Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Military Power of the PRC 2005

The Rumsfeld Pentagon has released the much-anticipated 2005 edition (pdf) of the annual congressionally mandated report on Chinese military capabilities. Among the interesting points in the report...
China continued to deploy its most advanced systems to the military regions directly opposite Taiwan. (3)
This shows a shift from a few years ago when many experts felt the PLA forces were spread evenly around the country and not obviously concentrated in the southeast.
The PLA conducted joint maritime search and rescue drills for the first time with British, Indian, and French naval forces in 2004. China and Russia announced plans to hold a combined exercise in China sometime in 2005. (3)
Are these a prelude to real drills or just search and rescue drills and nothing more?
The PLA appears interested in converting retired fighter aircraft into unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs). (4)
Is such a thing feasible and/or desirable? Most UCAVs are significantly smaller than any manned aircraft and are designed from the ground up for that purpose.
China's naval forces include 64 major surface combatants, some 55 attack submarines, more than 40 medium and heavy amphibious lift vessels, and approximately 50 coastal missile patrol craft. Two-thirds of these assets are located in the East and South Sea fleets. (4)
I wish the report would have offered more information on the capabilities of the amphibious lift and other platforms and their capacity to carry infantry or marines across the strait.
China's submarine force continues to rapidly grow and modernize:
Last year, China launched a new diesel submarine, the YUAN-class, improving the capabilities of its submarine force. China's next generation nuclear attack submarine, the Type 093, is expected to enter service in 2005. (5)
United States policy welcomes the rise of a peaceful and prosperous China. However, there are forces - some beyond the control of China's military and national security planners - that could divert China from a peaceful pathway. These include:
  • nationalistic fervor bred by expanding economic power and political influence;
  • structural economic weaknesses and inefficiencies that could undermine economic growth;
  • an inability to accommodate the forces of an open, transparent market economy;
  • a government that is still adapting to great power roles; and
  • an expanding military-industrial complex that proliferates advanced arms. (8)

