SLC-18 radar is claimed to be effective in detecting and tracking multiple LEO satellites

India’s military advantage and asymmetry over Pakistan when it comes to space-based platforms will be comprehensively tested as and when Pakistan acquires the cutting-edge SLC-18 space surveillance active phased array radar from China.

Put on public display for the first time at the ongoing China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition in Zhuhai (Guangdong) that ends on Sunday (Nov 8-13), the 10-metre tall SLC-18 radar is reported to be very effective in detecting and tracking multiple Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites in all situations and circumstances. The huge advantage is that it comes at a very cheap price.

LEO may vary from an altitude of 160 km to 2,000 km from the earth’s surface.

The SLC-18’s maker is the state-owned China Electronics Technology Group Corporation (CETC) that develops electronic systems and components, missiles, radars etc for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

Confirming the Chinese intention to supply Pakistan with the radar system, a Chinese-state-owned mouthpiece quoted Sun Lei, CETC deputy general manager, as saying: “This radar provides relatively economical ground-based monitoring of space targets to serve friendly countries … offering situational awareness capabilities against low-orbiting satellites to balance the battlefield posture.”

A vital member of China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and a host to the flagship China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project, Pakistan has been known to be very close to China with both countries describing their bilateral relationship as that of “iron brothers” and of being “all weather friends”.

Militarily, China is the biggest weapons exporter to Pakistan and supplies the latter with aircraft, missiles and submarines.

According to figures by the Swedish think-tank, SIPRI, which tracks weapon transfers, in the five years from 2017 and 2021, China supplied 72% of the total weapons imported by Pakistan, while 47% of all the major arms exported by China had Pakistan as the final destination.

It is mainly through LEO satellites and their formations that countries with developed space programs undertake surveillance activities.

Touted by CETC to be a totally home-grown product including its local semi-conductor chips, the anti-satellite SLC-18 radar would effectively thwart the probing eyes of the West and of India that operates many LEO spy satellites.

Once the satellite’s path is made known by the SLC-18, sensitive ground-based platforms and installations can take adequate action to avoid detection or even disturb the satellite signals.

This development also changes the previous practice of countries not equipped with adequate space-based resources and platforms to buy satellite data from advanced countries which may be compromised and highly expensive.

Pakistan is also the recipient of the HQ-9/P HIMADS (High to Medium Air Defence System) from China that was commissioned into the Pakistan Army Air Defence in mid-October, 2021.

The HQ-9, inducted to “significantly enhance comprehensive layered integrated air defence shield of aerial frontiers of Pakistan”, is believed to be capable of intercepting multiple air targets including aircraft, cruise missiles and beyond visual range weapons at ranges over 100 km with single shot kill probability.