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China displays powerful space monitoring radar for first time at Airshow China


Nov 4, 2011
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China displays powerful space monitoring radar for first time at Airshow China
Global Times

Published: Nov 10, 2022 09:59 PM

Photo: Cui Meng/GT

Photo: Cui Meng/GT
China's leading radar developer exhibited a giant space monitoring radar, which is believed to be the "most powerful radar," at this year's Airshow China. It's about 10 meters high, and it attracted wide attention not only from military enthusiasts but also from foreign visitors.

Standing out in the pavilion and recognizable for its huge and spectacular array of antennas, the SLC-18 space surveillance active phased array radar, developed by the No.14 Research Institute of CETC (China Electronics Technology Group Corp), was exhibited for the first time.

With the development of low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellite technology, satellites mainly used for information collection and battlefield reconnaissance have gradually become core equipment for modern, powerful countries to obtain remote information.

These satellites are usually characterized by strong capability, small size and flexible orbits, and they can realize intensive, 360-degree and all-factor reconnaissance of hot spots.

The Global Times learned from the No.14 Research Institute that the radar can search, track, calculate, catalog and forecast space targets such as LEO satellites, and obtain multi-target tracking and measurement data. It is mainly used for space target monitoring.

Sun Lei, deputy general manager of CETE Guorui Group, told the Global Times that in order to guard against the prying eyes of other countries' satellites, movements of sensitive equipment or deployments on the ground of many countries must often maneuver intentionally to avoid the transit time of satellites, or take countermeasures to interfere with satellite signals.

All of this is based on knowing when a satellite is in transit, but for most developing countries, it is difficult and expensive to develop the technology to monitor space targets. In the past, they bought in-orbit satellite data from developed countries, which is expensive and often outdated, making it difficult to obtain first-hand information, Sun said.

According to Sun, the SLC-18 radar, a P-band solid-state active phased array radar, is mainly used for space target monitoring. It can search for and capture LEO satellites and other space targets, and obtain multi-target tracking and measurement data.

In recent years, the US has promoted constellations of LEO reconnaissance satellites. They are no longer a few expensive satellites, but often consist of hundreds of small satellites. For example, the NDSA "Defense Space Architecture Layered Orbit Satellite Constellation" proposed by the Pentagon includes a large number of satellites running in different orbits. The US military plans to launch as many as 100 satellites in the next five years.

To cope with new challenges posed by constant launches of LEO satellites, the space monitoring system must have the ability to quickly monitor and identify objects, which brings new technical challenges.

"The SLC-18 radar can detect satellites from afar, and identify and catalog satellites to form a radar database, so as to guide other equipment to respond accordingly. It can also send satellite data to the command center to help make decisions," Sun told the Global Times.

The SLC-18 has wide-area detection capability, which can quickly capture a satellite's orbit and input the orbital data into the database. Through comparative analysis, it can quickly determine whether it is a new type of satellite and what its main use is, according to the orbit characteristics.

The radar has such outstanding advantages as all-weather, all-time, multi-target, large power and large search areas, which can detect LEO targets in a wide range of airspace and cover a large number of LEO satellite targets, he noted.

The Global Times learned from the institute that the SLC-18 radar can complete the all-round monitoring of satellite targets, and it has the ability to survey space targets. It also has a high measurement accuracy.

Based on the tracking information of the radar, a satellite overhead transit forecast can be provided through the orbit determination, and offer enough time for on-the-ground decision-making to take countermeasures.

Sun said that the radar is domestically made from manufacturing to chip technology and at the same time, it adopts the modular design, which means the radar can further improve its ability based on the need to increase the module, indicating that China's radar development has reached a new level.

"In the past, only a strong military power that had technical strength and economic and industrial foundations could conduct space target surveillance. For developing countries, it was difficult to have such capability.

"The SLC-18 radar uses relatively cost-effective ground-based space target surveillance, and it can serve countries along the Belt and Road Initiative, and provide situational awareness against LEO satellites," Sun said.


