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Two Cheers For the 2007 PLA Report

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by Richard Fisher, Jr.
Published on June 20th, 2007

Again on May 25th, as mandated by the Congress since 1997, the Department of Defense issued its annual report on China’s military power. This report is now one of the most important annual statements by any U.S. agency, as for a global audience it has become perhaps the most dispassionate and reliable description of China’s strategic intentions and military capabilities. The PRC abhors military transparency—as has every Chinese government since Sun Zi stressed the central need to conceal and deceive two and a half millennia ago. This report therefore helps define the military component of China’s "rise" to a degree that China’s leaders are wholly unwilling to do themselves.

This year Secretary of Defense Robert Gates set the report’s tone in a May 24 press conference by noting there would be no "arm waving," presumably his words for "exaggeration." But that did not deter Chinese government spokesmen and state controlled media from portraying this U.S. exercise in transparency as an insult to the Chinese nation.

As with previous reports, the 2007 edition offers useful nuggets of new information. These include new information regarding China’s "preemptive" military strategies, new questions about China’s "no first use" nuclear weapons policy, and the linkage between the conquest of Taiwan and China’s more distant military ambitions.

But for reasons unknown the report fails to examine sufficiently several new Chinese military challenges. These include the national missile defense implications of China’s January 11 anti-satellite demonstration, the potential for China’s missiles to be armed with multiple warheads, discussion of China’s proliferation of nuclear technology, its construction of large amphibious assault ships and the full dimensions of China’s rapidly increasing potential military threat to its neighbors.

Chinese Attempts to Shape Foreign Perceptions

An addition to the 2007 PLA Report is a text box which asks "Is China Developing A Preemptive Strategy?" (p. 12). The text box poses this question in light of the PLA acquisition 900 short range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) and new strike aircraft with new precision guided munitions (PGMs), plus PLA authors describing "preemption as necessary and logical." It concludes, "China’s acquisition of power projection assets, including long-distance military communication systems, airborne command, control and communications aircraft, long-endurance submarines, unmanned combat aerial vehicles, and additional air-to-ground precision guided missiles indicate that the PLA is generating a greater capacity for military preemption." (p.12)

This larger question is juxtaposed by a discussion of China’s primary operational strategy guideline, that of "Active Defense," which stipulates that "China does not initiate wars or fight wars of aggression." (p.12) Indeed, on June 2 at the prestigious Shangri-La Conference in Singapore hosted by International Institute for Strategic Studies, the PLA Second Department Director, or intelligence chief Lt. General Zhang Qingsheng sought to assure by giving a standard statement of China’s defensive policy: "Strategically we adhere to defence, self-defence and would win by striking only after the enemy has struck. China shall never fire the first shot. Such an approach is consistent with the ancient Chinese thought to use caution before getting into a war - use force only for a just cause, put people first, and cherish life."[1]

Lt. General Zhang Qinsheng: Seen at the recent Shangri-La Conference, the rise of his office as a PLA spokesmen may be grounded in Second Department’s primary counter-intelligence function. Credit: ChinaDaily

However, this is not what PLA officers are taught. The PLA Report notes that the PLA National Defense University textbook The Science of Campaigns (Zhanyixue) says, "the essense of [active defense] is to take the initiative and to annaliate the enemy…" (emph. added by DoD, p.12-13). Such textbooks are important as they appear to be most important formulation of China’s military doctrine available to foreigners, as actual doctrinal documents are kept strictly secret. Another PLA NDU textbook, The Science of Military Strategy notes, "Under high-tech conditions, for the defensive side, the strategy of gaining mastery by striking only after the enemy has struck does not not mean waiting for the enemy’s strike passively."[2] It then fundamentally transforms the definition of "first shot" by stating that if "…hostile forces such as religious extremists, national separatists, and international terrorists challenged a country’s sovereignty, it could be considered as ‘firing the first shot’ on the plane of politics and strategy."[3] This, it would appear, provides an on-going justification for a preemptive war—whether in order to hold on to such militarily occupied territories as Tibet and East Turkestan (Xinjiang)—it is striking that "religious extremists" are the first threat mentioned—as well as against the more commonly anathematized "separatists" in Taiwan.

So why would Lt. General Zhang want the world to believe differently? His job and its rise as a "spokesman" for the PLA offer some indication. The Second Department of the General Staff Department, or "Er Bu," was born with its current primary mission: defend the Communist Party of China. This means that job No. 1 has been and remains counter-intelligence, while gaining foreign intelligence has become a very important mission. The degree to which Zhang’s spokesman responsibilities are stressed may indicate that for China, a key mission for the "Er Bu" has become shaping foreign perceptions of the PLA.

