The state of the early missile warning and space control system in China


Over-the-horizon radar station SPRN of China, located on the side of a mountain

China's missile defense. Despite the cessation of missile defense arms in 1980, the design of China's early missile warning radars continued. The experience gained during the creation and operation of Type 7010 and Type 110 radars allowed us to begin designing over-horizon and over-horizon radars designed to detect ballistic missile launches and warheads in near-Earth space. Simultaneously with the work on the SPRN radar, the possibility of launching artificial Earth satellites designed to continuously monitor areas of the earth's surface from where ballistic missiles could be launched was investigated. Without a satellite that fixes the launch of the BMD and ICBMs, a missile attack warning system cannot be considered complete. Ideally, the SPRN should include an orbital constellation of military spacecraft (first echelon), recording torches of launching ballistic missiles, and a network of ground-based radar systems (second echelon) that determine the parameters of their flight paths.

Unlike the Russian media, in which it is usually customary to glorify domestic early-warning radars and describe the Voronezh family stations as “unparalleled,” Chinese official sources have very little information regarding over-the-horizon and over-the-horizon radars. In this regard, the Russian reader is poorly informed about the real possibilities of the PRC in the timely detection of missiles launched over Chinese territory. Many visitors to the Military Review website sincerely believe that China still does not have modern SPRN stations, or that work on them is in its infancy.


At present, in the PRC, a number of research organizations are engaged in the problems of timely detection of ballistic missile launches and tracking of objects in near-earth orbits. The main developers of the Chinese early warning and space observation system are: 14 Research Institute (Beijing), China Academy of Sciences (Beijing), China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) (Beijing), Shanghai Institute of Satellite Engineering (Shanghai), Southwestern China Research Institute of Electronic Equipment (Chengdu), Xi'an Institute of Space Radio Engineering (Xi'an). More than 50 years have passed since the creation of the first Chinese SPRN radars, and during this time the developers have gained serious experience by creating a number of stations embodied in metal and put on combat duty.

China over-the-horizon missile attack early warning radars


The construction of new missile warning radar stations in the PRC began at the end of the 1980's - the beginning of the 1990's. In this case, the main emphasis was placed on the construction of radars viewing space from the USSR and India. In addition to directly recording a possible attack from Soviet territory, Chinese experts were interested in missile tests carried out at training grounds in Kazakhstan. If the stations aimed at the northern neighbor were built in the flat terrain, then radars were placed on the tops of the Tibetan mountains to control launches from India.

According to Indian sources, the construction of a large radar station began in 1989 a few kilometers west of the village of Reba, in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China, at an altitude of 4750 meters above sea level. In 2010 year, to two stationary radars under the dome, protecting from the harsh climate of Tibet, another one was added, as well as a major structure in the form of a truncated pyramid, the size of which is 25x25 m at the base.


Google Earth satellite image: a radar post near the village of Reba in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China

According to the Indian military expert, Colonel Vinayak Bhat, initially, YLC-4 decimetric radars designed to detect aerodynamic and ballistic targets at medium and high altitudes, at a distance of up to 450 km, were stationary deployed in the vicinity of the village of Reba. Under the third, recently erected dome, most likely there is a modern three-axis radar JYL-1 with a HEADLIGHT, which in the west is considered an analogue of the American radar with AN / TPS-70.

The state of the early missile warning and space control system in China

YLC-4 Radar Antenna Post Maintenance Under the Radiolucent Dome

In 2015, a satellite image of an object built in that area was obtained. The construction is very similar to the over-the-horizon radar with AFAR, directed to the south-west. The approximate length of the antenna array is 15 m, height - 9 m. According to Google Earth, this structure is located at an altitude of 4590 m above sea level.

In 2013, near the village of Zangzugulin, on a mountain peak 5180 m high, 4 km from the border with Bhutan appeared radiolucent domes of large radars and two antenna arrays looking towards India.


Google Earth satellite image: radar post near the village of Zangzugulin in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China

China has deployed in a limited area, in the immediate vicinity of the border with India and Bhutan, several large radar nodes capable of detecting aircraft, cruise and ballistic missiles. The construction of radar stations and associated communication centers in the highlands is very difficult and costly. However, given the fact that India possesses nuclear missile weapons, the Chinese top military-political leadership, regardless of the difficulties and high cost, decided to keep this direction under constant radar control.

At the end of the 1980, the question arose of replacing the first Chinese Type 7010 over-the-horizon radar, located north of Beijing and directed towards the USSR. For this, a new SPRN station was built in Heilongjiang Province, 30 km west of Shuangyashan City. In appearance, it is a modern radar with an active phased array.



The exact characteristics of the radar are not known, but according to Western data it operates in the 8-10 GHz frequency range and has a detection range of more than 5000 km. Almost all of the Russian Far East and Eastern Siberia are under the control of this radar.


