Wednesday, March 25, 2009

China military trains first public relations team


BEIJING (AP) — China's military is training propaganda teams for the first time to explain its actions to the outside world, as the traditionally insular and secretive force engages more with other countries' militaries and deploys its ships and personnel abroad.

An initial class of 51 officers graduated this week in an effort to "raise the opinion-forming ability of the force's foreign propaganda team and advance the innovation and development of the military propaganda work," the official People's Liberation Army Daily reported Friday.

The two-week training course included classes dealing with China's recent dispatch of ships to carry out anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden, as well as joint China-India anti-terror drills and other international missions, it said.

Course work included mock news conferences with reporters from the PLA Daily and the official Xinhua News Agency, the PLA Daily said.

In recent years, the army has embarked on U.N. peacekeeping operations, joint training with other countries' militaries, and a growing list of port calls and goodwill missions.

The dispatch in December of three ships to combat piracy off Somalia marked the first time the navy has been sent on a mission so far from China's shores.

Yan Xuetong, head of Tsinghua University's Institute of International Studies, said China's growing military involvement made such media training an imperative.

"The Chinese army needs to know about international practice. They need to know how to show friendliness when meeting foreign military officials, and they need to learn how to give public speeches in front of the media," Yan said.

The military's growing foreign involvement has raised some concerns among regional rivals, such as Japan and India, prompting China to downplay any future aggressive role for its armed forces.

However, Chinese officers remain highly sensitive to what they see as a "China threat" sentiment abroad — reflecting the military's long-standing perception of itself as a purely defensive force that poses no danger to other nations.

The U.S. and other foreign militaries have long complained about the PLA's lack of openness, particularly regarding the intent behind its ballooning defense spending.

China's generals, who take their orders from the Communist Party leadership, have rejected such complaints but have also moved gradually to lower their curtain of secrecy.

In recent years, foreign military attaches have been invited to view some PLA training, while the navies of Japan, the United States and other regional powers have been asked to send vessels to join a sail-by next month marking the Chinese navy's 60th anniversary.

The Defense Ministry has also announced the establishment of a spokesman's office to accept media inquiries, although there has been little apparent follow through.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

PLAAF bombers drop bombs on the Yellow River to break ice.

The Chinese government has ordered the army and air force to try and prevent flooding on the Yellow river, by using bombs and shells to break up the temporary ice dams that sometimes form near the Mongolian border, and cause Spring melt water to back up and flood towns and farms along the river. The 5,500 kilometer long river, the second longest in China, has this ice dam problem in 800 kilometers of the river that flows through chilly Inner Mongolia.

Using bombers and artillery is a long shot, as the ice dams are often several kilometers long. But the warplanes have dropped some bombs as tests, and found that the explosions do bust up quite a lot of ice, especially the half ton bombs. The 152mm artillery shells (weighing about 90 pounds each) are less effective, but the army has a lot of older ammo it doesn't mind firing before the stuff becomes too old and unstable. One thing the army and air force have to take careful note of are bombs and shells that don't go off. That leaves potentially dangerous duds at the bottom of the river, ready to endanger future dredging or bridge construction projects.

Alas, all this is a public relations exercise. If you wanted to use explosives to break up ice jams, it would be easier, cheaper, and more effective, to just move explosives by truck and helicopter to the river. The military could do this, but it does not have the PR impact of falling bombs and booming artillery.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

China deploys marines in Paracel Islands in South China Sea

(China Defense Mashup Report by Johnathan Weng) — This week (the official website of PLA Daily) released some photos about the training of PLA marine border forces deployed in some islands of Xisha Qundao, which is named as Paracel Islands in western countries. These photos reveal that China has deployed great land power on some captured islands and provided some heavy weapons, like the Type 59 MBT and Armed Z-9 Helicopter.

The Paracel Islands are a group of small islands and reefs in the South China Sea administered by the People’s Republic of China[citation needed] but also claimed by Vietnam. The Republic of China, commonly known as “Taiwan”, formally claims to be the legitimate government representing the entire sovereignty of China, of which it considers the Paracel Islands a part.

In March 2009, during China’s CPPCC and NPC ongoing annual sessions in Beijing, some deputies urge that activities violating China’s sovereignty is not allowed and oceanic development has become a strategic focus in the 21st century to gain new resources, expand living space and promote economic and social development.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Taiwan: Military working on China contact body

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Taiwan is working on setting up a think tank to coordinate contacts with the Chinese military, a Defense Ministry official said Monday, in what would be one of the most significant steps so far in rapidly improving relations between the sides.

