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Top Ten Chinese Military Modernization Developments

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Published on March 23rd, 2005
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2005 will mark in China another year of sustained military investment. On March 4th the Chinese government announced that its defense spending would increase by 12.6 percent in 2005. Save for 2003, all of the last 15 years has seen Chinese defense spending grow by double-digit percentages. China also announced that its overall military spending would amount to $29.9 billion, a low figure that many analysts have long believed bears little relation to reality. In 2004 the Pentagon noted that for 2003, overall Chinese military spending ranged between $50 and $70 billion.[1] If we take the Pentagon’s estimate as a baseline, then for 2004, which saw an "official" Chinese increase of 11.6 percent, spending might have risen from $55.8 to $78.1 billion, Similarly modifying the announced Chinese 2005 budget increase of by 12.6 percent yield actual expenditures between $62.8 and $87.9 billion. Other estimates have long held that Chinese military spending has reached or exceeded $100 billion. By comparison, Japan spends $45 billion on defense, and India about $19 billion.

Over fifteen years these expenditures have led to a qualitative transformation for the Chinese military. As recently as the early 1990s the PLA was mired in defensive doctrines and equipped largely with modified 1950s vintage Soviet technology. Now, China is about to field a modern force capable of offensive operations involving land, air, and sea forces, which exploit multiple new information and precision-strike technologies.

Following is a list of ten such major developments.

1. "Informationalization" And PLA Reform

The most recent PLA White Paper [December 27, 2004] PLA stated: "The PLA, aiming at building an informationalized force and winning an informationalized war, deepens its reform, dedicates itself to innovation, improves its quality and actively pushes forward the RMA [Revolution In Military Affairs] with Chinese characteristics with informationalization at the core."

Successive reductions in the size of the PLA Army have permitted resource shifts to build up the PLA Second Artillery missile forces, the PLA Air Force and the PLA Navy. This shift was formalized in late 2004 when the commanders of these three services were for the first time elevated to the PLA’s Central Military Commission, its most important leadership organ. The PLA Army remains the largest service, and thus still dominates the PLA leadership, but now even the Army realizes that modern war requires greater future leadership be given to these high-technology services.

"Informationalization" means improving the PLA’s ability to use the latest technologies in command, intelligence, training and weapon systems. New automatic command systems linked by fiber-optic Internet, satellite and new high-frequency digital radio systems, allow for more efficient joint-service planning and command, while also enabling a reduction in layers of command. The PLA can also better contest the information battlespace with its new space-based, airborne, naval and ground based surveillance and intelligence gathering systems, and its new anti-satellite, anti-radar, electronic warfare and information warfare systems. Training and education are also becoming more "informationalized" as the PLA rapidly increased the use of advanced computer-driven simulators in all services and encourages greater on-line training and education for officers and non-commissioned officers. And there is increasing "information content" for new PLA weapons as its moves to link new space, airborne and ELINT "sensors" to missile, air, naval and ground-based "shooters" to enable all its services to better use new precision-strike weapons.

 
 
 
The PLA is making great strides toward integrating space, air, and ground sensors with automatic command and communication systems. Modern command and control digitalization is evident at high command levels and at the level of the individual soldier, as seen by a poster photo of a PLA soldier outfitted with a personal digital UAV control system. Photos: CETC and NRIST via author


 
 
 
Informatizilation: Increasing PLA use of information technologies is shown by soldier use of decision simulators, a new low-light automatic tracking system for helicopters, and a new battlefield artillery/mortar fuse jamming system derived from Russian technology. Photos: CCTV and via author

II. High Technology And "Assassin’s Mace" Weapons

In the mid-1990s former president Jiang Zemin re-popularized an ancient Chinese term, "Shashaojian," translated most frequently as "Assassin’s Mace," which is to say "silver bullet" weapons, having novel characteristics, intended to be unanticipated, and thus potentially decisive when used with surprise.[2] The intent, as has been outlined in Chinese military classics for two millennia, is to catch the adversary by surprise and defeat him before he is even aware an attack has begun.

The "863 Program" begun in 1987 is the best-known PLA high-technology investment program basic research in the areas of lasers, space, electronics, and robotics. The goal of the 863 Program was world leadership in these areas; products so far include a micro helicopter smaller than a finger digit and an unmanned deep-sea surveillance vehicle. The 998 Program, evidently begun in 1995, develops "Assassin’s mace" weapons. Among technologies involved are lasers, high-power microwaves, space systems, missiles, robotics, information attack systems and nuclear weapons, comparable to US cutting edge technologies.

