The Chinese Are on the Verge of Dominating a New Domain: Near Space

    Task and Purpose, Robert Work

    Security, Asia

    What will Trump do?

    In November 2017, the Chinese conducted two flight tests of an operational prototype of a missile known as the DF-17. They represented the first flights of a ballistic missile designed to employ a hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV). The successful tests marked the end of a concerted — and successful — Chinese effort to exploit and dominate a new operating domain: near space.

    This domain, little discussed, extends from about 100,000 feet to about 350,000 feet above the surface of the Earth. It’s a novel and tricky area, too high for planes to fly and too low for spacecraft to remain in orbit.

    The genesis of the Chinese effort can be traced back to the so-called Third Taiwan Strait Crisis. From July 1995 to March 1996, in response to Taiwan’s first direct presidential election, China launched a series of missile “tests” into the Taiwan Strait and waters surrounding Taiwan, and conducted a simulated amphibious assault and live-fire exercise on the nearby island of Pengu. The apparent aim was to coerce the Taiwan population into rejecting a president who supported Taiwan independence.

    It did not end well for the Chinese. The candidate from the pro-independence Kuomintang party won the election, and the United States demonstrated its support of Taiwan by sending two carrier battle groups, an amphibious ready group and supporting ships to the international waters near the breakaway island. One of the carrier battle groups, with an accompanying big-deck amphibious ship, actually sailed through the Taiwan Strait, demonstrating China’s utter inability to counter a U.S. intervention to defend Taiwan.

    Soon after this humiliating experience, China began an impressive transformation of its armed forces that continues to this day. This thoroughgoing modernization and expansion saw the introduction of more modern and capable sea, air, and ground systems; improvements in command and control and training; and increasingly realistic exercises emphasizing more effective joint operations.

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