The official's comments follow last week's assertion by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao that Beijing is ready to hold talks with Taiwan on political and military issues aimed at ending hostility with the rival island.

Since the inauguration of Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou in May, long-standing tensions between Taiwan and China have begun to recede, prompted by Ma's renunciation of his predecessor's pro-independence policies, and his continuing efforts to deepen the island's economic relations with the mainland.

The Taiwanese Defense Ministry official told The Associated Press that the purpose of the new liaison organization would be to build mutual trust with the Chinese military "on a step by step basis." He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject .

"We want to establish a think tank to reduce the unsafe factors in relations between the sides," he said, without elaborating.

He added that the new organization could be part of a research body at a Taiwanese university but said that no final decision had yet been made.

China and Taiwan split amid civil war in 1949. Beijing continues to see the democratic island as part of its territory and has threatened war if it moves to make their break permanent.

Last month the Taiwanese Cabinet-level body responsible for relations with the mainland said that Beijing had some 1,500 missiles aimed at Taiwanese military and civilian targets — an increase of more than 100 since Ma entered office.

The new president has spoken repeatedly of the need for "confidence building measures" between the Taiwanese and Chinese militaries as a prelude to signing a formal peace treaty.

He has frequently pointed to the existence of Chinese missiles as a significant barrier to better relations.

In a related development, Taiwan's defense minister said Monday that the military wants to phase out conscription starting in 2011, so that all forces would serve on a voluntary basis by 2014.

The comments to the Legislature by Chen Chao-min are in line with existing Defense Ministry plans to slash the size of Taiwan's military from its current level of 275,000.

In remarks last week to the opening session of China's National People's Congress, Wen, the country's premier, said that Beijing was ready to hold talks with Taiwan to "create conditions for ending the state of hostility and concluding a peace agreement."

The remarks were similar to ones made by President Hu Jintao in December.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

China plans military space station

China readies military space station – launch coincides with shuttle phaseout

China is aggressively accelerating the pace of its manned space program by developing a 17,000 lb. man-tended military space laboratory planned for launch by late 2010. The mission will coincide with a halt in U.S. manned flight with phase-out of the shuttle.

Chinese space station

The first public appearance of China's military space station concept.

The project is being led by the General Armaments Department of the People's Liberation Army, and gives the Chinese two separate station development programs.

Shenzhou 8, the first mission to the outpost in early 2011 will be flown unmanned to test robotic docking systems. Subsequent missions will be manned to utilize the new pressurized module capabilities of the Tiangong outpost.

Importantly, China is openly acknowledging that the new Tiangong outpost will involve military space operations and technology development.

Also the fact it has been given a No. 1 numerical designation indicates that China may build more than one such military space laboratory in the coming years.

"The People's Liberation Army's General Armament Department aims to finish systems for the Tiangong-1 mission this year," says an official Chinese government statement on the new project. Work on a ground prototype is nearly finished.

The design, revealed to the Chinese during a nationally televised Chinese New Year broadcast, includes a large module with docking system making up the forward half of the vehicle and a service module section with solar arrays and propellant tanks making up the aft.

Chinese space station

The space station design was unveiled on a live broadcast to celebrate the Chinese New Year.

The concept is similar to manned concepts for Europe's Automated Transfer Vehicle.

While used as a target to build Chinese docking and habitation experience, the vehicle's military mission has some apparent parallels with the U.S. Air Force Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) program cancelled in 1969 before it flew any manned missions. MOL's objectives were primarily reconnaissance and technology development.

While U.S. military astronauts were to be launched in a Gemini spacecraft atop their MOLs, in China's case, the module will operate autonomously and be visited periodically by Chinese astronauts, to perhaps retrieve reconnaissance imagery or other sensor data. At least one unmanned Shenzhou was equipped with a military space intelligence eavesdropping antenna array.

Along with launch of the outpost, China is also beginning mass production of Shenzhou taxi spacecraft, says Zhang Bainan, the chief Shenzhou design manager.

All previous Shenzhous have been built as individual custom spacecraft for widely spaced missions. But China is now moving to Shenzhou assembly line production to increase flight rates.

In addition to operational mission objectives the Chinese mission plans will provide a propaganda windfall in China and send a global geopolitical message relative to declining U.S. space leadership.

The Tiangong vehicle's debut in late 2010, and increase in Chinese manned mission flight rates will coincide with the planned termination of the U.S. space shuttle program and a five year hiatus in American manned space launches.

The first manned NASA Orion/Ares manned mission to Earth orbit is not likely until 2015 with manned lunar operations no earlier than 2020.