Google Earth Satellite Image: Heilongjiang SPRN Radar

Relatively recently, information appeared in the Chinese media that in the Zhejiang province, in 100 km west of the city of Hangzhou on the eastern spur of the mountain range, two over-horizon radars were built at an altitude of 1350 m. One radar station is oriented towards the Taiwan Strait, the other controls the space from Japan.


Google Earth satellite imagery: ZPRS radar in Zhejiang

Towards Taiwan, one of the largest Chinese radar systems is also located, located 30 km south of Quanzhou, in Fujian province, at an altitude of 750 m above sea level. The complex is located only 210 km from the coast of Taiwan.


Google Earth Satellite Image: Fujian Radar

In addition to several radars covered in radiolucent spherical radomes, in 2008 there was built an SPRN radar oriented to the southeast and controlling near space right up to the coast of Australia. Commissioning of the station took place in 2010 year. By 2017, the construction of the entire radar complex was completed. Judging by the presence in this area of ​​small spherical fairings, in addition to radars, there are also satellite antennas. This makes it possible in real time to transmit the received information to higher command posts and to quickly issue target designation to the guidance stations of missile defense and air defense systems.


Google Earth satellite imagery: Fujian SPRN radar

In the 2017 year, Chinese officials said that in Shandong province in the east of 26 in September, a radar with AFAR was deployed in an 30 diameter transparent radome fairing. A radar with an antenna consisting of several thousand transmit-receive modules controls the space over the Korean Peninsula.


Google Earth Satellite Image: Shandong Radar Site

Special mention should be made of the SPRN radar located on the outskirts of the town of Korla in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Very interesting история the appearance of this object. After the overthrow of Shah Mohammed Riza Pahlavi in ​​January 1979, American intelligence stations in Iran were liquidated. In this regard, amid the aggravation of relations between the USSR and China, the Americans secretly proposed the creation of posts in China to monitor the Soviet missile tests conducted in Kazakhstan. In Soviet times, the Sary-Shagan missile defense range and the Baikonur cosmodrome were located in this union republic, where, in addition to launching launch vehicles, ballistic missiles and anti-ballistic systems were tested.

A formal agreement between the two governments was concluded 1982 year. Initially, the United States proposed to place American stations on Chinese territory on a rental basis. The Chinese leadership insisted that the objects of joint use should be under the control of the PRC, and the operation would be held in complete secrecy.

The CIA stations were based in Korla and Qitai. Missile launches were tracked using radars and by intercepting telemetry radio signals. After the events on Tiananmen Square in 1989, Sino-US cooperation in this area was curtailed, but the intelligence stations, which now functioned only in the interests of China, continued their work.


Radar SPRN in Korla

In 2004, on the southern outskirts of Korla, the construction of the SPRN radar with AFAR began. A unique feature of this station was its placement on a turntable, due to which there is the possibility of a circular view.


Google Earth satellite image: south-facing radar antenna

According to information published by Global Security, a station operating in the decimeter frequency range can operate in detection mode and provide accurate target designation to missile defense systems. The bottom base of the antenna has a size of about 18 m.


Google Earth satellite image: north-west radar antenna

Judging by satellite imagery, after putting into operation approximately 50% of the total time, the Korla radar antenna was oriented southward, controlling the area over India and the Indian Ocean. The rest of the time the radar is turned northwest and north.


Google Earth satellite imagery: north-east radar antenna

According to available information, in the near future it is planned to build an SARS radar in the southeastern province of Guangdong and in the Sichuan province in southwestern China. Thus, China will have a continuous radar field with a length of 3000-5000 km outside the territory of the country. Given that Russia is currently not formally considered by the PLA command as a potential threat, the greatest danger to densely populated areas in the east and southeast of the PRC is the American ICBMs attacking from the north-east direction. Of particular concern are American SSBNs, leading combat patrols in the Indian Ocean and in the Western Pacific.

At present, six over-the-horizon radars are operating in China. The first Chinese Type 7010 SPRN radar located north of Beijing is currently decommissioned. The upgraded Type 110 station, located near Kunming, does not carry a constant combat duty, and is used in various experiments and to accompany the test launches of ballistic missiles.


In 2012, a map was published in Western publications showing the viewing areas of Chinese stationary radar stations for missile attack early warning systems and their areas of deployment. However, taking into account information about the currently known Chinese SPRN radars, this card cannot be considered relevant.


The layout of the overhead radar SPRN in China

Chinese over-the-horizon radars


In 1967, in the PRC, research began in the field of over-the-horizon radar. Initially, overseas Chinese radars were designed to detect large naval targets. In the middle of the 1970's, a pilot plant was built with an 2300 meter length. However, due to the imperfection of the radioelement base, it was not possible to achieve stable radar operation. The next stage of work in this direction began in 1986, after Chinese experts gained access to Western technology. The first ZGRLS in China was built in the 2003 year, now the PLA has five such stations.