Hence the complexities of language, which expand "active defense" to mean for PLA officers, a justification for "preemptive stikes." Although some will be reassured by the responsible sounding statements that are then so carefully turned around, others will wonder what the significance is for future Chinese behavior of , for example, General Zhang’s comment at Shangri-La: "We always put national sovereignty and territory integrity first, but do not seek absolute military dominance."[4]

Old and New Weaknesses in the Pentagon’s PLA Report

However, the 2007 PLA Report is also lacking in several respects. The following issues, some new and some old, deserved mention in the 2007 report:

Old Weakness #1: No Mention of China’s Record of Nuclear and Missile Proliferation

Sadly, the 2007 PLA Report only makes two slight mentions of "proliferation" (pgs. 2,9) whereas the 2006 report made seven. Indeed, none of the PLA reports since 1998 have attempted to describe the dangers China has set in motion by its proliferation of nuclear and missile technologies to Pakistan and Iran. These dangers have not diminished with time, but have arguably become more pressing, as the nuclear weapon and missile knowledge given by China to Pakistan and Iran, in turn becomes subject to secondary proliferation to other state or terrorist entities.[5] In the 1980s China sold Pakistan’s A.Q. Khan a nuclear weapon design. A.Q. Khan then sold that Chinese nuclear weapon design to Libya and is known to have sold nuclear technology to Iran. A recent report notes that U.S. intelligence officials suspect A.Q. Khan may have also sold a Chinese small nuclear warhead design to North Korea.[6]

A.Q. Khan and Former CCP Politburo Member Li Peng: Did Li back then, or his successors now, care about how they enabled A.Q. Khan’s secondary proliferation of China’s nuclear weapons technology? Credit: Discovery Channel

In July 2006 the world witnessed how Iran’s proliferation of Chinese C-802 anti-ship missiles to Hezbollah in Lebanon nearly caused the destruction of a modern, stealthy Israeli corvette. In 2001 A.Q. Khan cooperated with Ukrainian sources to deliver Russian Kh-55 long range land attack cruise missiles to China, Pakistan and Iran. China’s and Pakistan’s versions of this LACM are operational; might Iran’s also soon be ready? Should Iran come to perfect the ability to make small nuclear warheads, might it give nuclear armed short range ballistic missiles or even cruise missiles to Hezbollah? In addition to posing a grave threat to Israel, such nuclear armed missiles might be placed on cargo ship to attack American or European cities. Despite, or perhaps because of all this, China still refuses to participate in the U.S. led Proliferation Security Initiative which is in part designed to prevent terrorists from obtaining nuclear and missile technologies of the type already proliferated by China.

One reason for American reluctance to discuss Chinese proliferation of both conventional and nuclear weapons technology may be that Beijing has achieved leverage over Washington by helping with the Six Party Talks over North Korea, and assuring Americans of their cooperation against terrorism. This Chinese assistance has so far little to show: North Korea has actually tested nuclear weapons since the talks began—and as for terrorism, the Chinese focus seems to be far more on restive people, such as the Uighurs than with the Taliban or Bin Laden. Indeed Chinese HN-5 shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles are somehow arming the Taliban. Recent reports indicate that U.S. intelligence officials believe China is supplying these arms as deliberate policy.[7] Secretary Gates, however, has so far only noted that these weapons may have arrived via Iran or criminal networks.[8]

Old Weakness #2: No Mention of China’s Multiple Nuclear Warhead Potential

The 2007 PLA Report does well to question elements of China’s declared nuclear weapons policy, but as with previous reports, does not sufficiently explain how China may be gathering new nuclear strike capabilities and options which are vastly improved from just a few years ago. The Pentagon reviews China’s new formulation of its nuclear weapons policies stated in its December 2006 White Paper, which states that China’s nuclear forces "deter other countries from using or threatening to use nuclear weapons against China," and that China "upholds the principles of counterattack in self-defense and limited development of nuclear weapons." (p. 19) But then the Pentagon goes on to cast doubt on China’s "no first use" of nuclear weapons policy, noting that Chinese military and civilian academics have debated whether "no first use" supports Chinese goals. The Pentagon then concludes, "…coupled with the debates themselves, the introduction of more capable and survivable nuclear systems in greater numbers suggests Beijing may be exploring the implications of China’s evolving force structure, and the new options that force structure may provide." (p. 20)

This is all useful, but it is not accompanied by an adequate discussion of China’s actual nuclear force buildup. The 2002 PLA Report provided the first mention that China would replace all of its "20" DF-5 Mod 1 (CSS-4 Mod 1) ICBMs with the improved DF-5 Mod 2, and that China’s effort to counter U.S. missile defenses would include "perhaps development of a multiple warhead system for an ICBM, most likely for the CSS-4." (2002, p. 28) No further mention has been made of the multiple reentry vehicle (MRV) potential of the DF-5 Mod 2 since the 2002 report. China has demonstrated its potential to put multiple warheads on this missile since its civilian "Long March" version demonstrated the simultaneous launch of two U.S.-made Iridium communication satellites. Recently an Asian military source disclosed that the DF-5 Mod 2 may actually carry eight warheads. If that is true then in 2007 the Chinese nuclear strike capability against the U.S. is not merely twenty warheads, as asserted in the past, but as many as 160. This possibility should certainly have been addressed.

