WASHINGTON — China’s continued pursuits of space technologies as a way to gain military superiority are once again highlighted in the Pentagon’s latest annual report on “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China.”

The congressionally mandated report, released Oct. 19, articulates why DoD considers the People’s Republic of China its “pacing challenge.” 

While this year’s report does not contain major revelations, it underscores the Pentagon’s view of China as America’s top strategic competitor. 

With regard to space, the report notes that China is closing once-wide gaps with U.S. space capabilities, increasing the possibility it could gain the advantage in a future conflict through attacks on American satellites. The Pentagon sees this as a major challenge.

Among China’s anti-satellite weapons that DoD worries about are ground-based missiles and high-power lasers, satellites with robotic arms able to grab other satellites, cyber-attack capabilities and other systems that could jam, blind, or disable U.S. satellites.

China views space superiority, the ability to control the space-enabled information sphere and to deny adversaries their own space-based information gathering and communication capabilities, as critical components to conduct modern “informatized warfare.”

The People’s Liberation Army continues to invest in improving its capabilities in space-based intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, satellite communication, satellite navigation, and meteorology, as well as human spaceflight and robotic space exploration.

The PLA continues to acquire and develop a range of counter-space capabilities and related technologies, including kinetic-kill missiles, ground-based lasers, and orbiting space robots, as well as expanding space surveillance capabilities, which can monitor objects in space within their field of view and enable counter-space actions.

Defense Department’s 2023 Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China

The annual report has been mandated by Congress since 2000 as a way to help inform Washington’s policy debates about China’s military growth and modernization. This year’s version repeats many of the concerns raised in previous reports, even as tensions between Washington and Beijing have sharply escalated over Taiwan and other flashpoints.

A major point of concern raised in the Pentagon’s assessment is China’s continued reluctance to engage in military-to-military communications with the United States. This lack of transparency from the People’s Liberation Army, according to the report, sows mistrust and increases the risks of a conflict emerging from miscalculation.

DoD said Chinese military leaders have rejected attempts to improve radio communications protocols, and to agree to rules of behavior for air and maritime encounters with U.S. forces in the Pacific region. U.S. Space Force officials have warned that a lack of transparency about space activities fuels the risk of misunderstandings and miscalculations.

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...