The war in Ukraine focuses the Chinese military mind on Starlink, US missiles


China needs the ability to shoot down Starlink satellites in low Earth orbit and defend its tanks and helicopters against shoulder-fired Javelin missiles, Chinese military researchers conclude after studying Russia’s fight in the war in Ukraine as a means of learning lessons for a possible future. conflict with the United States.

A review of nearly 100 articles in more than 20 defense journals has shown that efforts are underway within China’s military-industrial complex to mitigate the impact of U.S. weapons and technology in Ukraine, which could be used against Chinese forces in a potential future conflict. to investigate closely, Reuters reported Wednesday. .

Some of the Chinese magazine articles emphasize the relevance of Ukraine given the risk of a regional conflict that pits Chinese troops against the US and its allies, possibly over Taiwan.

The Chinese-language journals, which reflect the work of hundreds of Chinese researchers in a network of People’s Liberation Army (PLA)-affiliated universities, state-owned weapons manufacturers and military intelligence think tanks, are much more candid in their assessments of Russian warfare deficiencies than the official position from China on the war in Moscow, which it has refrained from criticizing.

Disable Starlink

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

“The outstanding performance of ‘Starlink’ satellites in this Russian-Ukrainian conflict will certainly push the US and Western countries to use ‘Starlink’ extensively” in the face of possible hostilities in Asia, said a September article, co-authored by researchers at the PLA’s Army Engineering University.

The authors deemed it “urgent” for China – which wants to develop its own similar satellite network – to find ways to shoot down or disable Starlink.

Collin Koh, a security officer at Singapore’s S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said the Ukrainian conflict has given impetus to long-standing efforts by Chinese military scientists to develop cyber warfare models and find ways to better protect armor against modern threats. western weapons.

“Starlink is really something new for them to worry about; the military application of advanced civilian technology that they can’t easily replicate,” Koh said.

In addition to technology, Koh said he was not surprised that Ukrainian special forces operations in Russia were being studied by China, which, like Russia, moves troops and weapons by rail, leaving them vulnerable to sabotage.

Despite rapid modernization, the PLA has no recent combat experience. China’s invasion of Vietnam in 1979 was the last major battle – a conflict that continued into the late 1980s.

China’s defense ministry did not respond to a request for comment on the findings, nor could Reuters determine the extent to which the conclusions reflect the thinking of China’s military leaders.

A member of Ukraine’s 80th Separate Air Raid Brigade undocks their front-line Starlink satellite in Ukraine’s Kreminna region in January 2023 [File: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters]

Drone warfare a ‘door kicker’ in future conflicts

Ukraine has also forged an apparent consensus among Chinese researchers that drone warfare deserves more investment.

“These unmanned aerial vehicles will serve as the ‘door kicker’ of future wars,” said an article in a tank warfare magazine published by state arms manufacturer Norinco, a supplier to the PLA, describing the ability of drones to neutralize enemy defenses . .

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

An article published in October by two researchers from the PLA’s National Defense University analyzed the effect of US deliveries of highly mobile artillery missile systems (HIMARS) to Ukraine, and whether the Chinese military should be concerned.

“If HIMARS dares to intervene in Taiwan in the future, what was once known as an ‘explosion-causing device’ will meet a different fate in the face of several adversaries,” it concluded.

The article highlighted China’s own advanced missile system supported by reconnaissance drones, noting that Ukraine’s success with HIMARS was dependent on the US sharing target information and intelligence through Starlink.

While some of the journals involved are run by provincial research institutes, others are official publications for central government agencies such as the State Administration for Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense, which oversees weapons production and military upgrades.

China is leading the way in dozens of critical technologies, including drones, according to a report from an Australian think tank [Aly Song/Reuters]

Taiwanese screenplay

Four diplomats, including two military attaches, said PLA analysts have long been concerned about U.S. superior military might, but Ukraine has sharpened their focus by providing a window into a major power’s failure to support a smaller one. , supported by the West. While the scenario for Ukraine has clear comparisons to Taiwan, there are differences, especially given the island’s vulnerability to a Chinese naval blockade.

Western countries, on the other hand, can supply Ukraine by land via their European neighbours.

References to Taiwan are relatively rare in the journals reviewed by Reuters, but diplomats and foreign scholars following the investigation say Chinese defense analysts are tasked with providing separate internal reports for senior political and military leaders.

US Central Intelligence Agency director William Burns has said Xi has ordered his military to be ready to invade Taiwan by 2027, while noting that the Chinese leader was likely upset by Russia’s experience in Ukraine.

Several articles analyze the strengths of the Ukrainian resistance, including special forces sabotage operations in Russia, the use of the Telegram app to leverage civilian intelligence, and the defense of the Azovstal steel mill in Mariupol.

Russian successes are also noted, such as tactical attacks with the Iskander ballistic missile. The magazine Tactical Missile Technology, published by the state weapons manufacturer China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation, produced a detailed analysis of the Iskander, but released only a condensed version for the public.

Many other articles also focus on the mistakes of Russia’s invading army, with an article in the tank warfare magazine identifying outdated tactics and a lack of a unified command, while another article in an electronic warfare magazine said that Russian communications interference was insufficient to counter NATO intelligence. the Ukrainians, leading to costly ambushes.

Chinese research also concludes that the information war has been won by Ukraine and its allies.

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