New Large TEL: Internet source pictures of what may be a new transporter-erector-launcher for the expected DF-31A or perhaps a new Chinese missile. Credit: Chinese Internet

In a number that has not been repeated since, the 2003 PLA Report estimated that PLA ICBMs may increase to "60" by 2010. (2003, p. 31) This is logical given the assumption of unit sizes of "20" for two new ICBMs that the 2007 PLA Report notes, the 7,250+km range DF-31 that may now be operational, and that the 11,270+km range DF-31A that may achieve initial operational capability later in 2007.

But consideration must also be given to the number of new submarine launched ballistic missiles. In a pre-report May 24 article, the Financial Times noted that "According to the 2007 Pentagon China military power report," that the PLA would build up to five Jin Class or Type 094 nuclear ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs).[9] Unfortunately this estimate did not make into the version of the report released on May 25, but had been disclosed by the U.S. Navy Office of Naval Intelligence to Seapower magazine in late 2006.[10] Curiously, a February 2007 Hong Kong report notes that China will eventually build six Type 094s.[11] This would mean the difference between 60 and 72 JL-2 SLBMs, as the Type 094 can carry 12 missiles.

May be the 094: This Chinese Internet source picture from mid 2006 may be the only public photo of the new Type 094 SSBN. Credit: Chinese Internet

This puts the potential PLA nuclear missile force at 120 to 132. However, absent Chinese statements which can be verified, there is no way to determine China’s missile buildup plans. But then one must consider the potential for MRVs to arm the DF-31A ICBM and the JL-2 SLBM. Some Asian military sources have noted to the author that these missiles are very similar, but no Chinese military sources have provided confirmation. The previously mentioned Hong Kong report indicates the JL-2 may carry up to eight warheads while other Asian military sources have noted it may carry up to four warheads. An Asian military source has noted the DF-31A may carry 3 to 4 warheads. Again, it would be useful to U.S. leaders and policy makers to know the real score. If one assumes 20 DF-5 x 8 + 20 DF-31 x 1 + 20 DF 31A x 4 + 60 JL-2 x 4, that adds up to 500 warheads.

Five hundred nuclear warheads deliverable by intercontinental missiles, however, are something more than the "limited development of nuclear weapons."[12] But need for U.S. disclosure or dismissal this possibility gains even greater importance when considering New Weakness #1.

New Weakness #1: Failure to Assess Anti-Missile Implications of the January ASAT Demonstration

The 2007 PLA Report notes "…China is also developing other technologies and concepts for kinetic (hit-to-kill) weapons and directed-energy (e.g., lasers and radio frequency) weapons for ASAT missions. Citing the requirements of its manned and lunar space programs, China is improving its ability to track and identify satellites-a prerequisite for effective, precise physical attacks."

But the Pentagon did not take the next logical step in its analysis, which would be to ask whether or not China’s development of its mobile hit-to-kill SC-1 anti-satellite (ASAT) missile also demonstrated China’s potential to develop and deploy a mobile anti-ballistic missile (ABM) defense system. The physical parameters of the January ASAT demonstration were consistent with those needed for an ABM system. The Chinese weather satellite destroyed on January 11 this year was traveling on a Southward polar leg, as would an attacking U.S. ICBM warhead, but at a speed of about 7.5km/second, it was moving slightly faster than the average 7km/second speed of an ICBM warhead. In addition, the SC-1 used a terminal guidance system, consisting of radar, infrared or a combination, that would also be employed by an ABM interceptor. Furthermore, as the Pentagon noted, China has developed a powerful phased array radar to track the re-entry of its Shenzhou manned space capsules. But this radar has been designed to be mobile, and likely can be made smaller. Combining this mobile radar with the already mobile SC-1 ASAT goes a long way to enabling China to build a mobile ABM system—which is in contrast to the U.S. decision to build a "fixed" missile defense system on the Continental United States.

Potential ASAT and ABM Family: Inasmuch as the KT-1 solid fuel SLV forms the basis for the SC-1 ASAT, the KT-2 and KT-2A mobile SLVs could form the basis for higher altitude capable ASATs. This potential ASAT family may also contribute to future Chinese ABMs. Credit: RD Fisher

China’s penchant for denial and deception also points to the possibility that its development of ASATs and ABMs are combined. Since the 1980s China has campaigned for a treaty to abolish weapons in space, even as it was developing the SC-1 and laser ASATs. At the same time, China was campaigning against U.S. national and theater missile defenses. However, some analysts have noted that China has for some time made a distinction between opposing missile defense research, which it apparently does not, and deployment of U.S. systems, which it does oppose.[13] Furthermore, China has once already combined ABM and ASAT programs. In 1963 Mao Tse Tung ordered the creation of what became known as the 640 Project, or China’s first attempt to build an ambitious strategic defense system. China actually test fired the FJ-1 (Fan Ji-1, Counter-Attack 1) missile in 1979, which was similar in shape and size to the early U.S. ABM interceptor called Sprint. Though it was cancelled in 1980, another element of the 640 Project was the development of early Chinese long-range radar, and it contained a subsidiary anti-satellite interceptor program.[14] So the chances are fairly good that China’s current ASAT missile interceptor program is part of an equal size or larger ABM program.