 
 
 
Assassin's Mace: Evidence of PLA efforts to produce secret and decisive weapons include: a soldier-operated laser gun that can guide munitions or blind the enemy; a 3cm micro-helicopter developed from the 863 Program; and sources who state the PLA has already developed "radio frequency" wepaons that will be used to attack an enemy's electronic infrastructure. Photos: via author and UK Telegraph

III. Military Space

The PLA will soon have surveillance, communication and navigation satellites to serve its war fighters and capabilities to combat enemy space assets. From 2006 to 2008 the PLA plans to launch a constellation of eight new surveillance satellites: four new HJ-1A and HJ-1B electro-optical satellites and four new HJ-1C radar satellites which can penetrate night and weather. These will be based on Russian NPO Machinostroyenia electro-optical and radar satellites.[3] One Chinese official stated the electro-optical satellites would have a 1/10-meter resolution.[4] While this will be a small surveillance constellation compared to that of the U.S., it will be the largest in Asia and will be sufficient to give PLA warfighters a twice-daily revisit by both types of satellites. The PLA is also developing new surveillance microsatellites that can be launched by new mobile solid-fueled launchers to rapidly increase space imagery assets. When satellite imagery is combined with that from new classes of unmanned reconnaissance vehicles the PLA will be able to provide near continuous targeting data to missile, air, naval and ground units.

 
 
 
Military Space: The PLA will soon loft new high resolution radar and electro-optical satellites designed by Russia's NPO Machinostroyena. When space imagery is combined with imagery from expected new UAVs the PLA will be able to compile a continuous picture of its battlespace to assist weapon targeting. Photos: author and via Guizhou Aircraft Co.

The PLA currently has two Zhongzhing-22 communication satellites in orbit, and is known to use many ostensibly civilian Chinese communication satellites. The PLA now has three "Beidou"["North Star"] navigation satellites in orbit but this system is limited by its reliance on ground stations for navigation signal broadcast. To guarantee access to navigation satellite signals like those broadcast by the U.S. Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) system, China is developing is own system of modern navigation satellites, and is now a full partner in Europe’s "Galileo" system, which plans to have 30 satellites in orbit by 2008.

 
 
Military Space: The PLA uses its own communication satellites and civilian comsats like the DFH-4 being devleoped with France, and will benefit greatly from guaranteed access to Galileo navigation satellite signals, a consequence of its being a full "member" of this program. Photos: via author and European Space Agency

Before the end of this decade the PLA will be able to attack U.S. military space assets. Starting with its first Congressionally mandated report in 1998 on PLA modernization the Pentagon has noted PLA efforts to use ground-based lasers to dazzle low Earth orbit satellites. The PLA may also soon have a direct-ascent anti-satellite weapon based on new micro and nano satellites-developed from an initial 1998 technology transfer from Britain’s Surrey Satellite Technologies Ltd. combined with the new "KT" family of mobile solid-fueled space launch vehicles. The PLA may also envision manned military space platforms: its first manned space flight, the Shenzhou-5 of October 2003, was primarily used for military surveillance.

 
 
Military Space: Thanks to technology from Britian's Surrey Satellite Ltd., the PLA is able to develop micro and nano satellites, like the NS-1 launched in April 2004. When such satellites are combined with mobile solid fuel space launch vehicles like the KT-1, the PLA will be able to fashion an anti-satellite weapon. Photos, via author

IV. New ICBMs and SLBMs To Defeat US Missile Defenses

China’s modest buildup of its nuclear missile force is being pursued in ways that will enable it to defeat current and future U.S. National Missile Defenses. Exact numbers for PLA missiles are not public information: in 2000 China was generally credited with "around 20" older 13,000km range DF-5 Mod 1 ICBMs. Today China is either deploying or close to deploying at least three new nuclear-armed land-based intercontinental-range ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and one new submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM). In 2004 the Pentagon stated that ICBM numbers could reach 30 by 2005 and 60 by 2010. But to this number must soon be added new SLBMs. In July 2004 the PLA launched its first Type 094 nuclear powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN), which can carry 16 SLBMs each.[5] If one assumes that the PLA will produce four Type 094s by 2010, then by that year the PLA could have up to 124 nuclear-armed missiles capable of attacking the United States.

 
 
Missiles: The PLA envisions that its nuclear and non-nuclear missiles can be used to win a future war over Taiwan. Nuclear missiles like the DF-31 and DF-21 will deter U.S. intervention, while hundreds of DF-15s and DF-11s will attack a wide range of targets on Taiwan.

With the launching of the Type 094 SSBN with the JL-2 SLBM, the PLA will possess its first reliable nuclear "second strike" capability. In 1999 the Cox Commission noted the JL-2 would have a range of 7,500 miles (12,000km).[6] At this range the Type 094 might not have to leave operating areas near their main base of Qingdao in the Bohai Sea. However, the shallowness of this sea may have led the PLA to build a second nuclear submarine base on Hainan Island in the South China Sea, which affords quicker access to more secure deep-sea operating areas. From Hainan the JL-2 could more easily cover India. The best access to immediate deep-sea operating areas for the Type 094 would be from the east coast of Taiwan.[7] It is likely that the JL-2 be of will eventually carry multiple warheads, perhaps as many as three.

