China’s military is improving its military doctrine, training, weapons and surveillance to be able to conduct more sophisticated attacks against the U.S. and other adversaries, according to the Pentagon.
After jamming communications and mounting other forms of electronic and cyberwarfare, stealthy Chinese aircraft, drones and missiles could attack U.S. warships, aircraft and supply craft, the Defense Department said yesterday in its annual report on China.
The report, which is required by Congress, doesn’t suggest that such attacks are likely, only that the Chinese military last year continued to demonstrate new capabilities similar to those the U.S. began embracing at least 20 years ago, with mixed success. The buildup is occurring as China increasingly asserts itself in territorial disputes with its neighbors.
The Chinese Navy last year commissioned nine new Jiangdao-class corvettes armed with anti-ship cruise missiles for operations close to shore, “especially in the South China Sea and East China Sea,” the Pentagon said. The Pentagon’s test office and internal Navy reviews have warned that the U.S.’s new Littoral Combat Ships are vulnerable to such weapons.
The report may provide new fodder for U.S. congressional advocates of more defense spending who argue for improving naval capabilities to blunt Chinese advances through systems such as Boeing Co. (BA)’s EA-18G Growler electronic-warfare plane and Raytheon Co. (RTN)’s new Air and Missile Defense Radar and Next Generation Jammer.
“China’s military has come a long, long way in the last few years, it’s spent a lot of money so it can very aggressively pursue advanced technology and improve its capabilities,” said John Blaxland, a senior fellow at the Australian National University’s Strategic and Defence Studies Centre in Canberra.
“It now has incredible economic clout and has become adept at applying pressure below the threshold that would trigger a strong military response from the U.S. or its allies,” he said. “China may well be critical of this report but they’re probably secretly happy that that’s the perception.”
Last year, the Chinese military “emphasized training under realistic combat scenarios” and the ability to execute long-range mobility operations, such as maritime exercises that involved all three Chinese Navy fleets, the report found.
The report doesn’t add new details to the U.S. contention that China is increasing its cyberattacks on the Pentagon, instead repeating paragraphs it published last year about China’s activities in 2012 in a section entitled “Cyber Activities Directed Against the U.S. Department of Defense.”
Last month, the Justice Department escalated its effort to curb China’s technology theft from U.S. companies by charging five Chinese military officials with stealing trade secrets, casting the hacker attacks as a direct economic threat.
The Justice Department said the officials belonged to Unit 61398 of the Third Department of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. The Pentagon report doesn’t mention the unit.
The Pentagon said China’s most significant military developments last year included air-defense upgrades to destroyers and frigates; testing of its Y-20 transport to fly ground forces quickly across great distances; at least eight launches to expand its intelligence and surveillance from space; and a “probable” Chinese drone conducting reconnaissance in the East China Sea.
China’s also starting to integrate anti-radar missiles into its fighter-bomber fleet, the report said.
The Chinese Navy continues to develop long-range, over-the-horizon radar that, in coordination with satellites, is intended to “locate targets at great distances from China” for targeting by its DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile, according to the Pentagon. The report said China continues to field a “limited but growing number” of the missiles.
It also continues to develop the stealthy J-20 fighter and J-31 that are “similar in size to a U.S. F-35 fighter,” the report said, without comparing capabilities.
These developments are part of a Chinese air force modernization that’s “unprecedented in its history and rapidly closing the gap with Western air forces across a broad spectrum of capabilities,” the Pentagon said.
Competing claims with Japan over islands in the East China Sea led China to declare an Air Defense Identification Zone in November over a stretch of sea that overlaps with Japanese and South Korean zones. China also is embroiled in disputes with Vietnam and the Philippines in the South China Sea.
“The expansion of China’s military makes sense because economically it’s got more skin in the game and it’s a lot more vulnerable than a lot of other powers because most of its resources come from a long way away,” according to Blaxland from the ANU. “It has a sense of insecurity which on that level is quite understandable.”
For all of China’s military improvements, the Pentagon found it neither has nor appears “to be building” the capability to conduct a full-scale amphibious invasion of Taiwan. China’s relations with Taiwan, the breakaway island democracy claimed by China, remain stable following the 2012 re-election of President Ma Ying-jeou, it said.
The Chinese army is “capable of increasingly sophisticated military action against Taiwan” including “various amphibious operations short of a full-scale invasion,” the Pentagon found.