First ABM: FJ-1 ABM in 1979. Is there a new Chinese ABM program? Credit: Chinese Internet

China’s development of low earth orbit and high orbit ASATs is intended to degrade U.S. surveillance, missile warning and navigation satellites, all of which would degrade the U.S. nuclear deterrent capability. For China to be developing a mobile ABM system on top of an ASAT capability would only further degrade the U.S. nuclear deterrent. Add to this the prospect, as noted in Old Weakness #2, that China could soon deploy multiple warheads on its new ICBMs and SLBMs, and it becomes clear that the U.S. could soon be facing a far different Chinese nuclear capability than the traditionally-assumed "minimal" nuclear force intended for deterrence/retaliation.

SLC-4 Phased Array Radar: A version of this space program radar could support a potential mobile ABM system. Credit: Chinese Internet

If China’s ASAT program is linked to an ABM program then it is critical that U.S. policymakers and U.S. allies know of this potential. Starting in 2001 the Bush Administration began to convey to China that, "…the U.S. missile defense program does not threaten China but seeks to counter limited missile threats from rogue states and the danger of accidental or unauthorized launches."[15]  In a 2002 agreement with Russia, the United States agreed to reduce its about 7,000 deployed nuclear warheads down to 1,700 to 2,200. The U.S. has also cut its ICBM force from 1,000 in the 1980s to a force of 500 Minuteman ICBMs, but also reducing their warheads from three to one.[16] In 2002 the U.S. apparently decided that 1,700 to 2,200 warheads would be enough to deter other countries, like China, from considering a "sprint to parity" with the United States.[17] While a potential PLA force of five hundred defended warheads is over two-thirds less than 1,700, it does blatantly challenge U.S. deterrent requirements. Can the U.S. sufficiently deter Russia, emerging nuclear armed rogue states like North Korea and Iran, plus a new Chinese nuclear force consisting of multiple warhead missiles, missile defenses and anti-satellite weapons? Given the deepening Russia-China military relationships, which now appears to include regular large scale military exercises, should the U.S. be reviewing its recent decisions to reduce nuclear warhead and missile inventories? Also, U.S. allies like Japan, South Korea, Australia and Taiwan, which have all foresworn nuclear weapons and chosen to depend instead on U.S. promises of an "extended nuclear deterrent," need fair warning if China’s build up of offensive and defensive strategic weapons could in any way render the U.S. nuclear deterrent insufficient for their defense.

New Weakness #2: No Mention of China’s New Large Amphibious Ships

Just before Christmas 2006 one could watch on numerous Chinese web pages the launch in Shanghai of the PLA Navy’s largest combat ship, its first Type 071 LPD amphibious assault ship. However, this ship and its importance are not mentioned in the 2007 PLA Report. Asian sources estimate this ship can displace a maximum of about 20,000 tons and can carry up to 800 troops and perhaps as many as 50 tanks and other fighting vehicles. It can also carry up to six medium size helicopters can its well deck can accommodate a yet-to-be revealed Chinese hovercraft that will be similar in size to the U.S. Navy/Marine LCAC. In addition the PLA has developed a new family of amphibious assault vehicles that use water-jet propulsion to achieve high speeds like the troubled U.S. Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV). But one version of the PLA vehicle carries a 100mm cannon while the U.S. EFV is so far only slated for a 30mm cannon. Both the PLA "EFV" and "LCAC" indicate the PLA intends to use the Type 071 to support "beyond the horizon" assault operations that allow the attacker to employ greater surprise. This has also been a tactical goal for U.S. Navy/Marine forces.

Type 071 LPD: First launched in December 2006, some sources estimate 6 will be built. Credit: Chinese Internet

Two other points make this new ship relevant to U.S. defense planning. First, according to some reports, the PLA intends to build up to six Type 071 LPDs.[18] That alone would constitute the largest long-range amphibious projection potential in Asia. But there is more. On May 15 at the Singapore IMDEX naval technology show a Chinese source confirmed to the author the existence of a program for the Type 081 LHD helicopter carrying amphibious assault ship. China has yet to build this ship, but Asian previous reports indicate that the PLA may build up to three Type 081s which may also displace about 20,000 tons. With a flat deck the Type 081 will likely carry many more helicopters than the 071, which could include the PLA’s new Z-10 armored attack helicopter. So by the end of the next decade the PLA Navy may have the ability to deploy an amphibious projection force escorted by aircraft carriers and modern nuclear submarines.

