Studying Ukraine War, Chinese Military Minds Worry About US Missiles, Starlink

BEIJING/HONG KONG: China needs capability to shoot down Starlink satellites in low Earth orbit and defend tanks and helicopters from shoulder fire Javelin missiles, according to Chinese military researchers who study Russia’s struggles in Ukraine in planning for a possible conflict with US-led forces in Asia.
A Reuters review of nearly 100 articles in more than 20 defense journals reveals an effort across China’s military-industrial complex to examine the impact of US weapons and technology that could be deployed against Chinese forces in a war against Taiwan.
The Chinese-language journals, which also examine Ukrainian sabotage operations, reflect the work of hundreds of researchers across a network of People’s Liberation Army (PLA)-linked universities, arms manufacturers belonging to the State and military intelligence think tanks.
While Chinese officials have avoided overtly critical commentary on Moscow’s actions or performance on the battlefield as they call for peace and dialogue, publicly available newspaper articles are more candid in their assessments of the Russian shortcomings.
China’s Defense Ministry did not respond to a request for comment on the researchers’ findings. Reuters could not determine to what extent the findings reflect the thinking of Chinese military leaders.
Two military attachés and another diplomat familiar with China’s defense studies said the Communist Party’s Central Military Commission, headed by President Xi Jinping, ultimately defines and directs research needs, and that it was clear from the sheer volume of material that Ukraine was an opportunity military leaders wanted to seize. The three people and other diplomats spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss their work publicly.
A US defense official told Reuters that despite the differences with the situation in Taiwan, the war in Ukraine offered information to China.
“A key lesson the world should take away from the rapid international response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is that aggression will increasingly be met with unity of action,” the official said, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the topic, without addressing concerns raised in Chinese research about specific US capabilities.
Half a dozen articles written by PLA researchers highlight Chinese concern over the role of Starlink, a satellite network developed by Elon Musk’s US space exploration company SpaceX, in securing communications from Ukrainian military amid Russian missile attacks on the country’s power grid.
“The excellent performance of the ‘Starlink’ satellites in this Russian-Ukrainian conflict will certainly encourage the United States and Western countries to make extensive use of ‘Starlink'” in possible hostilities in Asia, said a September article co-authored by researchers from the University of Army Engineering. of the PLA.
The authors called it “urgent” for China – which aims to develop its own similar satellite network – to find ways to bring down or disable Starlink. SpaceX did not respond to a request for comment.
The conflict has also forged an apparent consensus among Chinese scholars that drone warfare deserves greater investment. China has been testing drones in the skies around Taiwan, a self-governing democracy that Beijing has pledged to bring under its control.
“These unmanned aerial vehicles will serve as a ‘kick’ to future wars,” noted an article in a tank warfare journal published by state arms manufacturer NORINCO, a supplier to the PLA, which described the capability. drones to neutralize enemy defences. .
While some journals are run by provincial research institutes, others are official publications for central government agencies such as the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence, which oversees the production of weapons and military upgrades.
An article in the administration’s official gazette in October noted that China should improve its ability to defend its military equipment given the “severe damage to Russian tanks, armored vehicles and warships” inflicted by Stinger and Javelin missiles. operated by Ukrainian fighters.
Collin Koh, a security researcher at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, said the Ukraine conflict had given impetus to long-standing efforts by Chinese military scientists to develop models of cyber warfare and find ways to better protect the armor of modern western weapons.
“Starlink is really something new for them; the military application of advanced civilian technology that they can’t easily replicate,” Koh said.
Beyond technology, Koh said he was not surprised that Ukrainian special forces operations inside Russia were being studied by China, which, like Russia, is moving troops and weapons. by rail, making them vulnerable to sabotage.
Despite its rapid modernization, the PLA lacks recent combat experience. China’s 1979 invasion of Vietnam was its last major battle – a conflict that lasted until the late 1980s.
Reuters’ review of Chinese newspapers comes amid fears in the West that China is planning to provide Russia with lethal aid for its assault on Ukraine, which Beijing denies.
Some of the Chinese articles underline the relevance of Ukraine given the risk of a regional conflict between China and the United States and its allies, possibly over Taiwan. The United States has a policy of “strategic ambiguity” about whether it would intervene militarily to defend the island, but is required by law to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself.
Director of the United States Central Intelligence Agency Guillaume Burne said Xi had ordered his army to be ready to invade Taiwan by 2027, while noting that the Chinese leader was likely unsettled by Russia’s experience in Ukraine.
A paper, published in October by two researchers from the PLA National Defense University, analyzed the effect of US deliveries of High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) to Ukraine, and whether the Chinese army should be worried.
“If HIMARS dares to intervene in Taiwan in the future, what was once known as an ‘explosion-causing tool’ will meet another fate in the face of different opponents,” he concluded.
The article highlighted China’s own advanced rocket system, supported by reconnaissance drones, and noted that Ukraine’s success with HIMARS hinged on the United States sharing information and intelligence on targets via Starlink.
Four diplomats, including the two military attachés, said PLA analysts had long worried about superior US military power, but Ukraine sharpened their focus by offering a window into the failure of a great power to overwhelm a smaller, Western-backed one.
While this scenario has obvious comparisons to Taiwan, there are differences, especially given the island’s vulnerability to a Chinese blockade that could force any intervening army into a confrontation.
Western countries, on the other hand, are able to supply Ukraine overland via its European neighbours.
References to Taiwan are relatively few in the journals reviewed by Reuters, but foreign diplomats and academics who follow the research say Chinese defense analysts are tasked with providing separate internal reports to senior political and military leaders. Reuters could not access these internal reports.
Taiwanese Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said in February that the Chinese military learned from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that any attack on Taiwan would have to be quick to succeed. Taiwan is also studying the conflict to update its own combat strategies.
Several articles analyze the strengths of the Ukrainian resistance, including special forces sabotage operations in Russia, the use of the Telegram app to exploit civilian intelligence, and the defense of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol.
Russian successes are also noted, such as tactical strikes using the Iskander ballistic missile.
The journal Tactical Missile Technology, published by public arms maker China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation, produced a detailed analysis of the Iskander, but released only a truncated version.
Numerous other articles focus on the mistakes of the invading Russian army, one in the Tank Warfare Diary identifying outdated tactics and a lack of unified command, while another in an Electronic Warfare Diary said Russian communications interference was insufficient to counter NATO’s supply of intelligence to the Ukrainians, leading to costly ambushes.
A paper published this year by researchers from the People’s Armed Police University of Engineering assessed what information China might gain from the Kerch Bridge explosion in Russian-occupied Crimea. The full analysis, however, has not been made public.
Beyond the battlefield, the work covered information warfare, which researchers conclude was won by Ukraine and its allies.
A February article by researchers at the PLA Information Engineering University calls on China to preemptively prepare for a global public opinion reaction similar to that experienced by Russia.
China should “promote the construction of cognitive confrontational platforms” and strengthen social media control to prevent Western information campaigns from influencing its people during conflict, he said.

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