A Chinese researcher published a paper in April 2022 claiming that the Starlink Satellite constellation poses a national security threat to China.
The report urges the Chinese PLA to develop strategies to monitor, disable, and destroy the entire Starlink system, not just individual satellites.
But what makes Starlink such a threat to China, and why would the Chinese government attack it?
Chinese military concerns
Ren Yuanzhen of the PLA’s Beijing Institute of Tracking and Telecommunications claimed in an article published in China’s Modern Defence Technology journal that Starlink poses hidden threats to the Asian country.
According to the report, which was Google-translated:
Starlink as the most representative of all the current satellite Internet constellations, its plan to form the largest network, the largest number of satellites launched, and the UNITED States military to carry out close cooperation, while space exploration technology (SpaceX) company independently has the ownership and control of the entire industrial chain, to China has brought potential hidden dangers and great challenges. Therefore, it is necessary to focus on the Starlink plan, sort out its development status and characteristics, discuss its military application capabilities, and give corresponding disposal suggestions.
The researchers acknowledged Starlink’s contribution to the development of internet and communication technologies, but they also discussed how it can be used for other purposes.
According to the report, SpaceX included satellite communication and transmission, satellite imaging, remote sensing, and other services when filing for a patent in August 2017.
Because of its broad application, Starlink has enormous military potential in addition to civilian applications. The US Military’s cooperation with SpaceX in developing and launching its satellites further supports this claim.
According to an English article on the China Military website from May 2022:
As a matter of fact, Starlink has cooperated with American military many times. In 2019, SpaceX received funds from the US Air Force to test how well Starlink satellites can connect with military aircraft under encryption; in May 2020, the US Army signed an agreement with SpaceX on the use of Starlink’s broadband to transmit data across military networks; in October 2020, SpaceX won a USD 150-million contract to develop military-use satellites; in March 2021, it announced its plan to work with the US Air Force to further test the Starlink Internet.
There has been no official word or comment from the Chinese military’s top brass as of this writing, so it’s unclear whether they see Starlink as a real threat.
According to the report, Starlink’s ability to provide low-cost, high-speed internet globally is one of the most significant enhancements to the US’s combat capability. As combat systems become more digital, the need for more reliable data transmission increases.
According to Teslarati, the US Air Force successfully tested Starlink for Agile Combat Employment on the F-35 Lightning II. Starlink was found to be much faster than current military satellites at providing internet connections.
Starlink also has over 2,000 satellites in low-earth orbit, with plans to increase that number to 40,000. SpaceX will have 24-hour coverage of the globe once Starlink deployment is completed.
Photo-reconnaissance, infrared imaging, radar, and other payloads, according to the researchers, could be carried by Starlink satellites. As a result, determining which satellites are purely commercial and which have military capabilities may be difficult.
Another concern raised was the possibility that the US could use the Starlink platform to detect and track missiles and hypersonic vehicles. It was reported in 2020 that SpaceX would build missile-tracking satellites for the Pentagon, although there is no confirmation that the Starlink platform is used for this.
All of these reports are about Starlink’s military potential. Elon proved this when he sent Starlink internet kits to Ukraine. They’ve already sent 15,000 Starlink kits to help keep Ukrainians connected, according to the presentation deck he gave to SpaceX employees in June 2022.
It’s not just civilians who benefit from it; according to another news outlet, Starlink shifted the war in Ukraine’s favor.
How will China counter Starlink?
Researchers suggested a few things because of Starlink’s capabilities. China is enhancing its monitoring capabilities, including increasing resolution and the ability to read more satellites, among other things.
The PLA, on the other hand, needs to have the “ability of low-orbit group target system confrontation.”
Attack on Starlink is unlikely
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles,” Sun Tzu writes in The Art of War. Starlink, which allows seamless global satellite communications and can potentially host other sensors, does provide the US with efficient communication. It will also allow them to constantly observe China if they use it to host other technologies.
However, this is only a research paper. Although China and the United States frequently clash on the international stage, there is currently no reason for them to take action against Starlink.
If you use Starlink, this report is exactly that—a report. It is not an official PLA strategy or action. Furthermore, the United States has its own anti-satellite capabilities.