Should the PLA actually build this projected nine-ship amphibious assault force, then the PLA for short range missions, against Taiwan or other neighbors, might be to lift 7,200 troops with just these ships. But for longer range missions, and should the PLA build more underway support ships, it is conceivable a force of nine such ships might be able to lift a force of 4,000 troops plus armor and supplies.

Only the U.S. has bothered to sustain such an "expeditionary" power projection capability since World War Two. China would be the only other country to build such a capability in the current period. One must ask "for what purpose"—but the report does not even mention the capability

New Weakness #3: Not Spelling Out All Threats To Taiwan and Other Regional States

To its credit the annual Pentagon PLA Report has devoted a chapter to the PLA’s growing threats to Taiwan, although Taiwan is by no means the only state China threatens: Japan, both Koreas, and others are also plausible potential targets, along with nearly every state around China’s perimeter. But Taiwan is an indicator.

Each year the assessment of Taiwan’s situation—and by extension, that of other neighbors of China--becomes more grim. Recent years have seen deserved criticism of Taiwan’s inability to come to an adequate consensus on defense modernization, causing delays in key arms purchases. The 2007 report repeats a section started in 2006, which spell out the military, political and economic cost to China should it attack Taiwan, including "a long term hostile relationship" with the United States. (p.33) This year also contains an assessment of China’s "red lines" Taiwan must not cross or risk military action, which the Pentagon notes are deliberately ambiguous, "allowing Beijing the flexibility to determine the nature, timing and form of its response." (p.32)

While the Pentagon may have justifiable reasons for withholding some new data, it must also be considered that adequate warning and greater publicity may also spur a stronger defensive response by Taiwan or promote a sharper U.S. response Taiwan’s defensive needs—all of which may deter war and the necessity to commit American military forces. These three points deserve mention:

1. Precision Missile/Munitions Numbers May Grow Much Faster

While the Pentagon is willing to say that about 900 short range ballistic missiles target Taiwan, (p. 17) and that this number has increased by 100 or more a year, the PLA Report does not mention the possibility that this number could grow much faster, by several hundreds a year for missiles alone, or by thousands if one includes new precision guided bombs.

The PLA’s DF-15 and DF-11 Mod 1, both 600km short range ballistic missiles (SRBMs), now come with a variety of warheads. The DF-15C features a deep-penetration warhead to target Taiwan’s underground command posts and airbases—upon which Taiwan depends on greatly to withstand the initial PLA attack. The DF-15 and likely the DF-11, also feature a new High Power Microwave (HPM) warhead, first noted deployed by Taiwan officials in 2005.[19] Non-nuclear HPM weapons release a pulse of energy similar to that released by a nuclear explosion, though without using fissile materials, but are able to damage a range of electronic infrastructure.

DF-15C: Asian sources identify this as the DF-15C, a new version of the DF-15 armed with a deep penetrating warhead to target underground facilities. Source: Chinese Internet

In addition to SRBMs, we must now add Land Attack Cruise Missiles (LACMs) and new long range artillery rockets that may be transformed into SRBMs. Taiwanese sources indicate that about 100 new land-based LACMs are now deployed targeting Taiwan. LACMs are said to cost about one-third that of a $1 million or so DF-15 SRBM. To these will soon be added air-launched LACMs equipping the new H-6K bomber now in production. An Asian source estimates the H-6K may see a production run of 50, with at least 6-10 LACMs per bomber, indicates a potential for a 300 to 500 air-launched LACM barrage.

Should the PLA begin producing new long-range versions of its even cheaper artillery rockets, then the number of ground-launched missiles could grow faster. In 2004 the PLA introduced the WS-2, which had been developed from the WS-1 artillery rocket into a 200km range SRBM. Chinese sources indicate the WS-2 family may be developed into 300km and 400km range SRBMs as well, to include a possible version with a passive signal seeker, which may enable the targeting of radar and ships.

The H-6K as well as tactical aircraft like the JH-7A, J-8II, J-10 and Q-5 may soon be equipped with up to two families of new laser-guided and navigation-satellite guided Precision Guided Munitions. Similar to the U.S. Paveway and JDAM series of PGMs, China, with some Russian and Ukrainian help, had succeeded in developing laser and navsat guided PGMs. China could produce these in the tens of thousands, allowing the PLA Air Force to eclipse the missile forces as the deliverers of PGMs.

2. Air Defense At Greater Risk

A surprise strike by hundreds of missiles and then thousands of precision guided bombs would almost instantly devastate all fixed Taiwanese air, missile, naval and ground force defenses. HPM warheads and computer network attacks would wreck havoc with military and civilian electronic infrastructure and strike fighters with PGMs could leisurely target command posts, hardened shelters and fuel and supply depots. But the most important early targets for the PLA would be Taiwan’s missile and aircraft air defenses. If caught by surprise a large percentage of Taiwan’s 400 or so F-16, IDF, Mirage-2000 and F-5E/F fighters could be destroyed on tarmacs or in their many first generation hardened shelters.