During that period China can rack up multiple attention getting missions, while Americans launched in the Russian Soyuz will draw meager attention unless they are involved in an emergency.

Along with the Tiangong announcement comes another major revelation – that China now has two manned space station programs under development.

• The new Tiangong series, that can be launched on the same type Long March 2F booster used to carry Soyuz-type Shenzhou manned transports.

• And a larger 20-25 ton "Mir class" station that will follow by about 2020 launched on the new oxygen/hydrogen powered Long March 5 boosters.

The Chinese have shown this editor numerous space station models and drawings during six trips to China over the last several years.

All of those concepts looked very similar to the Soviet Mir with a core and add-on modules-- nothing like the Tiangong just revealed in China.

The heavier Mir type design, however, is the one being pursued for launch on the new Long March 5, Liu Fang, vice president of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. (CASC) told me during a visit to Beijing last April. It will weigh twice as much as the man tended military outpost.

The Tiangong design is designed for short tasks or limited overnight stays in a pressurized shirtsleeve environment, while the heavier Chinese stations planned for several years from now will be for longer term habitation.

In addition to the manned program, the Chinese unmanned program has also reached a major milestone with the Chang'e lunar orbiter.

The spacecraft ended its 16 month science mission March 1 when commanded to fire thrusters to begin a 36 min. descent toward lunar impact at 0813 GMT.


Artist's impression of China's Chang'e lunar orbiter.

The impact point was calculated to be at 1.50 deg. south latitude and 52.36 deg. east longitude. on the opposite side of the Moon from where the descent was begun.

Chang'e-1 began its retrofire maneuver for capture by lunar gravity at 0736 GMT under the command of two ground control stations, one at Qingdao in eastern China and the other at Kashi in northwest China.

The spacecraft had been launched from Xichang on board a Long March 3 on October 24, 2007 and used its imaging system to obtain mapping imagery of the entire moon.

It was command deorbited to provide Chinese engineers with experience in calculating and controlling the descent of a spacecraft in lunar orbit. Lunar "masscons", subsurface concentrations of heavy materials, can affect lunar gravity fields and orbital trajectories involved in deorbit.

This relates directly to China's follow on plan to land a nuclear powered unmanned lunar rover by 2012-2013 followed by an unmanned sample return mission about 2017.

In 2010-2011, before the rover and sample return missions are flown a Chinese-technology mission may be sent to the Moon to further demonstrate landing technologies. But the Chinese were not clear on whether it would go all the way to the surface.

If successful, these missions also could upstage U.S. lunar plans for a time.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

China lunar probe mission ends with planned crash

Chang'e I ends lunar mission with a bang

China's lunar probe ended its 16-month mission with a controlled crash onto the moon Sunday, officials said.
Chang'e I hit the moon surface at 4:13 pm Beijing time Sunday after completing its tasks, sources with the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense said.

The controlled crash of Chang'e I is seen from this graphics, March 2, 2009. [China Daily]
Chang'e I began to reduce its speed at 3:36 pm with two observation and control stations in Qingdao and Kashgar controlling it remotely.
The mission was to gather experience for a moon landing and launch of a lunar rover - the next stage of China's three-stage moon mission - in 2012, sources with the administration said.
The third phase features another lunar rover, which will land on the moon and return to Earth with lunar soil and stone samples for scientific research, in 2017. It will be followed by a manned lunar landing, expected before 2020.
The country's first planetary probe, Chang'e I completed its tasks in October after a year in space.
Chang'e I, which spent 494 days in space, was launched from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center atop a Long March 3-A carrier rocket on October 24, 2007.
The 2,350-kg satellite carried eight surveying facilities, with which it conducted a three-dimensional survey of the moon's surface. A full map of the lunar surface - China's first - was transmitted back in November 2007.
China will launch its second lunar probe, Chang'e II, in 2010 or 2011. Chang'e is named after a legendary Chinese moon goddess.
The former Soviet Union's Luna 2 became the first spacecraft to hit the lunar surface on September 12, 1959.
Space module
China will launch a space module next year and carry out the nation's first space docking in 2011 as a step toward its goal of building a space station.
The Tiangong I, or "Heavenly Palace I" is scheduled for launch in late 2010 and will dock with a Shenzhou VIII spacecraft early the following year, Xinhua News Agency said, citing officials with China's space program.
"The module, named Tiangong I, is designed to provide a 'safe room' for Chinese astronauts to live and conduct scientific research in zero gravity," the report said.
"Weighing about 8.5 tons, Tiangong I will be an essential step toward building a space station."
Space program officials have previously said China is expected to place in orbit several modules like the Tiangong and link them up to form a semi-permanent space platform.