 
 
Missiles: In July 2004 the PLA launched its first Type 094 SSBN, seen in a U.S. Navy projection, which carries 16 JL-2 SLBMs. It will supplement the PLA's solitary Type 092 SSBN, which was recently described the Pentagon as "operational." Photos: US Navy and via Internet

In 1999 the Cox Report noted that the PLA was replacing its 13,000km range liquid fueled DF-5 Mod 1 ICBMs with a longer range DF-5 Mod 2.[8] Then in 2002 the Pentagon noted that the DF-5 Mod 2s would replace their predecessor by "mid decade," indicating that perhaps 20 should be deployed by this year.[9] The Pentagon also suggested the DF-5 Mod 2 could be armed with multiple warheads.[10] This large ICBM could easily carry five or more new-type smaller nuclear warheads China now produces; Russian ICBMs of the same size carry 10 warheads.[11]

 
 
Missiles: By 2005 about 20 DF-5 Mod 1 liquid-fueled ICBMs should be replaced with about the same number of DF-5 Mod 2 ICBMs which may carry multiple warheads. Photo: via Internet

In 2003 the International Institute for Strategic Studies reported in its Military Balance that the PLA’s first DF-31 ICBM brigade of 8 missiles was operational. This estimated 8,000km range missile is the PLA’s first solid-fueled and mobile ICBM. It is likely based in caves located in deep mountain valleys. The DF-31 is believed to carry only one warhead, but may employ penetration aids like decoys to complicate interception. It will soon be joined by the 12,000km range DF-31A, also a mobile ICBM. The Pentagon notes this missile will be deployed "by the end of the decade." Inasmuch as the KT-2A mobile space-launch vehicle, likely based on the DF-31A, can carry up to three payloads,[12] it is possible the DF-31A will be able to carry multiple warheads, perhaps up to three.

 
 
Missles: The 8,000km range single warhead DF-31 is reportedly operational and the 12,000km range DF-31A, likely similar to the KT-2A SLV, will be entering service later this decade. The DF-31A may be multiple warhead capable. Photos: via internet and author

China is also working on new technologies to ensure its new missiles can defeat U.S. missile defenses. One such technology would be multiple warheads to saturate missile defenses. The Cox Report noted that if China were to emphasize the development of multiple warheads for its missiles it could have 1,000 by 2015.[13] Conservative estimates previously mentioned could potentially add up to 2010 warhead count of 372: 20 DF-5 Mod 2 x 5 warheads + 20 DF-31 x 1 warhead + 20 DF-31A x 3 warheads + 64 JL-2 x 3 warheads. It is also very possible that these new missiles will use "penetration aids" to include maneuvering warheads, decoys, balloons and chaff.

 
 
Missiles: New PLA missiles will use a variety of methods to defeat U.S. missile defenses. This outake from a recent CCTV program appears to illustrate a maneuvering warhead and decoy dispensing capability. Photo: CCTV

V. Strategic Land Attack Cruise Missiles

Since the 1970s the PLA has placed a high priority on developing an indigenous strategic land attack cruise missile (LACM). With their very high accuracy such cruise missiles allow strategic targets to be destroyed with non-nuclear warheads. Asian based sources have long told the author that these new PLA LACMs would be ready for deployment starting in 2005. It can be expected that their production rate would be high and that numbers would quickly accumulate, perhaps well exceeding 500 by 2010. At first Second Artillery units will launch these, but soon after, they may also be used by PLA Air Force H-6 bombers and by the PLA Navy’s new Type 093 nuclear attack submarines. When used by the latter, the PLA will have its first platform capable of limited but politically useful non-nuclear power projection on a global scale.

The PLA’s first modern LACM, sometimes called the DH-10, will be similar in size and capability to the U.S. TOMOHAWK, in part because the PLA has been collecting parts of this U.S. cruise missile from Iraq and Afghanistan. The PLA has obtained at least six Russian Kh-55 cruise missiles from the Ukraine,[14] and reportedly, has benefited from Israeli cruise missile technology associated with the DELILAH anti-radar missile.[15] This missile may have been demonstrated to PLA leaders in August 2004. Officials of the main cruise missile designing organization, the 3rd Academy, told the author in 2002 they had long ago perfected terrain-contour matching (TERCOM), a radar-based very accurate guidance system for cruise missiles.[16] They have likely since been able to incorporate satellite navigation technology as well. The range of the latest PLA LACM has not been reported but estimates range from 1,300 to 3,000km.

 
 
Cruise Missiles: This is the only open source photo illustrating the PLA's progress in cruise missile development. It is apparently a cruise missile airframe in a stress testing rig. New PLA LACMs may start deploying this year. Photo: via Internet

VI. Large Numbers Of SRBMs and MRBMs

Back in early 1999 leaked U.S. intelligence figures indicated that by 2005 the PLA might have 650 short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) pointed at Taiwan, The current reality, according to Taiwan’s military, is that this number will exceed 700 in 2005 and could reach 800 by 2006.[17] Should this rate of production be sustained, it is possible to consider 1,200 SRBMs being aimed at Taiwan by 2010. Evidently aimed to intimidate, these missiles may also used in wave attacks coordinated with cruise missile, electronic warfare, air and Special Forces strikes.

The PLA employs two principal SRBMs: the 600km range DF-15 which arm Second Artillery regiments; and the 400-500km range DF-11 Mod 1 which arm PLA Army missile regiments. A longer 1,000km range variant of the DF-15 is reported, which may be targeted mainly at U.S. and Japanese forces on Okinawa. Both missile types utilize navigation satellite signals to improve accuracy and are slightly maneuverable in flight to complicate interception. The DF-11 Mod 1 uses a "depressed trajectory" which also complicates interception. Some DF-15s are armed with tactical nuclear warheads, but most carry non-nuclear high-explosive warheads. DF-11 Mod 1s, however, carry a wider range of warheads to include thermobaric and cluster munitions as well as high-explosives. Both missiles may carry new radio-frequency/electromagnetic pulse (EMP) warheads, which if used in sufficient numbers, could disable electronic communications and electric power networks. These warheads would enable "non-lethal" but disabling attacks against a wide range of Asian targets, including US forces in Asia.