ZGRLS location scheme in China

Four meter-long stationary over-horizon radars are located on the coast, along the Taiwan Strait. According to Global Security, the three stations are bistatic radars with antennas spaced 800-2500 m apart. As part of these ZGRLS, there are two independent transmitting antennas and two receiving antennas.


Google Earth satellite image: ZGRLS antennas around Zhangpu, Fujian

According to the same source, ZGRLS operate simultaneously at different frequencies, viewing most of the Philippine Sea at a distance of more than 3000 km, up to the island of Saipan. According to the estimates of American naval experts, in the near future we should expect the appearance of similar overseas stations near Hong Kong and on Hainan Island.

Statements about the deployment of ZGRLS on artificial islands, washed by China at the reef site in the South China Sea, are unreliable. On all the islands built by the PRC on the site of disputed land areas, there really are radars. But they are not beyond the horizon, and when stationary, they are covered with protective domes that protect against adverse effects of meteorological factors. The absolute record holder for the number of radars and satellite communications systems on 1 sq. km can be considered an artificial island on the site of the reef Fiery Cross in the Paracel Selipipelago.


Google Earth Satellite Image: Radiolucent Domes of Fixed Satellite Systems and Radars on Fire Cross

The reason why the Chinese do not build on ZGRLS islands is simple: the area of ​​artificial islands is too small. So, the length of the island of Fire Cross is a little over 3 km, and the width is about 1 km. Despite the fact that the length of the receiving antenna of over-the-horizon radars built on the coast in Fujian province exceeds 600 m, in the case of bulky radar stations, the island simply does not have space for other objects and structures: an airfield, hangars for airplanes and helicopters, warehouses, fuel storages, sites for air defense systems and anti-ship missiles.


Google Earth Satellite Image: HUBE Aerials

Inland, at a distance of about 950 km from the coast, north and south of Xianyang city, in Hubei province, there are elements of a much larger over-the-horizon radar station. The receiving and transmitting antennas of this radar are spaced about 110 km apart. Just like the ZGRLS located on the coast, this installation is oriented to the southeast. American hams on the west coast of the United States regularly record characteristic repetitive impulse signals in the frequency range 5,8-14,5 MHz.


Coverage areas of Chinese coastal surveillance systems

China does not comment on the appointment of over-the-horizon radars, but, according to foreign experts, the radar in Hubei province is functionally similar to Soviet stations of the Duga type, which were part of the USSR SPRN system. “Two-hop” stations operating in the HF band were able to see high-altitude air targets and launching ballistic missiles at a range of 3000-6000 km in favorable conditions. Chinese radars deployed on the coast are mainly designed to track large surface objects, but can also work on air targets, as well as record the launch of ballistic missiles from submarines in submerged condition.

With all its advantages, ZGRLS certainly are not a solution for all occasions, in addition to the advantages they have a lot of disadvantages. The construction and maintenance of such radars is very expensive. Their capabilities are directly related to the state of the atmosphere and weather conditions. Over-the-horizon radars are not capable of providing accurate target designation for air targets and, in fact, are peacetime systems, which, due to their stationary location and very significant dimensions, are extremely vulnerable to air attack weapons.

Radio telescopes and optoelectronic ground-based space observation stations


American experts specializing in surveillance systems for space objects have repeatedly written that Chinese civilian research organizations that have large radio telescopes at their disposal, in addition to purely scientific purposes, use them to intercept radio signals from foreign satellites. Most often, a radio telescope at the Yunnan Astronomical Observatory in Kunming, which has a mirror diameter of 40 m, is associated with defense research.


Google Earth Satellite Image: Kunming Radio Telescope Antenna

In addition to the Kunming radio telescope, the PRC has: 50-meter radio telescope of the Beijing Astronomical Observatory, 25-meter radio telescopes in Urumqi and Shanghai.

At 50 km north-east of Beijing in the mountains is a laser-optical center for observing spacecraft in near-Earth orbit. The military-controlled center is designed to track objects in near-Earth orbit using powerful optical telescopes and accurately measure their coordinates using laser ranging.


Google Earth Satellite Image: Purple Mountain

In eastern China, in the province of Jiangsu, at 90 km west of Nanjing, in a mountainous area at an altitude of more than 880 m, there is a military facility that is part of the Chinese military space surveillance system.


Google Earth satellite imagery: space tracking center at 90 km west of Nanjing

The functions of this station are not well understood, but next to it is the LLQ302 radar and the position of the HQ-12 air defense system, which indicates the important military significance of the installation. U.S. military analysts, citing intelligence sources, write that optical and radar tracking systems are designed to classify and track foreign spacecraft in low Earth orbit.

