China is apparently committed to investing in such a program and has several operational high- and medium-altitude long-endurance UAVs, with others planned, capable of carrying out reconnaissance far out at sea. The Xianglong, currently China’s largest UAV, appears to have a combat radius of 2,000–2,500 kilometers (that is, a range of 7,500 kilometers), a mission payload of six hundred kilograms, and a maximum endurance of ten hours.53 It can also carry electronic jamming pods to defend against antiradiation missiles, as well Global Positioning System jamming and antijamming capabilities.
However, the Xianglong is believed still to lack suffi cient high-altitude endurance for an anticarrier mission. Moreover, China still lacks C4ISR infrastructure such as information processing, bandwidth capacity, and network support needed for wide-area surveillance at the level of the U.S. Broad Area Maritime System.
Further, even a fully capable UAV could be vulnerable to a carrier group’s formidable air and electronic defenses assuming the carrier(s) and accompanying ships were not operating in electronic silence in order not to announce their approach before it could provide targeting information; thus the UAV alone is not a reliable option. Theoretically, if advanced enough, UAV capabilities would be adequate for targeting if combined with other terrestrial cueing systems, such as OTH. However, the open-source literature clearly views these capabilities as currently insuffi cient to deal with superior U.S. naval power.
Overall, China’s current UAV capabilities and the risks involved in obtaining targeting information from surface combatant vessels or air forces near the CSG strongly suggest that the PLA would not depend solely upon these platforms to determine the exact location of the target. Others have surmised that the Chinese military could utilize such alternatives as China’s growing fl eet of stealthy submarines, or even merchant fi shing vessels, to supply targeting data. For example, the PLA Navy submarine force, with its increasing number of quiet attack submarines, offers another conceivable alternative for tracking targets at sea.
These are not optimal means, but they are immediately available and could be part of an interim capability or emergency backup. To what degree these methods would be relied on in a time of confl ict is debatable; a robust and reliable targeting system to support the ASBM, of which space-based reconnaissance would be a key element, appears to be a high priority. Regardless, and given the widespread assumption that space-based targeting is critical, does China have enough of the right type of satellites to fi nd a carrier and view it frequently enough to be sure of its location, and if so, can it process and transmit the data to the launch pad quickly enough.