Military and Security Developments Involving the PRC

Posted: August 19, 2010 in Uncategorized
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The Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China for the year 2010 was released a couple of days ago.  You may have heard of this oft-delayed (and occasionally controversial) document, and it’s in full view now.  It is a deliverable driven by the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2010.

The Executive Summary captures the essence of what many China watchers have observed for some time: China’s comprehensive military modernization and transformation exceed their immediate territorial interests and includes building out anti-access and area-denial strategies/capabilities, as well as extended-range power projection.

This document, perhaps by its nature of listing improvement after improvement and enhancement after enhancement, is a bit startling.  For example:

  • “China has the most active land-based ballistic and cruise missile program in the world”
  • “The PLA is acquiring large numbers of highly accurate cruise missiles”.
  • “It is upgrading the lethality of this (medium range ballistic missile) force, including by introducing variants of these missiles with improved ranges, accuracies, and payloads.”
  • “China is modernizing its nuclear forces by adding more survivable delivery systems.”
  • “China may also be developing a new roadmobile ICBM, possibly capable of carrying a multiple independently targeted re-entry vehicles (MIRV)”.

These quotes only pertain to the missile part of what China’s doing.  The report also goes on to address similar progress regarding China’s naval forces, air and air defenses, and ground forces.  But you get the general idea.

Beyond the Chinese weapons systems, there’s also what gets written and what gets said, and regarding the space domain, China had some ‘splanin’ to do in November 2009.  Then, People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force Commander Xu Qiliang made some statements that China had to walk back regarding space militarization, or the development of weapons and defensive technologies in space, as a “historic inevitability” and that “competition between military forces is moving towards outer space.”

Whatever the intended space message, there’s been plenty of Chinese action to include plussing-up traditional space missions such as space navigation capabilities, their reconnaissance satellite constellation, their comsat capabilities, a successful missile defense test, and China’s robust space launch programs.

With space a key enabler for anti-access, area-denial, and force-projection capabilities, the report mentions a 2008 Chinese white paper which asserts China’s armed forces have placed a high priority on military developments that can be used to maintain maritime, space, and electromagnetic space security.  Counter-space capabilities, whether by direct ascent ASAT, or more likely from RF jamming, laser interference, high-powered microwave, or cyber attack are also emerging and transformational activities for China.

Finally, China is also notably involved in space-prestige programs such as their manned space effort.  A successful manned space program is likely to enhance domestic and international stature, as well as improving military capabilities via the inherent capabilities of heavy lift space launch systems.  A viable heavy lift capability will support the development and placement on-orbit of “exquisite” Chinese space capabilities historically enjoyed by only the west.

The most effective and easy way to reduce tensions between the United States and China would be for China to make significant improvements in the transparency of their affairs, and perhaps the best way to enhance this transparency would be for the U.S. and China to foster a robust mil-to-mil exchange program.  China, however, has chosen to deny mil-to-mil as a transparency mechanism for perceived slights, to include the U.S. selling weapons to Taiwan.

The fundamental point of view of Chinese leadership, based on observed actions, unsurprisingly seems to be they’re all about China.  Whether it concerns currency, trade, fuel, food, access, nuclear proliferation, human rights (or lack thereof), or meaningful sanctions against Iran and North Korea, the U.S. challenge will be to deal with China as they are and not as we want them to be.

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