 
 
SRBMs: By 2010 there could be 1,200 DF-15s and DF-11 aimed at Taiwan.

The PLA’s growing number of medium-range ballistic missiles will also likely be targeted against Japan, Okinawa and Guam. These include about 20 to 30 older, liquid fueled 2,800km range DF-3As, and about 50 to 100 newer solid fueled DF-21A missiles.[18] In 1996 a Chinese technician revealed to the author that a "terminal guidance system" that would confer very high accuracy was being developed for the DF-21.[19] Using a terminal guidance system based on navigation satellite signals or a missile-radar, this version of the DF-21 is now operational and is sometimes referred to as the DF-21A or the DF-21C. DF-21s are reportedly deployed at three bases where they can reach Japan, Okinawa and Taiwan. While most are armed with nuclear warheads, some are armed with high explosive, cluster or electromagnetic pulse type warheads.

 
 
MRBM: The PLA deploys 50 to 100 DF-21 MRBMs that are armed with nuclear and non-nuclear warheads, some with terminal guidance capability.

VII. Modern Offensive Combat Air Forces

The PLA air force is on the verge of being able to deploy multi-role fighters with modern support elements like airborne radar, electronic warfare and aerial refueling platforms able to undertake autonomous or joint-force offensive missions. These will be able to undertake all-weather air superiority missions and will shoulder the majority of the PLA’s long-range precision-strike missions. Over the next few years this force could reach a point of qualitative and quantitative air superiority on the Taiwan Strait and pose a real threat to one or more U.S. carrier battle groups or U.S. Air Forces on Okinawa. By 2010 the PLA could have 200 or more all-weather Russian and Chinese-designed fighter-bombers capable of precision-strikes against Taiwan or long-range strikes against U.S. naval forces. These could be backed by about 200 Russian and Chinese-make 4th generation fighters and hundreds more 3rd and 2nd generation Chinese-made fighters.

 
 
 
Air Forces: The PLA Air Force may have 200 Sukhoi Su-30 and Xian JH-7A fighter-bombers by 2010, both able to carry a range of laser and optical precision-guided weapons, and long-range anti-ship missiles. The Chengdu J-10 4th generation fighter is now entering production; its twin-seat trainer/attack variant first flew in December 2003. Photos: via Internet

More specifically, by 2006 the PLA may have about 300 Russian Sukhoi Su-27 fighters and Su-30MKK/MKK2 fighter-bombers. Su-27s are being upgraded to be able to fire modern medium-range self-guided R-77 air-to-air missiles (AAMs) and the PLA is now building a co-produced version of this fighter, the Shenyang J-11, which features increasing domestic content like radar, weapons and engines. About 76 Su-30MKKs are in the PLA Air Force and 48 Su-30MKK2s may be in the PLA Naval Air Force by 2006.[20] These are armed with a range of Russian precision-guided munitions (PGMs) like the 3,300lb KAB-1500 and soon, the 288km range Kh-59MK anti-ship missile. Both the PLA Air Force and Navy are buying the Xian JH-7A fighter-bomber, which features modern radar, precision weapons, and supersonic anti-ship missiles and is powered by a version of the British Rolls Royce Spey turbofan engine.[21] China’s first domestic 4th generation fighter, the Chengdu J-10, is about to enter full production, with 200 to 300 being powered by the Russian AL-31FN turbofan before being supplanted by the indigenous WS-10A turbofan engine. These will be armed with self-guided PL-12 medium-range AAM and new Chinese PGMs. Both Shenyang and Chengdu are working on advanced 5th generation fighter designs that could enter service by the middle of the next decade. In addition, the PLA has revived production of older Soviet-era Xian H-6 (Tupolev Tu-16) bombers, to be armed with new cruise missiles,[22] but may be designing a new advanced long-range bomber, as it considers recent Russian offers to sell Tupolev Tu-22M-3 BACKFIRE supersonic bombers.

 
 
 
Air Forces: The PLA is developing new attack and anti-air munitions like PL-12 active-guided AAM, and is pursuing two 5th generation fighter programs, like one that may be associated with the Chengdu Company, and the PLA is now considering Russian offers to sell some Tupolev Tu-22M-3 BACKFIRE bombers.

China reacted to the U.S. affront in June 2000 of stopping Israel’s sale of its advanced Phalcon active phased-array airborne radar by starting a crash program to build its own active phased-array airborne radar.[23] In 2005 there are two or three Russian A-50 airborne radar (AWACS) airframes being outfitted with a new Chinese radar. These could be joined by a version of the China’s Shaanxi Y-8 transport outfitted with linear shape active-phased array radar, a prototype of which has been in testing since 2001. The PLA has already converted a small number of H-6 bombers to serve as aerial refueling tankers for PLA Air Force and Navy J-8II fighters. Russian reports indicate China is also about to purchase about six Russian Ilyushin Il-78 aerial tankers,[24] which could enable greater persistence for Su-30s over Taiwan and the South China Sea, or allow a small number to strike as far a Guam.

