Did China just take aim at Elon Musk?

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China has unveiled the SLC-18 P band active phased array radar to target space threats at the ongoing Zhuhai Airshow. 

The radar system quickly grabbed the attention of Chinese internet users on the Chinese microblogging website Weibo, with several netizens labeling it as an Anti-Starlink radar. 

Recently, a Chinese military analyst suggested that Beijing should develop countermeasures for the Starlink satellite system developed by Elon Musk’s SpaceX — including ways to hack or even destroy the service during a time of conflict.

In a recent paper published in a China-based academic journal called Modern Defense Technology, analyst Ren Yuanzhen argued that China’s military needs to develop the capability of tracking each of the thousands of satellites set to comprise the Starlink constellation surrounding the earth in the coming years. (NYPOST)

The radar is primarily designed for space target surveillance, and analysts believe it can target low earth orbit (LEO) satellites. LEO satellites orbit at a distance of 500 to 2,000 kilometers from the earth.

Several orbiting satellites in the LEO are critical for intelligence collection and battlefield surveillance. They have steadily become the mainstay of powerful countries’ remote intelligence-gathering capabilities. They are also exactly where Elon Musk sets his Starlink communication satellites?

What is AESA?

Active Electronically Scanned Arrays commonly known as AESA is a phased array radar system. It consists of an array of antennas which form a beam of radio waves that can be aimed in different directions without physically moving the antenna themselves. The primary use of AESA technology is in radar systems.

AESA radar working operation

AESA-Radar-Block-Diagram

The figure depicts AESA radar block diagram. This type of radar houses both analog beamforming as well as digital beamforming elements. The array of antenna elements are used in AESA radar.

Here both phase and amplitude of the input signal are controlled before being applied to individual antenna elements. Hence beam can be steered both in azimuth and elevation directions. Hence main lobe of the radiation pattern is beamed in the desired direction with directivity of concern.

Phased array antenna used in AESA radar will rotate its radiation pattern with no delay unlike mechanically steered radar type. Digital control of transmit/receive gain and as well as timing waveforms helps in beam steering. Wireless world, more here.

As AESA technology has advanced, it has become smaller and more affordable. This has allowed many countries to incorporate AESA into legacy systems on the ground, in the sea, and in the air.

AESA radars give fighter pilots the edge – finding targets first, identifying them and defeating them. And now outfitted with GaN – Raytheon Intelligence & Space’s AESA radars provide aircrews with greater engagement ranges, improved accuracy and increased reliability. Our AESA technology ensure mission success.

Back in 2016, Raytheon made headlines in the defense tech world by debuting its gallium nitride (GaN)-based AESA upgrade to the Patriot™ Air and Missile Defense System at the Association of the US Army’s winter trade show. Since its debut, the system has successfully completed 1000 operating hours.  By pairing two of these upgraded systems facing in opposite directions, they can cover a complete, 360-degree range.

Countries around the world are adding AESA radar into their military aircraft and vessels, and contractors around the world are rushing to meet the demand. India recently contracted an Israeli firm to furnish its fleet of Jaguar fighter jets with new AESA radar systems. While these jets are old, incorporating AESA radar capabilities will allow these and other legacy craft to remain relevant in a world where electronic warfare is becoming ever more important. Simply put: without AESA, modern conventional militaries are obsolete. It’s no longer optional, and it’s going to become more widespread as time goes on.