WASHINGTON — The fast growth of China’s commercial space industry is helping the country progress toward its goal of edging out the United States in space, the U.S. intelligence community said in a report released March 8 by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

The congressionally mandated “Annual Threat Assessment” report highlights China’s space capabilities as one element of the country’s larger quest for global dominance.

China is “steadily progressing toward its goal of becoming a world-class space leader,” the report said, and reiterates what previous intelligence assessments  have said about China seeking to match or surpass the United States in space by 2045. 

Space activities are designed to advance China’s global standing and “strengthen its attempts to erode U.S. influence across military, technological, economic and diplomatic spheres,” the report said. 

China’s commercial space sector, which includes many state-owned companies, “is growing quickly and is on pace to become a major global competitor by 2030,” said the intelligence assessment. 

  • Beijing’s policies to encourage private investment in space activities have influenced a broad range of firms to enter the commercial market. 
  • State-owned enterprises and their subsidiaries will remain the primary players in the Chinese commercial space sector, which also includes research and development spinoffs, established companies, and a growing number of startups.
  • Some Chinese commercial space companies will attempt to compete by providing services in niche markets with little or no global competition, such as hyperspectral imaging, and will attempt to undercut the price of Western firms in more competitive markets.

Military space systems

On the military side, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is taking a page from the U.S. military playbook and adding space services — such as satellite reconnaissance and positioning, navigation, and timing — and satellite communications into its weapons and command-and-control systems, said the report. The goal is to “erode the U.S. military’s information advantage.”

In preparation for future military campaigns, the country is developing both destructive and nondestructive ground- and space-based weapons to target U.S. satellites, said the intelligence report.

China also has conducted orbital technology demonstrations. The U.S. intelligence  community doesn’t see those as actual weapons tests but “they prove China’s ability to operate future space-based counterspace weapons.”

Russia hindered by sanctions

On Russia, U.S. analysts said it remains a “key space competitor,” but it may have difficulty achieving long-term space goals because of the effects of international sanctions and export controls following the invasion of Ukraine, domestic space-sector problems, and increasingly strained competition for program resources within Russia. 

  • Moscow’s priority will likely be to integrate space services — such as communications; positioning, navigation, and timing; geolocation; and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance —  into military systems.
  • Moscow is capable of employing its civil and commercial remote sensing satellites to supplement military capabilities.

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...