 
 
Air Forces: The PLA is investing in two AWACS programs and both utilize advanced fixed phased array technology; one is based on a Russian A-50 airframe and the other, at least for now, uses a Shaanxi Y-8 platform. Both are expected to greatly increase the PLAAF's ability to control air and naval engagements.

The PLA Air Force is also investing in larger number of advanced Russian surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) and developing their own. These advanced SAMs present a formidable obstacle to Taiwan and U.S. forces that may seek to interdict PLA forces attacking Taiwan. In August 2004 the PLA was reported close to buying 8 new batteries of S-300PMU-2 missiles, on top of 12 batteries of S-300PMU and S-300PMU-1 missiles. A battery may contain 38 to 48 missiles, meaning the PLA may be on its way to acquiring about 760 of these deadly Russian SAMs. These use a difficult to jam active phased array radar and a Track-Via-Missile (TVM) guidance system; the U.S. has never had to fight against a TVM-SAM armed opponent. In addition the PLA is developing new advanced SAMs like the FT-2000 family. The PLA is also developing several new short-range SAM systems for Army units with the intent of countering U.S. cruise missiles and PGMs.

 
 
 
Air Defenses: While the PLAAF is reported to be on its way to buying 760 deadly Russian S-300 SAMs, the PLA is developing many short-range air defense systems, the Yitian short-range SAM system and the LD-2000 gattling gun system also shown here.

VIII. New Nuclear And Non-Nuclear Attack Submarines

By 2010, the PLA Navy could take delivery of over 20 new domestic SONG A and YUAN-class conventional submarines, 12 Russian KILO-877/636/636M conventional submarines, and 5 or more new indigenous Type 093 nuclear attack submarines (SSNs) (the third 093 is now under construction). In addition, the PLA Navy could retain up to 20 older Type 035 MING-class conventional and about 4 older Type 091 HAN-class SSNs. This raises the prospect of by 2010 of a Chinese fleet of over 50 modern-to-moderate attack submarines capable of engaging other Asian or US naval forces. By this year the US will have about 50 SSNs to cover its global defense obligations while Japan will only have about 20 conventionally power SSKs.

China’s new attack submarines will be modern, capable and well armed. New 2nd generation Type 093 SSNs are expected to be a vast improvement over the 1st generation Type 091 models. They are often compared to late model Russian VICTOR-III SSNs, which could hold their own against early model U.S. LOS ANGELES class SSNs.[25] This may not be inaccurate as the Type 093 reportedly benefits from Russian Rubin bureau design assistance, Russian-influenced nuclear power plants and advanced Russian welding and construction techniques. They will be armed with new Chinese wire-guided torpedoes, and later in the decade, new Chinese LACMs. Once there is a build-up of Type 093s it should be expected that the PLA Navy would undertake patrols near the U.S. in order to draw U.S. SSNs back to defensive patrols.

 
 
Submarines: There is only one partial photo of what is likely the new Type 093 SSN, the third of which is now building. It appears to be different from a mid-1990s U.S. Navy projection.

A new SSK launched at the Wuhan yard in July 2004, dubbed the YUAN by the U.S. Navy,[26] may have benefited from extensive Russian Rubin bureau assistance, as it bears a striking resemblance to Rubin’s AMUR 1650-type SSK. Optimized for patrol and attack missions, the YUAN may feature torpedo, mine and missile armament, and possibly new Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) which could allow for 2-3 weeks of submerged operations without having to surface to recharge batteries. China has already benefited from German fuel cell technology to develop a future AIP system. But from Russia China could have access to fuel cell AIP systems offered by Rubin, or closed-cycle diesel and hydrogen-based AIP systems offered by the Malachite submarine design bureau.

 
 
Submarines: The PLA has launched about a dozen Type 039 SSKs, like this one under construction in Shanghai. The Type 039 is a robust design that incorporates modern digital control systems and can fire anti-ship missiles.

Since undergoing an extensive redesign in the late 1990s, the PLA has launched about a dozen Type 039 SONG A-class SSKs. Chinese sources confirm they are now being produced at two shipyards: Wuhan and Shanghai.[27] Strongly resembling the French AGOTSA-class SSK, the Type 039 displaces 1,992 tons, has a range of 6,000 nautical miles and can dive at least 300 meters.[28] Chinese television reports indicate it uses modern digital combat and ship control systems. Optimized for blockade and patrol missions, it is armed with new wire-guided torpedoes, mines and an anti-ship missile based on the C-802. Internet-source photos of Type 039s under construction also show Chinese mastery of advanced multi-layer rubber/polymer hull coatings that greatly reduce hull-radiated noise while also limiting the effectiveness of active-sonar detection.