In total, there are currently six command and communication centers in the territory of the PRC where analysis and relaying of information received from SPRN radars and optical observation stations is carried out. According to American data, the central command post of the Chinese space surveillance system is located in Weinan, Shaanxi Province. In addition to stationary ground stations, the network for tracking objects in space includes several mobile systems and four ships capable of operating in the oceans. Also, Chinese objects used to monitor outer space are available in Namibia and Pakistan. SPRN radars and laser-optical surveillance tools, in addition to timely notification of a missile attack and tracking satellites in near-Earth space, participate in tests of ballistic missiles, anti-missile defense systems and anti-satellite weapons. In addition, based on the analysis of data in China, a catalog of existing and failed satellites and large fragments of “space debris” in Earth orbit has been compiled. This is necessary for the safe launch into space of Chinese spacecraft.

Development of space missile warning systems in China


While some conclusions can be drawn about the ground-based component of the Chinese missile warning system based on articles by Western authors and an analysis of freely available satellite imagery, the information about Chinese satellites designed to record ICBM launches is very stingy. There is no doubt that work is underway in China to create such satellites, but it’s hard to say how advanced it is.

The PRC has sufficient experience in the creation and operation of space reconnaissance systems. Reconnaissance vehicles of the FSW family, launched from 1975 to 1987 a year, after entering low Earth orbit for 3-5 days, took photographs of specified sections of the earth's surface. After that, the photographic materials descended in the return capsule. For financial reasons, China could not afford to constantly maintain in space a constellation of "short-lived" reconnaissance satellites, and therefore the launch of the FSW was carried out 1-2 once a year, for the scheduled periodic verification of stationary strategic goals in the territory of the states that were among the potential adversaries.


Assembly of the satellite "FSW-1A"

The advanced satellites of the FSW-1A type, used from 1987 to 1993 a year, had a service life of 8 days. The devices of the "FSW-2" series could be in the orbit of 15-16 days. This was achieved through the use of more powerful batteries and advanced Earth survey equipment. On the satellite "FSW-2" there were orbital correction engines. In addition to photographic equipment, a promising optoelectronic and radio-technical reconnaissance technique was worked out. Prior to 2003, China launched a total of 22 satellite "FSW" / "FSW-1" / "FSW-1A" / "FSW-2". Due to the fact that short-lived FSW-2 satellites are morally obsolete, they did not provide continuous (year-round) reconnaissance, and they were not able to transmit information in real time, they were refused further exploitation.

In March 2001, at a meeting of the Central Military Council of the PRC, a special program "1-2б" was adopted, which provided for the creation and implementation of high-tech weapons, including reconnaissance satellites. As part of this program, ZY-2 spacecraft have been developed, equipped with optoelectronic reconnaissance equipment with real-time data transmission via radio channel.

The first launch of the ZY-2 family spacecraft took place in September 2000. According to the Chinese press, “ZY-2” is intended “to determine the resource base, environmental control, and emergency prevention. However, foreign experts believe that military use of satellites capable of taking pictures with a resolution from 1,5 to 3 m is a priority.

In May 2002, China launched the first HY-1 marine intelligence satellite, capable of real-time monitoring of the Yellow, East China and South China Seas. The service life of ZY-2 and HY-1 is 2-4 years.

Even more advanced are the spacecraft JB-6 and JB-9, the launch of which became known in the 2009 year. It is believed that in their intelligence capabilities they are comparable to satellites used by other technologically advanced states. According to foreign experts, the creation of a space component capable of detecting launching ICBMs and SLBMs involves the launch of the Yaogan-30 satellite on the geostationary orbit on 2 on May 2016. Devices of this type also started on 25 on January 2018 of the year and 26 on July 2019 of the year.

Thus, it can be stated that China is quite capable of creating a satellite-based SPRN system, comparable in its capabilities to the Russian Oko-1. However, at the moment, given that the military doctrine of the PRC does not provide for a retaliatory strike against the enemy, there is no urgent need to deploy a Chinese satellite constellation early detection.

Russian geostationary satellites with infrared sensors included in the Oko-1 system, which operated before 2014, only recorded missile launches, the construction of their trajectories fell on the ground-based SPRN services, which significantly increased the time required to collect information. To correct this shortcoming, CEN-2 (Unified Space System No. 2) is currently being created in Russia, which should consist of two ground stations in the Moscow Region and the Far East, as well as Tundra satellites (product 14Ф142). Given the allegations of assistance from Russia in building the Chinese SPRN, it is quite possible that our country will share its secret achievements with its “strategic partner”.

To be continued ...
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