China offers ‘friendly countries’ radar system that can detect enemy satellites​

  • SLC-18 can detect and track multiple low-orbiting satellites at the same time
  • System provides ‘situational awareness capabilities’ on modern battlefields

Published: 3:00pm, 11 Nov, 2022


A satellite orbits Earth. Photo: Shutterstock
China is offering “friendly countries” the chance to buy a radar system that could offset the battlefield reconnaissance advantages of Western satellites.
The 10-metre-tall SLC-18 active electronically scanned array radar, which has been on display at the China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition in Zhuhai, Guangdong province, this week, can detect and track multiple low-orbiting satellites at the same time and forecast their paths, its developer, state-owned China Electronics Technology Group Corporation, said.

CETC said the high-power low-frequency P-band radar could work around the clock in all weather and had a large search range.

“This radar provides relatively economical ground-based monitoring of space targets to serve friendly countries … offering situational awareness capabilities against low-orbiting satellites to balance the battlefield posture,” state media quoted CETC deputy manager Sun Rui as saying.

With satellite surveillance being increasingly used in modern warfare, armies need to be able to track spy satellites travelling over a certain region so that ground forces can evade detection, engage in deceptive manoeuvres or even take countermeasures like jamming.

That made the anti-satellite radar particularly useful to countries that lacked sufficient space monitoring capabilities, Sun said.

Sun said the United States was deploying constellations of low-orbit surveillance satellites that consisted of hundreds of satellites in different orbits, which meant the radar system needed to be able to detect, identify and react to them quickly.

“Our space surveillance radar can detect satellites from a distance and can identify and categorise them to form a radar database that can help other equipment respond accordingly,” he said. “At the same time it sends data on the satellites to the command centre to assist in decision making.”

With proper geographic distribution, a network of SLC-18 radars could monitor all satellites travelling over a certain region and forecast the arrival of others, giving commanders on the ground enough time to respond.

Sun said the semiconductor chips used in the radar were fully Chinese made and would not be affected by the US’ recent tightening of restrictions on the export of advanced chips and manufacturing technology to China.

With space seen as a strategic battlefield, China has worked on developing anti-satellite capabilities. It has ground-based interceptor missiles, in addition to space-based technologies to detect and capture satellites in orbit.

China’s new satellite-hunting radar aims to blind US

Newly-unveiled SLC-18 radar seeks to blunt US space-based intel advantage and could soon be exported to America’s adversaries

NOVEMBER 14, 2022

China’s new electronically scanned array radar aims to blunt the military advantages long provided by satellite intelligence, raising proliferation concerns in Washington and other Western capitals.

The 10-meter-tall SLC-1 radar unveiled at this year’s Zhuhai Airshow can detect and track low-orbiting satellites and predict their paths, its manufacturer China Electronics Technology Group Corporation (CETC) claimed at the show, the South China Morning Post reported last week.

The state-owned Chinese company also claimed that the SLC-18 high-power, low-frequency P-band radar can function around the clock in all weather conditions and has an exceptionally large search range.

With proper geographic positioning, an SLC-18 radar network can monitor all satellites traveling over a specific area and predict the arrival of others, enabling commanders on the ground to respond, the company said.

According to CETC deputy manager Sun Rui, the SLC-18 “can detect satellites from a distance and can identify and categorize them to form a radar database that can help other equipment respond accordingly… at the same time, it sends data on the satellites to the command center to assist in decision making.”

Sun noted that the US currently deploys constellations of low-orbit surveillance satellites, meaning that a detection system needs to be able to detect, identify and react quickly. He said that the use of satellite surveillance in modern warfare makes it imperative for militaries to have satellite tracking capabilities over a specific area to avoid detection, engage in deception maneuvers or jam enemy satellites.

From a proliferation perspective, the SLC-18 may be available for export, with Pakistan, Iran and North Korea as possible allied customers.

Sun suggested the system “provides relatively economical ground-based monitoring of space targets to serve friendly countries … offering situational awareness capabilities against low-orbiting satellites to balance the battlefield posture.”

Space-based reconnaissance provides tremendous advantages in military operations, including at strategic and tactical levels. Stark examples of these advantages were seen in the 1980-89 Iran-Iraq war and the ongoing Ukraine war. Asia Times has previously noted that during the Iran-Iraq war, US-supplied satellite intelligence enabled Iraq to inflict battle reverses and massive casualties on Iran.