But then smaller numbers of surviving fighter jets would bear the burden of fending off larger numbers of PLA Air Force 4th generation fighters like the Su-27, Su-30, J-11B and J-10, or 3rd generation fighters like the J-8F/H, which all can be armed with deadly self-guided medium range air-to-air missiles like the Russian R-77 or the new Chinese PL-12. The chart below shows that the PLA is deploying or developing up to nine aircraft that may carry advanced self-guided air-to-air missiles and nine which can carry Chinese or Russian precision guided munitions. Unfettered by Taiwanese air defenses, these fighters and bombers would then be free to conduct precision attacks against remaining Taiwanese defenses.


Those Taiwanese aircraft that could get into the air would also have to face a deadly phalanx Russian S-300 series surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) which the PLA Report has noted with some concern in the last few issues. (2007, p.31) An Asian source now notes that the PLA may developing a new 400km range SAM, which would clearly threaten Taiwan’s few AWACs airborne radar aircraft. This makes sense inasmuch as Russia has developed a 400km SAM. Both Russia and China may be working on very long range air launched AAMs that would further threaten AWACs and other support aircraft critical to U.S. airpower. Taiwan will require more and better fighter aircraft, as well as more effective SAMs and air defenses which can defend against PGMs. Taiwan now has a critical requirement to be able to take out PLA SAM sites in Fujian Province if its air force is to survive. Washington, however, regularly refuses Taiwanese requests for the navigation satellite guided JDAM bomb and the HARM missile needed for this task. Should its air defenses collapse quickly then Taiwan will be made open for amphibious and airborne assault.

S-300PMU2: China is purchasing hundreds of this advanced Russian SAM which can reach Taiwan proper. China may be developing a 400km SAM which may also form the basis for a long-range air-launched anti-aircraft missile. Credit: RD Fisher

3. Rapidly Growing Invasion Potential

The 2007 PLA Report’s description of the PLA’s amphibious lift potential of "some 50 medium and heavy amphibious lift ships" (p. 40) does not do justice to the PLA’s gathering ability to move forces to Taiwan. Below is an estimate that draws from open sources regarding the range of current and future large, medium and small PLA amphibious lift ships. One Asian source has noted that the PLA Navy has built about 150 of the new small Yubei class LCU, which began construction just in 2003. When the PLA builds an estimated six Type 071 LPDs, and should the PLA purchase Russian Zubr assault hovercraft, it is possible to estimate that in formal PLA lift alone, the PLA will be able to put about 1,400 tanks on Taiwan. This means that the PLA can lift the estimated 2,700 tanks in the Taiwan area (p. 36) in about two waves. Taiwan only has 1,800 tanks that it must position to defend all of the island, and they will be a primary target for accurate PLA missiles and aircraft-carried PGMs. The Pentagon has also noted that the PLA is organizing civil ships to support amphibious operations (2006, p.30) and the Taiwan Ministry of Defense estimates the PLA has 1,300 ships subsumed and registered with militia organizations to support combat operations.[20]


The PLA’s rapidly growing missile and air force superiority against Taiwan, combined with a rapidly growing invasion potential, should give the Pentagon cause for estimating the PLA’s "Green Lines," or a level of combined force that will create an advantage sufficient for the PLA to recommend to China’s leaders they have a choice to attack Taiwan and win. This is necessary because both Americans and Taiwanese require the warning needed to anticipate, rather than fall victim to Chinese aggression. It is also time for the Pentagon to begin to offer estimates of the human toll of a PLA invasion and conquest of Taiwan, which will likely be accompanied by PLA attacks against U.S. forces in Japan, Guam and perhaps Hawaii.

More broadly, other Asian states—even Japan—share similar vulnerabilities.

Conclusion: China is Spurring an Arms Race in Asia

In 1997 Congress mandated an annual report by the Department of Defense on China’s military modernization, in part out of frustration with the Clinton Administration’s unwillingness to respond to China’s developing military power. Since then the DoD reports have, following a rigorous process of inter-agency vetting, struck a balance between concern about intentions and new capabilities, contrasted with weaknesses demonstrated by China’s military. As a consequence, none of these reports can be said to have been guilty of "arm waving" or exaggeration and they have never risen to the level of detail of the old "Soviet Military Power" series. Only the 2002 issue featured a few photographs of Chinese weapons, and the U.S. has not taken the additional step of translating this report into multiple languages, such as Chinese or Russian, which would better enable their respective populations to consider the enormity and consequences of China’s military expansion.

