China is moving forward with plans to create a fifth branch of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), one which will be dedicated to space operations, Japanese media reports.
Japanese paper Yomiuri Shimbun reported last month that Chinese-party officials submitted an official order for the PLA to go ahead with the establishment of an Aerospace Force, Zachary Keck of The Diplomat writes.
The space-branch would add to the PLA’s Ground, Air, Naval, and Second Artillery (nuclear and ICBM missiles) branches. It will come with the establishment of its own office run under the Party’s Central Military Commission.
In April, Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping told military officers “to speed up air and space integration and sharpen their offensive and defensive capabilities,” calling for a “new type of combat unit.” A Chinese military expert evaluated Xi’s remarks in state-media:
The United States has paid considerable attention and resources to the integration of capabilities in both air and space, and other powers have also moved progressively toward space militarization… Though China has stated that it sticks to the peaceful use of space, we must make sure that we have the ability to cope with others’ operations in space.
The United States had previously committed to a focus on its capabilities in space. The establishment of US Space Command from 1985-2002 was a concerted effort to utilize space as the next frontier, but the operation became defunct largely due to excessive costs. As former Reagan, Clinton, Bush, and Obama official Richard A. Clarke wrote in his seminal book Cyber War, “U.S. Space Command lasted from 1985 to 2002, by which time it had become clear that neither the U.S. nor any other government had the money to do much in space.”
Separately, Chinese state-media outlets said Wednesday that it expects to open up its own space station by 2022.