Secretary Rumsfeld's fingerprints are clearly on this document, with portions echoing his previous statements:
China does not now face a direct threat from another nation. Yet, it continues to invest heavily in its military, particularly in programs designed to improve power projection. The pace and scope of China's military build-up are, already, such as to put regional military balances at risk. Current trends in China's military modernization could provide China with a force capable of prosecuting a range of military operations in Asia - well beyond Taiwan - potentially posing a credible threat to modern militaries operating in the region. (13)
The report says that 'Local Wars Under the Conditions of Informationalization' has replaced 'Local Wars Under High-Tech Conditions' although
the implications of this new concept are not yet known. (16)
On an editorial note, is informationalization even a word?
The report speaks of
multiservice exercises with 'joint' characteristics and/or 'joint' command and control (17)
Note to all China pundits: Exercises with joint characteristics are not to be confused with joint exercises.
Russia has supplied over 85% of all of China's arms imports since the early 1990s and has been a significant enabler of China's military modernization. According to the Defense Intelligence Agency, Russian conventional weapon technology transfers, including better aircraft, quieter submarines, and more advanced munitions, have advanced the lethality of every major category of weapon system under development in China. (23)
Does anyone see this as a possible weakness? Russia has been willing to feed China's military growth to keep its military industrial complex in business after the fall of the USSR and especially after the late 1990s; but what would it take to separate China and Russia?
The report also talks to Israeli arms sales to China, which I have addressed in more detail here.
China has not yet demonstrated the ability or innovation to go through a research, development, and acquisition process for a sophisticated weapon system without foreign assistance. (24)
This leaves the question of where China's AWACS platforms came from unanswered. Where did the foreign assistance on that one come from?
The report spends over a page addressing the implications of lifting the European Union's (EU) arms embargo that was placed on China after the Tiananmen Square 'crackdown' (wouldn't massacre be a more appropriate word?). The obvious implication of increased capabilities due to sales from Europe is addressed, as is a worrying secondary effect:
Lifting the EU embargo would also lead to greater foreign competition to sell arms to the PLA, giving Beijing leverage over Russia, Israel, and other foreign suppliers to relax limits on military sales to China. Potential competition from EU countries already may have prompted Russia to expand the range of systems it is willing to market to China. (25)
The new report mentions Assassin's Mace (ShaShouJian) programs twice (26, 33) but doesn't seem to show much more understanding of the concept than before. See my discussion of the subject here.
The new DIA estimates for the number of Chinese short-range ballistic missiles pointed at Taiwan are offered:
China's SRBM force totals some 650-730 missiles, increasing at a rate of 75 to 120 missiles per year. (29)
This compares to last years numbers of 500 (2004 Report, 49). The previous assumption was that the number of missiles was growing at 50-75 per year.
The report offers some new information that may call into question my previous comments about the time needed to cross the strait:
PLA ground forces in the Nanjing and Guangzhou Military Regions have received upgraded amphibious armor and other vehicles, such as tanks and APCs, and may add armored assault vehicles and air-cushioned troop vehicles to improve lethality and speed for seaborne assaults. (emphasis added, 30)
On the other hand, discussion of China's lift deficiencies (31) may validate some of my other comments in the same earlier post. Of course since the DOD seems so unsure, maybe I shouldn't be so confident. Instead of a conclusion on China's capabilities to win a war with Taiwan, the report offers:
The PLA's prospects in an invasion of Taiwan would hinge on: availability of amphibious and airlift, attrition rates, interoperability of PLA forces, the ability of China's logistic system to support the necessarily high tempo of operations, Taiwan's will to resist, and the speed and scale of third-party intervention. (42)
The report addresses China's sea denial capabilities and intentions and points out that the intent is to deny the adversary access only and is not a 'sea control' strategy, which requires a much greater naval capability (33). For more information on this, see my post on sinking an American carrier here.
The report dedicates a full page to
[D]ependence on overseas resources and energy supplies, especially oil and natural gas, [which] is playing a role in shaping China's strategy and policy. (10)
Later in the report, it addresses choke points that could be exploited by an opponent to cut off China's oil imports, specifically the 'Malacca Dilemma,' after noting that China does not currently have a strategic petroleum reserve (10, 33).
Recent events such as China's entry into the space race and China's Anti-Secession Law receive quite a bit of print (35-36, 38-39).
The report sums up China's attempts to persuade and coerce Taiwan into acceding to annexation by China (for an explanation of why I use annexation, not reunification see this post by Michael Turton):
China's current approach to preventing Taiwan independence combines diplomatic, economic, legal, psychological, and military instruments to convince Taipei that the price of declaring independence is too high. (39)
The term 'Joint Island Landing Campaign' will undoubtedly replace 'Assassin's Mace' as the newest shibboleth among China-watchers popularized by the annual DOD report:
Publicly available Chinese writings on amphibious campaigns offer different strategies for an amphibious invasion of Taiwan. The most prominent of these is the Joint Island Landing Campaign. The objective of this campaign is to break through or circumvent the shore defense, establish and build a beachhead, and then launch an attack to split, seize and occupy the entire island or important targets on the island. To achieve the final objective of the Joint Island Landing Campaign, a series of sub-campaigns, such as electronic warfare, naval, and air campaigns, must be executed, including the underlying logistics support. (41-42)
Unmentioned in the list of 'Factors of Deterrence' offered by the report is a 'Silicon Shield.' (42)
The report concludes with a balance of forces between China and Taiwan (43-45). The report wisely differentiates between Chinese national forces and Chinese forces in the Taiwan Strait theater. It does not, however, make any generational categorization, instead offering purely quantitative analysis. Any kind of breakdown showing how many of each category (ships, aircraft, etc.) were modern and how many were antiquated would have been more informative than the simple number of frames.
Two final thoughts:
  • The word Taiwan is used 168 times in the 2005 report compared to 133 in the 2004 report.
  • What would you have liked to have seen in this report that was omitted?

Update: The Taipei Times brings us the responses of Taiwan's political parties:
The DPP used the report to attack the pan-blue camp parties for blocking the special arms-purchase budget, with the KMT responding that the fault lies with the government, while the PFP actually defended China's missile build-up

Particularly worrying in my opinion are comments like this:
Chen Chieh [of the KMT] said it is not surprising for the US to interpret the cross-strait military imbalance this way because it is pushing to sell its weapons to Taiwan.
I have frequently heard it said that Taiwan doesn't need the expensive weapons in the special appropriations bill or any expensive weapons and the only reason Taiwan is considering buying them is because of pressure from America. This is very dangerous thinking.

Update 2:Brian over at The Dignified Rant has sharper eyes than I:
Oh, and in an amusing little error that I expect the Chinese government to go batty over when they notice it, the map on page 27, apparently a 1996 model, indicates Macau as Portugese territory and Hong Kong as British territory. Heh. Peking doesn't know the half of our interests in their "internal" politics, apparently, if they are only thinking of Taiwan!