While some Asians are calling for the end of the annual PLA Report,[21] reporting from the recent Shangri-La Conference in Singapore actually points to its continued need. Regarding the PLA’s budget Lt. General Zhang said, "the increased proportion of the budget is mostly used to make up the retail price, improve welfare of the military personnel, and for better logistical support."[22] This is a apparently a reference to China officially announced 17.8 percent military spending increase for 2007. But the Associated Press reported, "Zhang said almost half of the US$44.9 billion (HK$350.2 billion) budget will be used to raise soldiers' salaries and pensions, while some will be used to buy new uniforms. The rest is for more military schools."[23] After a decade of PLA Reports, it is possible to view the accumulating results of Beijing’s accelerating military expenditures, and conclude that its rising military spending is not entirely for the purpose of increasing soldier salaries. An incomplete list of the PLA’s current large scale weapons programs would include the following:

Space Warfare: Missile and laser-based space weapons.
Space Information Architecture: Surveillance, navigation, com and ELINT satellites.
Anti Ballistic Missile Defenses: ASAT demonstration proves China’s ABM potential.
Manned Moon Presence: Astonishing as it may seem, China is reportedly planning this--to secure China’s potential military and economic interests.
Nuclear Missiles: Three types of new solid fuel ICBMs/SLBMs in or near deployment.
Energy Weapons: High Power Microwave weapons now deployed, lasers to follow?
5th Generation Combat Jets: Two, possibly three 5th generation programs under way.
Unmanned Combat and Surveillance Jets: Three air companies have active programs.
Nuclear Submarines: Now building new nuclear attack and ballistic missile subs.
Aircraft Carriers: China no longer denies this ambition.
Anti-Ship Ballistic Missiles: Only China is building this revolutionary weapon.
Large Amphibious Assault Ships: Building 20,000 ton LPDs and developing a LHD.
Large 60 ton Capacity Airlifters: Both AVIC-1 and AVIC-2 have proposals.
Airmobile Army Forces: developing new family of airmobile wheeled combat vehicles.

In 2007 China is the only country that is pursuing all of these expensive military construction and development programs. Each program requires an extensive research, development and production base plus generations of engineers to develop follow-on system. In many cases the U.S. and Russia developed these capabilities only after several decades of effort, while China is most cases is able to compress its development-production cycle into two decades, thanks to access to foreign technologies. Each of these programs also represents an aspiration to global, not just regional military power. While a permanent Chinese manned moon presence may not happen until 2020 to 2030, most of these PLA programs are either being realized now, or could be by the end of the next decade.

By comparison, Russia cannot afford a manned moon program, does not intend to build large amphibious projection ships, and energy prices spikes have only started to fund a new military modernization effort, to include a revival of SSBN and SSN production. The United States, by choice, has no active space weapons program. Furthermore, the U.S. is modernizing only one solid fuel ICBM, which will only be armed with one warhead, and is not building any nuclear ballistic missile submarines. The U.S. wheeled combat vehicle program does not include the variety of types under development by China. Neither the U.S. nor Russia have anti-ship ballistic missiles, or the potential to sell them to rouge states.

But the aspects of China’s military buildup which can be identified in 2007 may only constitute the beginning of a military competition that could severely challenge Asia and the United States sooner rather than later. When realized the PLA programs listed above may only allow China to approach an American level of military capability circa 2007 to 2010. But China is accumulating this similar spread of capabilities, with depth in some areas, at a breakneck pace. Chinese, U.S. and other universities have trained a new generation of Chinese military engineers, many of whom are responsible for current military-technical breakthroughs for China, and have long careers ahead of them. American policy makers should consider that increasingly, it may be China which first develops the next generation weapon system, not the U.S. or Russia.

Given the enormity of China’s military buildup and the fact that it will only continue to accelerate, it is perhaps necessary to even question General Zhang’s statement "we will not seek absolute dominance." To conquer Taiwan the PLA is also going to have to defeat U.S. military forces in Asia. Even if it can do so with cunning and preemptive tactics in a "limited" confrontation, it will then be stressed to achieve a level of regional military superiority that will cause Japan and others to end their strategic dependence on the United States. For this the PLA will require the means to defeat the U.S. in terms of information systems, nuclear weapons and long-range non-nuclear strike systems. Ultimately such a competition will be global and could extend to the Moon or beyond.

So without "arm waving" it is at a minimum possible to conclude that China, which has no identifiable enemies, is nevertheless developing a military capability that—inevitably—will elicit matching responses from Asian powers and perhaps from the United States too. In other words, Beijing has started an arms race. These races rarely have winners, but they inevitably waste vast resources and, by creating distrust, render difficult the sort of diplomacy required to avoid war.

It may also be the case that PLA’s period of simple "superiority" on the Taiwan Strait will be short-lived, as it will move into a position of "overwhelming" rather soon.

