January and the PLA: What’s Next?

The Diplomat’s David Axe writes about Owen Cote Jr., a naval analyst at MIT who like many Western experts has come to expect another dramatic display from the People’s Liberation Army’s on January 11:

Many Chinese use their culture’s traditional calendar for ceremonial events such as weddings. But for official events, China uses the same Gregorian calendar as most of the rest of the world. In Mandarin, “January 11” is usually spoken as “1-1-1.” Sets of three are considered lucky in Chinese numerology.

“Every year they [the PLA] do something interesting on that day,” Cote notes. On January 11, 2007, the Chinese launched a rudimentary anti-satellite weapon and destroyed a target satellite – a demonstration of the PLA’s intention to counter U.S. space developments. On January 11, 2010, the PLA tested another anti-satellite missile. And January 11, 2011, marked the debut flight of the J-20, China’s first stealth-fighter prototype.

What surprise might the PLA have in store for the coming year? “People have speculated that the long-awaited Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile test against a ship is coming in 2012,” Cote says. He’s referring to the DF-21D, a version of China’s Medium-Range Ballistic Missile optimized for destroying warships, particularly American aircraft carriers. In development for many years, the DF-21D has yet to be tested in realistic conditions. The missile apparently relies on satellites and aerial drones for targeting.

Just last week, China began to operate a homegrown alternative to America’s GPS technology, which it intends to grow and enhance through the launch of additional satellites in 2012. See also CDT’s coverage of last week’s white paper outlining China’s long-term space plan, a move many believe intended to allay fears that its space ambitions are motivated by military priorities.