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China’s Fengyun Weather Satellite Support to Maritime Surveillance

By: Jenny Lin |

Since its inception in 1988, the Fengyun (FY) program has become an international symbol of China’s burgeoning ambitions in space. China’s weather satellite program began with Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai’s 1970 approval of a Central Military Commission (CMC) proposal to initiate research and development (R&D) on weather satellites.With the launch of the first FY-1A in 1988, China became only the third nation to launch its own meteorological satellites. Since then, the PRC has launched four FY-1 weather satellites into polar orbit, five FY-2 geosynchronous weather satellites, and two FY-3 satellites that were boosted into polar orbits on Long March-4 launch vehicles.

The FY series appear to be roughly analogous to those associated with the U.S Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP). The FY-3, equipped with almost a dozen all weather sensors, is China’s most advanced space asset providing meteorological support to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The system also could provide measurement and signature intelligence (MASINT) data to China’s emerging anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) targeting architecture.In addition to five additional FY-3 satellites to be launched between now and 2020, the next generation geosynchronous weather satellite, the FY-4, is expected to enter service in 2014.As a dual use asset, FY-3 requirements appear to have been developed by both the PLA General Staff Department (GSD) and China Meteorological Bureau. Specific PLA users with significant interests in the program include the GSD Second Department and GSD Third Department. Presumably, the GSD Operations Department and Service-level weather bureaus are key PLA users.

The R&D and manufacturing supply chain has stretched across a range of bureaucracies. The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) Shanghai Academy of Space Technology (SAST), also known as the Eighth Academy, is the lead systems integrator for the satellites, launch vehicle, and ground system R&D.Overall system designers were SAST’s Sun Jingliang [孙敬良] and Meng Zhizhong [孟执中].Lead satellite sub-system designer was SAST’s Dong Yaohai [董瑶海].Shanghai Institute of Technical Physics appears to have been responsible for the hyperspectral infrared sensor.

GSD Third Department 57 Research Institute, supported by the China Electronics Technology Group Corporation (CETC) 39th Research Institute (Northwest Institute of Electronic Equipment), developed the ground based receiving antenna system for the FY-3.Ground stations responsible for managing FY-3 satellite data reception, transmission and processing are Urumqi, Guangzhou, and Jiamusi.Other entities supporting the program included SAST’s Shanghai Institute of Electronic and Communications Equipment (804th Research Institute), CASC Fifth Academy’s Beijing Institute of Satellite Information Engineering (503rd Research Institute), and the CMA’s Network Surveillance Division. Other key players included Yang Zhongdong [杨忠东] and Lu Naimon [卢乃锰], both from the National Meterological Satellite Center.FY-3 satellite carries at least 11 on-board sensors.One study noted that the FY-3 includes a prototype package intended to support other sensors, such as over the horizon (OTH) radar systems, to compensate for sea clutter when tracking aircraft carriers and other moving targets at sea. Greater resolution enables more precise targeting.

Comment and Conclusion

Fengyun satellites collect and provide strategic weather reconnaissance data for civilian and military purposes. An accurate assessment of current and future weather conditions, such as cloud cover, atmospheric moisture, winds, temperature, and ocean currents, is critical for a range of military operations. Weather satellites can measure electromagnetic conditions in the ionosphere that could affect over the horizon radar and communication systems. They also can provide militarily useful data associated with complex maritime environments and terrains, including observation of targets under camouflage or perhaps even underground. Interests of GSD Third Department are unknown. Their role in the ground segment implies some linkage between the Fengyun program and signals intelligence.

Jenny Lin is a Researcher at Project 2049 Institute. The author would like to thank Mark Stokes for his input and suggestions.