But by the same token, by moving so rapidly and so obviously toward attempted military dominance in Asia, China may well spur other states to balance her. Japan and South Korea both depend, ultimately, upon the United States for their defense. Under the emerging conditions, however, it is quite conceivable that Chinese nuclear threats to the United States might keep Washington from fulfilling its promises, or that Chinese power would be sufficient to intercept or cripple American attempts to assist. Therefore both countries—and others in Asia—will likely seek to develop their own insurance policies in the form of indigenous high technology weapons and deterrent capabilities.

The United States traditionally has sought to prevent its allies from acquiring such capabilities, believing that in a wartime situation, things would be better and more effectively managed if only Washington were making decisions, and only the United States capable of devastating counter-strikes.

Now, however, Chinese pressure is likely to force other regional states to develop military capabilities independent of the United States—rather as India has done, explicitly in response to China. The problem will be that the countries moving now will not be non-aligned, like India, but rather U.S. allies. How, one may ask, will the United States respond when its allies began acquiring new and advanced military capabilities, beyond Washington’s control?

It is fair to say that when the United States moved decisively to align with China in the 1970s, few dreamed that in a few decades China would emerge as so strong and determined a military challenge. Documents of the era make clear the underlying assumption that China desperately need American military support to counter the ostensible threat from the then USSR. And although it was widely expected that these actions would force Taiwan to come to terms with China, no sense existed of the peril in which Japan, Korea, Southeast Asia—and China’s neighbors on land—might face. Had this year’s PLA report been released in 1987, it is difficult to imagine anyone taking it seriously. It would have been dismissed as alarmist fantasy.

As we have seen, however, if anything the report under states the gravity of the danger. Obviously it is important that we move responsibly to prevent conflict in Asia by seeing to it that Chinese capabilities are balanced, negated, or deterred. Doing so will require the abandonment of lots of comforting old verities, the facing of unpleasant new facts, and the taking of difficult and sometimes unpopular decisions. One sure requirement, however, is a far improved annual PLA military power report.

[1] THE 6th IISS ASIAN SECURITY SUMMIT SHANGRI-LA DIALOGUE, Singapore, Saturday 2 June 2007, "INDIA AND CHINA: BUILDING INTERNATIONAL STABILITY," Lt Gen Zhang Qinsheng, Deputy Chief of the General Staff, People's Republic of China,

[2] Peng Guangqian and Yao Youzhi, eds., The Science of Military Strategy (English First Edition), Beijing: Military Science Publishing House, 2005, p. 426.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Zhang, op-cit.

[5] For an eloquent explanation of how China and Russia have contributed to these dangers see Gordon Chang, “How China and Russia Threaten the World,” Commentary, June 2007, pgs. 24-29.

[6] Bill Gertz, "North Korea Watch, Inside The Ring," The Washington Time, June 15, 2007.

[7] Bill Gertz, "China arming terrorists, Inside The Ring," The Washington Times, June 15, 2007.

[8] Philip Smucker, "Taliban uses weapons made in China, Iran," The Washington Times, June 5, 2007, p. A1.

[9] Demitri Sevastopulo and Mure Dickie, "Chinese build five nuclear subs," Financial Times, May 24, 2007.

[10] Bill Gertz, "China expands sub fleet," The Washington Times, March 2, 2007.

[11] Kuang Chiao Ching No. 430, February 16, 2007-March 17, 2007, p. 80.

[12] Concern about a rapid Chinese buildup of nuclear missile warheads is also noted by Mark Helprin, "The Nuclear Threat From China," Washington Post Outlook, March 4, 2007, p. B07.

[13] For an analysis of the evolution of Chinese stated and less stated attitudes toward missile defenses, see Brad Roberts, "China and Ballistic Missile Defense: 1995 to 2002 and Beyond," Institute for Defense Analysis IDA Paper P-3826, September 2003. Roberts cites early information an analysis on China’s 640 Project but does not develop the implications for U.S. security of a full Chinese ABM capability.

[14] For a summary of recently declassified information about the 640 Project see, "Project 640: Missile Defense Program,", January 26, 2007,

[15] Office of the Press Secrtary, The White House, "U.S., China to Discuss Missile Defense," September 4, 2001,

[16] The U.S. has retired all of its 50 heavy Peacekeeper ICBMs that carried 10 warheads, and the Air Force is looking to cut 50 of its 500 Minutemen ICBMs, see, Adam J. Herbert, "Making It Without Minuteman IV," Air Force Magazine, June 2007,

[17] Jacqueline S. Porth, "Rumsfeld: U.S. Will Continue to Provide Allies with Nuclear Umbrella," Washington File, July 25, 2002,

[18] Prasun K. Sengupta, "China Commences Building a Helicopter Landing Deck," Force, November 9, 2006.

[19] Interview, Taipei, November 2005.

[20] 2006 National Defense Report, Republic of China, p. 80.

[21] Tang Shiping, "Time to end damaging annual ritual," Straits Times, June 6, 2007.

[22] Zhang, op-cit.

[23] Vijay Joshi, "Beijing opens up on defense policy," Associated Press, June 5, 2007.

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