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China's PLA wants to be able to take out Starlink

Chinese military researchers have urged the PLA to develop the capability to take down the Starlink global satellite network.

In a paper published last month, PLA scientists say the LEO network's capabilities, including its huge global footprint, ubiquitous broadband and low latency pose a military threat to China, SCMP.com reported.

Starlink's huge scale and decentralized nature mean that the threat derives from the whole system, not individual satellites, according to the PLA paper.
  (Source: Abaca Press/Alamy Stock Photo)
Starlink's huge scale and decentralized nature mean that the threat derives from the whole system, not individual satellites, according to the PLA paper.
(Source: Abaca Press/Alamy Stock Photo)

"A combination of soft and hard kill methods should be adopted to make some Starlink satellites lose their functions and destroy the constellation's operating system," they wrote in a paper for the Chinese journal Modern Defence Technology.

Starlink's huge scale and decentralized nature meant that the threat derives from the whole system, not individual satellites, said the paper, whose lead author, Ren Yuanzhen, is a researcher with PLA's Beijing Institute of Tracking and Telecommunications.

The authors estimate Starlink can increase the data speeds to US drones and fighter jets by more than 100 times, and say in response China needs to develop "some low-cost, high-efficiency measures."

Starlink in Ukraine

The Starlink network, owned by Elon Musk's SpaceX, is already playing a role in the Ukraine conflict, with reportedly more than 10,000 terminals being used by both civilians and the military (see Starlink helps Vodafone Ukraine reconnect battle-scarred towns).

The 23-inch Starlink dishes are said to be small enough to evade detection and are easy for Ukrainian soldiers to carry.

Starlink's entry into the conflict prompted an attempt by Russians to jam its signal, but, in a feat that no doubt caught the attention of Chinese researchers, SpaceX repelled it with single line of code.

Starlink has now put 2,405 satellites into orbit and is targeting as many as 42,000, delivering downlink speeds of up to 500 Mbit/s and latency as low as 20 milliseconds.

While the recent paper is the first from a PLA-linked organization to call for a counter weapon against Starlink, it is certainly not the first to discuss the potential threat from the LEOsat network.


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Wang Weishi, a researcher from the Northeast Asia Research Center in the Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, said that while Starlink was defined as a commercial project, its involvement in the Ukraine war showed that China needs to pay it much more attention.

"The militarization of the Starlink project is likely to become a driver for the US military in future occupation of the battlefield and become a weapon for the US to dominate space," Wang wrote early this month on a government website.

US think tank CSIS says China has a "robust" space warfare arsenal, including "a growing suite of jamming and spoofing electronic warfare capabilities."

But it said that, as with the US and Russia, China's non-kinetic capabilities, "such as lasing or high-powered microwaves, remain either classified or have not been tested."

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— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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