 
 
Submarines: The YUAN class SSK is more advanced than the SONG, and will likely incorporate new air independent propulsion systems that enable weeks of underwater endurance. The YUAN shows significant Russian influence from the Rubin bureau's AMUR design. Photo: via Internet

Finally, in 2005 the PLAN is expected to take delivery of the first of 8 new Russian KILO 636M SSKs ordered in 2002, with final delivery expected by 2007 or 2008. These will be added to two KILO 877 and two KILO 636 SSKs already in service. The KILO 636M features improved stealth over an already quite design, longer range, and the addition of the Novator CLUB-S missile system. CLUB-S can incorporate up to three missiles: the 275km range subsonic 3M-14E cruise missile, which comes in anti-ship and land-attack versions; the unique 220km range 3M-54E, which flies at subsonic speed most of the way to its target, but then launches a supersonic second stage designed to overcome ship defenses; and the 91PE1 anti-submarine missile, which fires out to 50km, where it drops a rocket-propelled APR-class homing torpedo.

 
 
Submarines: The PLA Navy will soon have 12 advanced Russian KILO SSKs, at least 8 of which will be armed with the deadly Novator 3M-54E anti-ship missile. Photo: via Internet and author

IX. New Advanced Surface Warships

Up to 2002 the PLA Navy could call on about 21 destroyers and about 42 frigates. By 2010 this force could exceed 31 destroyers and 50 frigates, backed up by 30 ocean-capable stealthy fast attack craft. New surface ships handily make up for a previous PLA Navy deficiency in naval air defenses, and pose a real threat to U.S. and future Taiwanese P-3 anti-submarine warfare aircraft that would be critical to defeating a PLA naval blockade.

In September 1996 the PLA purchased from Russia two Project 965E SOVREMENNIY-class missile destroyers armed with the 120km range supersonic MOSKIT heavy anti-ship missile and the SHTIL SAM. These were delivered in 1999 and 2000. Then in January 2002 the PLA ordered two more modified Project 965EM missile destroyers, with improved 200km range MOSKIT anti-ship missiles and two KASHTAN combined gun/missile ship defense systems. Both ships were launched in 2004 and are expected to be delivered to the PLAN in 2005 and 2006.[29] There are reports of PLA interest in ordering two more Russian destroyers. While unstealthy 1970s vintage designs, these ships have served to introduce the PLAN to modern Russian anti-ship, anti-air and anti-submarine systems.

 
 
Warships: The PLA Navy will soon take delivery of its second set of two Russian SOVREMENNIY class missile destroyers armed with the heavy supersonic MOSKIT missile. The second set will have additional ship defenses in the form of the KASHTAN missile/gun ship defense system. Photo: via Internet and author

The 1995 to 2000 five year plan also saw the beginning of new domestic warship building in which the PLA developed new stealthy warships benefiting from Russian or Ukrainian design advice, weapons, electronics and other systems, plus new computer aided design methods which speeded their development. By 2002 it was possible to observe the construction of three new classes of warships via Chinese internet sources. First to emerge were two of the No. 168 class, which armed with Russian SHTIL SAMs, Russian radar, Kamov Ka-28 ASW helicopters and Chinese C-802/803 anti-ship missiles, and powered by Ukrainian gas turbine engines. Soon after two No. 170 class destroyers were launched. These featured a large phased array radar similar in appearance to the U.S. AEGIS system, and were armed with new vertically launched SAMs and a new large anti-ship missile. Most likely the new "AEGIS" radar comes from the Ukrainian KVANT bureau and is a newly-developed active phased array radar with a broad search range of about 150km, with a much longer "spot" search range.[30] This radar also puts the PLAN on the path to an eventual ATBM-capable system. Little is known about the new vertical-launched SAM or the new large SSM, which may be capable of supersonic speeds. Both destroyers serve to add new depth to PLAN air defense capabilities. Some sources expect that the PLA will soon build a repeat round of 2-plus-2 of these destroyers.

 
 
Warships: The PLA Navy is now correcting deficiencies in air defense assets with two new destroyers. The No. 168 class features Russian SAMs and radar, while the No. 170 class features a Ukrainian active phased array radar and new vertical-launched SAMs. Photos: via Internet

The PLAN is also building two more types of stealthy warship. In 2003 it launched two Type 054 stealthy frigates. Some sources indicate production was halted at two ships pending the completion of a new Russian SAM, most likely the 4.5 Mach speed 9M317ME vertical-launched version of the SHTIL. As its maker ALTAIR says it will be ready for delivery in 2006,[31] it is likely that a new variant, the Type 054A, will soon begin production. In early 2004 internet-source pictures of a model of this new variant, apparently from a Chinese shipbuilding exhibition, confirmed that it will feature a new vertical-launched SAM and be outfitted with Russian radar and missile guidance systems. The Type 054 is also powered by co-produced French-designed SEMT Pielstick marine diesel engines. As the first two Type 054 frigates were produced in different shipyards, when production resumes their number will increase quickly.

