China launched a Long March 2C rocket from the Xichang space centre in Sichuan Province on 29 September that placed three satellites into low Earth orbit. Local media reports identified these as Yaogan 30-01 satellites designed to “conduct electromagnetic probes and other experiments”.
The latest satellites join a further 35 of the Yaogan (meaning ‘remote sensing’) series that are widely believed to be operated by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
While official statements following Chinese satellite launches usually ascribe functions such as scientific research, land resource surveys, crop yield studies, and disaster relief, the Yaogan satellite series is assessed to include high-resolution optical imaging sensors, synthetic aperture radars, and electronic intelligence (ELINT) sensors for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR).
The latest satellites appear to have been deployed as a triplet group, which is similar to the Yaogan 16, 17, 20, and 25 satellites, which were also deployed as triplets (for example Yaogan 16A, 16B, and 16C).
Their function is assessed to be for ELINT in support of maritime surveillance, not only in terms of detecting transmissions from a ship's radars but also for providing geolocation of the emitter by measuring the time difference in arrival of the intercepted signals at each of the satellites.
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