaries.”

The article highlighted China’s own advanced rocket system supported by reconnaissance drones, and noted that Ukraine’s success with HIMARS relied on US sharing of targeting information and intelligence via Starlink.

Four diplomats, including two military attachés, said PLA analysts have long worried about heightened U.S. military strength, but Ukraine has sharpened their focus by providing a window into the failure of a major power to defeat a smaller one backed by the West.

While there are obvious Taiwan comparisons in that situation, there are differences, particularly the island’s vulnerability to a Chinese blockade that could push any intervening military into conflict.

Western countries, in contrast, can supply Ukraine by land via its European neighbors.

References to Taiwan were relatively few in the papers reviewed by Reuters, but diplomats and foreign scholars monitoring the research say Chinese security analysts are tasked with providing separate internal reports to senior political and military leaders. Reuters could not access those internal reports.

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Taiwanese Defense Minister Chiu Guo-cheng said in February that China’s military was learning from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that any attack on Taiwan must be swift to succeed. Taiwan is also studying the conflict to update its own war strategies.

Several articles examine the strengths of the Ukrainian resistance, including sabotage operations by special forces inside Russia, the use of the Telegram app to exploit civilian intelligence, and the security of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol.

Russian successes such as tactical strikes using the Iskandar ballistic missile were also noted.

The Tactical Missile Technology Journal, published by state-owned arms manufacturer China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation, produced a detailed analysis of the Iskander, but released only a truncated version to the public.

Several articles focused on the faults of Russia’s invading army, with one in Tank Warfare magazine identifying outdated tactics and a lack of unified command, and another in Electronic Warfare magazine stating that Russian communications interception was insufficient to counter NATO’s intelligence. Ukrainians, lead to expensive bunkers.

A piece published this year by researchers at the People’s Armed Police University of Engineering assessed the insights China could gain from the explosion of the Kerch Bridge in Russian-occupied Crimea. However, the complete analysis has not been made public.

Beyond the battlefield, the work involved information warfare, which the researchers concluded was being won by Ukraine and its allies.

A February paper by PLA University of Information Engineering researchers calls on China to prepare in advance for a global public opinion backlash similar to the one in Russia.

China should “encourage the construction of intellectual conflict platforms” and tighten control of social media to prevent Western information campaigns from influencing its people during a conflict, it said.

Reporting by Eduardo Baptista in Beijing and Greg Dorot in Hong Kong; Additional reporting by Idris Ali and Bill Stewart in Washington. Editing by David Crashaw.

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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