A SpaceX satellite. Credit: SpaceX

Similarly, commercial satellites have been decisive in the Russia-Ukraine conflict. This March, The Washington Post reported that five commercial satellite imaging companies are sharing intelligence with Ukraine, with the intelligence allowing the latter to accurately target Russian forces, kill top generals and destroy fuel and ammunition stockpiles.
The use of commercial satellites for military purposes can be seen as a “grey zone” move by the US to complicate efforts to counter its long-established use of space as a sanctuary for its satellites, which are critical information nodes in US warfighting concepts and underline China’s and other US adversaries’ need for anti-satellite capabilities.
Although Russia has threatened to attack private commercial satellites supplying intelligence to Ukraine, the implications of such a move are unclear and would likely mark a significant escalation in the Ukraine war. An alternative response to destroying such satellites would be to evade them, blunting any intelligence advantage they offer while removing the risk of escalating terrestrial conflicts into outer space.

SatelliteObservation.net notes that satellites have predictable orbits, as gravity is the only force acting on them. Ground-based sensors may also only see satellites once or twice a day for a few minutes, relying on the laws of orbital mechanics to know their position at aparticular time.

While satellites can maneuver to change their orbits, it is usually done with a chemical fuel that satellites carry only limited supplies, meaning they cannot maneuver all the time. Although some satellites are powered by electric rather than fuel-guzzling engines, they have much less power and take significantly more time to change orbital direction.
These limitations make satellite detection via ground tracking a viable counter-satellite capability.
In April 2020, the US Space Force announced the activation of Space Fence, an S-band ground-based sensor that can track commercial and military satellites, spent rocket boosters and debris as small as 10 centimeters in low earth or geosynchronous orbit across in an east-west surveillance direction from 1,900 miles (3,057 kilometers) out.

“Space is now recognized as a congested and contested domain… and Space Fence is the next evolution in our efforts to maintain space superiority,” said Lieutenant Colonel David Tipton, commander of the 20th Space Control Squadron, in a March 2020 article in C4ISRNET.
However, C4ISRNET notes Space Fence’s limitations, including the fact that its single radar is based in Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, making it impossible to track smaller objects continuously. Breaking Defense notes that Space Fence needs a 10-megawatt power plant to function, puts off emissions that can be targeted by an adversary and carries a hefty US$914 million price tag.

Other drawbacks mentioned by Global Security include limited data acquisition abilities, inability to attain precision orbit parameters of detected objects, lack of 24/7 capability for electro-optical systems and high costs and complexity.

The same source notes that these challenges stem from a perceived need to search all of space, with large sensors like Space Fence offering increased sensitivity but having a narrow field of view and enlarging the area needed to be searched.
Global Security suggests the alternative need for ground-based tracking systems that are simple, accurate and limited to a specific area of space that can quickly catalog earth-orbiting objects. Satellite ground tracking technology may thus evolve toward proliferated, small and mobile systems that can be deployed at the tactical level instead of large, strategic-level systems like Space Fence.
China is not the only country to make recent advances in tactical-level ground-based satellite tracking technology. Breaking Defense reported in October that Australia-based Silentium Defense had built a “space observatory in a box,” a passive satellite-tracking radar that could fit in a shipping container alongside all necessary components such as power supplies and computers.

Anti-satellite capabilities will be crucial in any future US-China conflict. Conceptual Image: Facebook

The report said that users could deploy the system to fill coverage gaps left by existing space-tracking systems and Australia could opt to export the system to countries that now lack space-tracking capabilities. Silentium Defense’s system has reportedly been developed entirely in Australia, which means Canberra can export it to any country it chooses without US permission.
At the same time, Breaking Defense notes that Silentium’s system is limited by its reliance on external sources of FM radio waves to bounce off LEO satellites, meaning its utility may be limited in areas where those signals are few and weak.
The advent of small, mobile and affordable satellite ground-based tracking stations such as China’s SLC-18 and Silentium Defense’s passive radar may lead to the proliferation of such capabilities, blunting the future advantage of space-based satellite intelligence gathering.

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