 
 
Warships: So far two of the new stealthy Type 054 frigates have been produced, but modern modular construction means that numbers will increase rapidly once production resumes. And this is expected to resume once the PLA takes delivery of new Russian vertical-launched SAMs, perhaps as early as next year. Photos: via Internet

A fourth stealthy warship emerged in April 2004: a new fast-attack craft (FAC). Now being produced at two or three shipyards, this new FAC utilizes a wave-piercing catamaran (twin) hull design, which improves stability at high speeds even in rough seas. It is based on a design obtained from the Australian fast-ferry firm AMD. It is very likely armed with about 8 C-802/803 anti-ship missiles. Its stealth characteristics come from its flat-sided shape and from radar-absorbing materials applied to the hull. While the PLAN has in the past built large numbers of missile-armed FACs for defensive missions, this new stealthy FAC could also be used in cooperation with larger ships and fighter-bombers to impose a blockade on Taiwan. Some sources estimate that the PLAN will build up to 30 of these new FACs. This ship also indicates the PLAN may be considering future larger fast-ferry based ships similar to experimental fast transport ships now being operated by the U.S. Army and Navy.

 
 
Warships: The PLA Navy is expected to produce at least 30 of a new stealthy wave-piercing catamaran design, that will be able to assist other PLA warships seeking to impose a blockade on Taiwan. Photo: via Internet

X. Growing Airborne And Amphibious Projection Forces

PLA Amphibious, Airborne and Special Forces strike capabilities alone may comprise over 80,000 troops. Their mission, of course, would be to secure access for hundreds of thousands of follow on forces in any amphibious operation. The PLA has taken to heart the hard-learned U.S. lesson of the Persian Gulf and the Balkans: airpower can only win wars or compel adversaries if backed by the use of or the credible threat of ground invasion. Expected improvements in sealift and airlift capabilities, along with the increasing mechanization of Airborne and Army and Marine amphibious units will increase the reach and effectiveness of these forces. By the end of the decade, PLA forces may be capable of capturing ports and airfields in neighboring states, from the sea, conceivably leading to a victorious campaign on land.

New shipbuilding and aircraft acquisition programs address PLA sealift and airlift deficiencies. The PLA Navy is now building two new types of LST/LSM medium tank and troop landing ships, a total of about 12 since 2002, added to 20 or so ships of the same class. These ships can carry an average of about 10 tanks and 250 troops. The PLA may now be considering building new 15,000 to 20,000 ton LDH class amphibious ships that will use new hovercraft tank and troop conveyers similar to the U.S. LCAC, and large helicopters, allowing assaults from greater distance and against more difficult shore terrain. In addition, the PLA has access to 200-300 smaller specialized landing ships and to a much larger number of civilian transport ships, including fast ferries and large RO-RO (roll on-roll off) cargo ships that can use captured ports. For example, China can mobilize over 150 "civilian" fast ferries that could carry 100 to 500 troops each.[32]

 
 
 
Power projection: Since 2002 the PLA Navy has nearly doubled its amphibious sealift capacity, and may be considering the construction of much larger LHD class amphibious transports. But in the nearterm most sea lift for the PLA will be accomplished by civilian ships like the RO-RO ship shown here. Photos: via Internet

To fully exploit their growing lift capacity the PLA is also introducing more specialized combat equipment into its Marine and Army amphibious units. The goal is to make these forces more powerful and mechanized in order to secure objectives and contribute to follow-on attacks. Both Marine and Army amphibious units have received hundreds of the new Type-63A amphibious tank, armed with a 105mm gun that fires new 5km range laser-guided missiles based on the Russian BASTION, which outranges the 105mm guns on Taiwan’s tanks. Both have also received the new Type-63C armored personnel carrier (APC) and Army units are receiving a new family derived from the larger Type-89 family. These new tanks and APCs can be launched from miles offshore to reduce LST vulnerability. Armor units will have better logistic support now that the PLA has devised new rolled mesh surfaces to lay on sand or coral beaches to better allow LSTs to land trucks.

 
 
 
Power Projection: Both Marine and Army amphibious units are receiving new T-63A amphibious tanks armed with 105mm laser-guided gun-launched missiles, and new T-63C amphibious armored personnel carriers. New amphibious beaching equipments allows trucks to land on many of the rough beaches found around Taiwan. Photos: via Internet and author

Airlift now comprises about 20 Russian Il-76 heavy jet transports which can carry 120 paratroops or a 47 ton payload and about 50 Y-8 transports which can carry 90 paratroops or about 20 tons of cargo. To this should be added about 220 Russian Mil-8/17 helicopters that can carry about 25 troops. The PLA is reportedly close to closing a deal for about 30 more Il-76 transports[33] and will soon be producing a better version of the Y-8. There have also been discussions with the Ukraine about acquiring or even co-producing its very large Antonov An-124 which can carry over 150 tons. However, once airfields are captured and secured the PLA can mobilize over 500 "civilian" Boeing and Airbus airliners to ferry troops and material.

 
 
Power Projection: The PLA is now in the process or more than doubling its Il-76 airlift, from 20 to 50 aircraft. Once airfields are secure the PLA can be expected to enlist hundreds of civilian airliners, like this Boeing 737 that is operated by China United Airlines. Photos: via Internet

The 15th Airborne Army has about three divisions of 35,000 troops[34] and there is some concern that the PLA is building a second airborne army. In the last year these units have started to receive a new family of 10-ton air-mobile armor vehicles after the failure of attempts to manufacture the Russian BMD vehicle. They will come in 30mm cannon armed infantry fighting vehicle, HJ-8 anti-tank missile vehicle, and command vehicle versions.[35] Airborne units are also receiving new Italian-designed IVECO light trucks, some of which are armed with HJ-9 anti-tank missiles and which give airborne troops added mobility. PLA Special Forces can also be expected to play a key role in a Taiwan invasion, from the assassination of key civilian and military figures and key personnel like pilots, to general sabotage and preparatory attacks for airborne and amphibious assaults. The PLA has invested heavily in expanding the size, training and specialized equipment for Special Forces.

