This report was prepared by a group of researchers from the National University of Defense Technology, a Chinese university directly affiliated with the Central Military Commission, the highest Chinese government body that oversees the country's armed forces, the People's Liberation Army (PLA).
According to the report, the PLA is trying to set up a proper military command structure to control the deployment of high-altitude surveillance balloons known as "Near Space Operations Command." Worse yet, this new command would also govern the use of hypersonic missiles.
Hypersonic missiles, as described by the report, are weapons systems that can strike targets anywhere in the world within minutes after launch and can maneuver to avoid anti-missile defenses. These missiles can be armed with conventional or nuclear warheads.
The PLA wants to combine the use of high-altitude spy balloons with hypersonic missiles so that when the spy balloons surveil high-value and heavily protected targets, they can direct hypersonic missiles toward them.
"Hypersonic weapons can attack rocket launch sites, [destroying] the enemy's ability to fire anti-satellite missiles on our civilian satellite networks," reads the report. "These attacks must be precise, overwhelming and merciless. This could change the pace of battles and bring a major impact to how a war would end."
This report came out several months after the Air Force shot down a spy balloon from China off the coast of South Carolina after this balloon traversed the United States. (Related: Pentagon warns China now has over 500 operational nuclear warheads as it seeks nuclear parity with the U.S.)
The Chinese military has been using spy balloons for years for surveillance and gathering intelligence on targets far from the Chinese mainland. These spy balloons are currently governed by the Strategic Support Force, a separate branch of the PLA that is designated for espionage as well as cyber, electronic and psychological warfare. They operate at extremely high altitudes and low speeds. They can stay in the air for weeks or even months, providing real-time surveillance on enemy positions and serving as valuable long-distance communications relay points.
If these spy balloons are brought under the purview of the new Near Space Operations Command, China's balloon fleet would be expanded to include other kinds of solar-powered unmanned aerial vehicles, like the one discovered and then shot down over the U.S., as well as other kinds of espionage vehicles.
The PLA's desire to combine its spy balloon fleet with its hypersonic missiles comes out of a belief by Chinese military theorists that future conflicts will take place and be decided in "near space," which is essentially sovereign airspace out of the legal reach of nations and international regulations.
"The understanding of near-space command needs to be deepened," reads the report. "It is necessary to adjust the hierarchy of command and control powers, selection of command methods, implementation of executive orders and support for command communication."
China is already a world leader in hypersonic missile technology. Its first fully operational hypersonic weapon is the DF-ZF hypersonic glide vehicle, designed to carry a DF-17 ballistic missile. It can travel at Mach 5 to 10, or five to 10 times the speed of sound.
Learn the latest information coming out of Beijing at CommunistChina.news.
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