DN - Defence Notes

Zhuhai 2016: Chinese space programmes reveal military strike capability

4th November 2016 - 01:11 GMT | by Wendell Minnick in Zhuhai


There is doubt about China’s peaceful exploration of the final frontier, as it now appears the Klingons are in charge of the Long March (LM) rocket programme at the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC).

Evidence was provided by none other than CASC itself at the 11th Zhuhai Air Show in southern China. Two LM models were displayed at the CASC booth painted in camouflage. 

The rockets are launched from a wheeled transporter-erector-launcher (TEL). The TEL consists of a truck and an open flat-top trailer with a single launch platform at the rear. 

Though such TELs are common in China’s strategic ballistic missile family for nuclear strikes (such as the Dong Feng family), this is the first time CASC has openly displayed a military variant of its LM series. 

The LM series is best known for its commercial satellite deployment missions and manned space programmes. Though CASC does produce military weapons, it has a tendency to harp about its Beidou navigation satellites and lunar and Mars rovers.

A US-based defence analyst said that the rapid launch of a LM rocket is not for the peaceful exploration of space, but rather for emergency replacement of military satellites destroyed during a war.

He also said they most likely have anti-satellite capabilities via the deployment of micro-satellites that are actually bombs programmed to destroy US military satellites upon close proximity. The destruction of US military communication, navigation and intelligence satellites during a war with China would leave the US Pacific Command debilitated. 

The TEL painted in olive green camouflage was outfitted with the new LM-6, a three-stage cryogenic liquid launch vehicle. It is described as a ‘new generation’ of LM vehicles. No mention was made of the LM's military capabilities in the CASC brochure, but it does confirm the rocket is available with a TEL for ‘quick launch’ for various missions including sun synchronous orbit (SSO) and low earth orbit (LEO) satellites. 

Its lift-off weight is 103t, with a maximum payload of 1,000kg for 700km SSO satellites. No data was provided for SSO satellite payload weights/ranges. The LM-6 successfully conducted its maiden flight in September 2015, sending 20 satellites into pre-determined orbit.

The TEL painted in desert sand/green colours was outfitted with the new LM-11, a four-stage solid-propellant launch vehicle. It is described as the first of the ‘new generation’ in the LM family to use solid propellants. According to the brochure, it is mainly used for sending single or multiple satellites into SSO or LEO with altitudes below 1,000km. 

Its lift-off weight is 57.6t. The 700km SSO launch capability is 380kg, and the 200km LEO launch capability is 700kg. The LM-11 conducted its maiden flight in September 2015, sending four satellites into orbit.

To be fair to CASC, this is not the first time a TEL-launched commercial rocket system has been exhibited. At the Zhuhai Air Show 2014 , the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC) exhibited a small model of a TEL-launched commercial rocket. 

At that time, a CASIC representative explained the TEL was for emergency replacement of damaged satellites. The TEL was enclosed by a trailer and hauled by a truck.

CASIC provided more information about the original 2014 model at this year’s exhibition. Two rockets, the KZ-1A and KZ-11, were displayed, along with the same truck chassis and enclosed TEL.

According to the CASIC brochure, the ‘solid-fuel fast response rockets Kuaizhou-1 and Kuaizhou-11 can respectively place a 200kg payload and a 1 metric tonne payload’ into an SSO at an altitude of 700km, and complete fast launch and deployment of near earth and SSO satellites and multi-satellite network.

Unlike the CASC LM examples, the KZ-1A and KZ-11 were not painted in a camouflage scheme.

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