 
 
 
Power Projection: PLA airborne units are becoming increasingly mechanized with the introduction of new family of air-mobile tanks, new Italian-designed airmobile trucks with anti-tank missiles, and PLA Special Forces are growing in size and sophistication. PLA Special Forces train as far away as Venezuela. Photos: via Internet and author


[1] FY04 Report to Congress on PRC Military Power, Pursuant to the FY2000 National Defense Authorization Act, Annual Report on the Military Power of the People’s Republic Of China, May 2004.

[2] Jason E. Bruzdzinski, "Remarks as presented before the U.S.-China Commission Session on Military Trends in the Cross-Strait Relationship," 6 February 2004.

[3] Interviews, Moscow Airshow 2003; Zhuhai Airshow 2002 and 2004.

[4] Interview, Zhuhai Airshow 2004.

[5] Bill Gertz, "China tests ballistic missile submarine," The Washington Times, December 3, 2004.

[6] "Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat," Department of Defense, 1998, cited in the Report of the Select Committee On U.S. National Security And Military/Commercial Concerns With The People’s Republic of China, Volume 1, Submitted by Mr. Cox of California, Chairman, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1999 (hereafter cited as the Cox Report), p. 187, Footnote 26, p. 256.

[7] These issues are explored by the author in "Developing US-Chinese Nuclear Naval Competition In Asia," International Assessment and Strategy Center, January 16, 2005.

[8] Cox Report, p. 185.

[9] FY04 Report to Congress on PRC Military Power, Pursuant to the FY2000 National Defense Authorization Act, Annual Report on the Military Power of the People’s Republic Of China, May 2004, p. 27.

[10] Ibid., p. 28.

[11] By comparison, the slightly smaller Russian SS-18 can carry 10 MIRV warheads. In the early 1990s China reportedly sought SS-18 technology from the Ukraine.

[12] Interview, Zhuhai Airshow, November 2002.

[13] Cox Report, Volume 1, p. 186.

[14] Aliya Samigullina, "Ukraine Armed Iran and China," Moscow Gazeta.ru, March 18, 2005.

[15] Douglas Barrie, "China Provides Cash for Israeli Cruise Missile," Flight International, May 17-23, 1995, p. 5.

[16] Interview, Zhuhai Airshow, November 2002.

[17] "Taiwan Minister Says PRC To Have 800 Missiles Aimed at Taiwan in 2006," Agence France Press, March 8, 2005.

[18] DF-3A and DF-21A numbers from Jane’s Strategic Weapon Systems.

[19] Interview, Zhuhai Airshow, November 1996.

[20] Russia's Rosoboroneksport Preparing 'Several Big-Ticket Contracts' With China," Interfax-AVN, December 24, 2006; "Beijing Preparing Major Arms Deal for Su-30MK2 Jet Fighters," The Moscow Times, December 28, 2004.

[21] See author, "Xian JH-7A Advances, News Airshow China 2004," Air Forces Monthly, January 2005, p. 21.

[22] See author, "New build H-6s, News, Airshow China 2004," op-cit.

[23] Ed Cody, "China Now Test Flying Homemade AWACS," The Washington Post, November 13, 2004, p. A19.

[24] Interfax-AVN, January 6, 2004; Russia's Rosoboroneksport Preparing 'Several Big-Ticket Contracts' With China," Interfax-AVN, December 24, 2006.

[25] For an excellent Soviet-perspective account of how mid and late series VICTOR SSNs were able to deal with U.S. SSNs and SSBNs during the 1980s, see Gary E. Weir and Walter J. Boyne, Rising Tide, The Untold Story of Russian Submarines That Fought The Cold War, New York: Basic Books, 2003, Chapter 8.

[26] Bill Gertz, "Chinese produce new type of sub," The Washington Times, July 16, 2004.

[27] Interview, IDEX, Abu Dhabi, February 2005.

[28] Brochure, China Shipbuilding Trading Co., obtained at IDEX, February 2005.

[29] "Russian yard launches latest destroyer for China," Jane’s Defence Weekly, May 12, 2004.

[30] Interview, IDEX, Abu Dhabi, February 2005.

[31] Interview, IDEX, Abu Dhabi, February 2005.

[32] Number derived from Stephen J. Phillips, editor, Jane’s High Speed Marine Transportation 2003-2004, Coulsdon: Janes Information Group Ltd., 2003.

[33] Interfax-AVN, January 6, 2004; Russia's Rosoboroneksport Preparing 'Several Big-Ticket Contracts' With China," Interfax-AVN, December 24, 2006.

[34] Military Balance 2004-2005.

[35] Interview, IDEX, Abu Dhabi, February 2005.

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