How China Plans to Track Even the Most Advanced US Stealth Aircraft

China is developing a system that could turn its commercial satellites into spying platforms with the ability to track American fighter jets.
china tracking us stealth

China is reportedly working on an ambitious artificial intelligence (AI) system that could turn low-cost commercial satellites into sophisticated spy satellites – and reports indicate that it could have a potential success rate roughly seven times higher than current tracking technology.

The newly developed system is being engineered by Chinese military researchers, and it can track moving objects as small as a car with outstanding accuracy, providing high-resolution images and high-speed data transmission.

Is this an actual working technology or just Chinese state propaganda? How real is this threat to the United States? Can spy satellites give China a military advantage?


The Jilin-1 satellite

The Jilin-1 was released in 2015, featuring a powerful telescope of 220 pounds (100 kilograms) to capture images and videos with high resolution. It was capable of filming the video of a presumably F-22 by adopting artificial intelligence that can track objects over long distances with a precision of 95% accuracy.

Raptors refuel above the Northern Territory by Lori Hodge. Public Domain.

Today, China has around 40 Jilin-1 satellites to track the Earth, and it intends to further expand its coverage to at least 138 satellites in the coming years with better image resolution.

In addition, the artificial intelligence algorithm can be tailored to continuously improve to get better results for China’s military system as they are fitted with processors that could be loaded with the latest AI algorithm to detect and track moving targets in real-time without the need for ground assistance.


The challenge of spotting a target through satellite imagery was put to the test when Chang Guang Satellite Technology published a video taken by the Jilin-1, tracking a cruise fighter jet from an altitude of nearly 500 kilometers (310 miles) above Earth.

Did it spot an F-22?

The whole idea of turning commercial satellites into spy satellites as an espionage strategy is a major Chinese success – and a tremendous technological achievement if it is proven that this satellite can indeed track an F-22 with such ease.

But, there’s still very little credible information about the capabilities of these spy satellites and their accuracy because it hasn’t yet been possible to corroborate the actual authenticity of the video, and it was only used for commercial and propaganda purposes. This gives China an advantage in tracking even the fastest aircraft the United States has today.


Long March 5 rolling out at WSLS
Chinese Long March Rocket by Xiaojun Wang under CC by 4.0

It is a sign that the United States should seek a way to advance its own spying systems and find a way to shield its aircraft fleet from the prying eyes of China’s satellites.

A new war based on espionage could be starting right now

In contrast to conventional spy satellites, which must remain in geosynchronous orbit while scanning the targeted region, this new kind of satellite uses a Low Earth orbit (LEO)  and scan much wider areas.

The dual-use of the capabilities of China’s satellites shows considerable progress in its military-civilian joint-venture strategy.


But, the same phenomenon is happening in the US, where many tech businesses are assisting the US military branches in obtaining cutting-edge technologies and getting a competitive advantage over China.

So, the military powers are rearranging their science and technology businesses to ensure new developments and sophisticated weapons.

These new Chinese spy satellites represent a new challenge for the United States and NATO

If the reports of these spy satellites and their capabilities are proven to be accurate, the US and its allies will have to work quite hard to increase the stealthiness of its combat aircraft to avoid being tracked by Chinese satellites.


Surely, the US will need to add better telescopes to American satellites as well to increase its espionage effectiveness. However, this has the potential to create a new Cold War era based on China’s increasing espionage efforts over the years and the possible future invasion of Taiwan.

Feature image credit: GOES-T by AlfenMeister. Licensed under CC by 4.0