China Launches Maritime Surveillance Satellite

Chinese government handout image

By MarEx 2016-08-10 20:41:17

Over the past year, China has deployed surveillance equipment on oil rigs, island developments and ships to keep an eye on its maritime domain. On Wednesday, it added to this portfolio by launching the Gaofen-3, a high-specification radar satellite.

The satellite carries a high power synthetic aperture radar which is able to see surface objects in all weather conditions, 24 hours a day, with a resolution of about three feet, state-owned media say. 

Although Chinese officials made no explicit mention of the ongoing territorial dispute in the South China Sea, the government said in a statement that the satellite would be tasked with “the protection of maritime rights.”

"The satellite will provide high quality, reliable and quantitative images for ocean monitoring, water conservancy monitoring and disaster monitoring, which will give strong technological support to building our maritime strength and the ‘One Belt One Road’ project," said Wu Yanhua, deputy head of State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense. 

Gaofen-3 has a design lifetime of eight years, and it will orbit the earth with a pass-over window of roughly one hour of observation. It will complement existing assets like the Gaofen-4, a five-ton camera with a coverage of 19 million square miles, an area several times larger than China. State media claim that the 4 can deliver surface imagery with an optical resolution of about 150 feet, enough for maritime surveillance purposes. It is in geosynchronous orbit and is trained constantly on China and its surroundings.

China is not the only nation looking closely at the region from space. On Monday, satellite imagery released by the U.S.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies showed the construction of new hardened aircraft hangars on occupied features in the Spratly Islands. The structures correspond in size to different types of Chinese military aircraft.

“These hangars are the smoking gun. You do not build nearly 80 hangars for civilian purposes on these tiny spits of land. They're clearly meant for forward deployment of Chinese Air Force assets,” said Greg Poling, Director of CSIS' Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, speaking to Fox News.