U.S. law requires that the Secretary of Defense submit an annual report on the state of the military of the People's Republic of China and where it is headed in the future. The report is also to address any U.S. - China co-operation and engagement on security matters over the past year, including any military-to-military contacts. This is particularly pertinent given the ongoing sabre-rattling in the South China Sea. Here are some of the highlights of the report showing us how the world's newest superpower is managing its military affairs; because of the length of the report, I will divide the posting into two parts, in the first, I will deal with background information on the People's Liberation Army, focussing on its missile program and in the second, I will deal with recent developments in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait.
China has substantially expanded its military over the past two decades. In the decade between 2006 and 2015, China's officially-disclosed military budget grew at an average annual rate of 9.8 percent after being adjusted for inflation. In March 2015, China announced a 9.2 percent inflation-adjusted increase in its annual military budget, bringing it to $144 billion, the second biggest military spender in the world. The DoD estimates that China's official military budget excludes major categories including research and development and the procurement of foreign materiel and that the budget of 2015 exceeded $180 billion. This compares to $598 billion for the United States and $54.4 billion for Russia. IHS Jane's estimates that by 2020, China's defense budget will hit $260 billion.
In 2015, China's leadership announced sweeping reforms meant to strengthen the Chinese Communist Party's control over the military and improve its ability to fight short-duration, high-intensity regional conflicts that may take place further from the Chinese mainland. This will enable China to establish regional domination and will help the nation expand its international influence in these five geographic regions:
1.) the Taiwan Strait between Taiwan and Mainland China
2.) the South China Sea where China continues to assert sovereignty over the Spratley Islands; the PRC has added more than 3200 acres of land to seven features that it occupies
3.) the East China Sea where China is using patrol ships and aircraft to challenge Japan's claim to the Senkaku Islands
4.) the Korean peninsula
5.) the China - India border region
Additionally, China has announced that it intends to build a military support facility in Djibouti located on the Horn of Africa, its first overseas expansion which will give it more global clout.
In the long-term, China's leadership is intent on developing the capabilities that are necessary to both defeat and deter third-party intervention in its territories, including the military power of the United States. The modernization of China's military is increasingly reducing the technological advances of the U.S. military, making it more difficult for the United States to "guarantee a win" in a conflict that could take place within China's sphere of influence.
Here is a map showing how China's leadership has divided the nation into geographic theatres:
There are currently 1.25 million active personnel serving in the People's Liberation Army (PLA) with 400,000 serving in the Taiwan Strait area. The PLA ground forces are equipped with 7000 tanks and 8000 artillery pieces. The PLA Navy is equipped with one aircraft carrier, 23 destroyers, 52 frigates, 23 corvettes, 57 diesel attack submarines, 5 nuclear attack submarines and 4 ballistic missile submarines. The PLA Air Force has 1700 fathers, 400 bombers and attack planes, 475 transport aircraft and 115 special mission aircraft. There are an additional 1450 older fighters, bombers and training aircraft as well as 100 surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft. In total, China's missile forces have between 1475 and 1900 missiles at their disposal.
Keeping in mind the five aforementioned geographic regions where China is establishing military dominance, let's look at China's military infrastructure in the southeast corner of the nation, close to the South China Sea and the disputed Spratley Islands:
Here is a map showing China's military infrastructure on the east side of the nation, close to the Taiwan Strait and the East China Sea:
Let's close this posting by looking at how China could threaten military action well past its border regions. The People's Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF) operates China's land-based nuclear and conventional weapons. It is developing and testing new classes and variants of missiles including a hypersonic glide vehicle and the Dong Feng 21D ASBM, a high hypersonic anti-ship ballistic missile that I posted about here. Here is a table showing China's current inventory of missiles:
Here is a map showing the ranges of China's short- and medium-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs and MRBMs):
Here is a map showing the ranges of its long-range and intercontinental ballistic missiles (LRBMs and ICBMs):
China has enhanced its silo-based ICBM systems by adding more survivable (i.e. the systems would be able to respond if China were attacked first) and more mobile delivery systems. China's CSS-10 Mod 2 (aka DF-31A) has a range in excess of 11,200 kilometres (range from 10000 to 14000 km depending on payload), a range that would allow China to reach most locations within the continental United States, particularly the ICBM bases located in North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming/Colorado/Nebraska as shown on this map:
The DF-31 is road- and rail-mobile and can carry a 1 megaton nuclear warhead or three to four multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs) with yields ranging from 20 to 150 kilotons along with penetration aids. Here is a video showing a test flight of the DF-31A:
China is also developing a new road- and rail-mobile ICBM, the CSS-X-20 (DF-41), which will have a range of between 12000 and 15000 kilometres at Mach 5 (3850 miles per hour) and will carry either a 1 megaton nuclear warhead or up to 10 MIRVS with yields ranging from 20 to 140 kilotons. The DF-41 will be rail and road mobile which will allow for rapid deployment and could also be used in a silo. Here is a video showing the newest generation of Chinese ICBMs:
As we can see, China is developing some game-changing weapons that will establish its regional military dominance and will allow it to threaten the American hegemony that has developed after the collapse of the Soviet Union. These developments could result in Part II of the Cold War with China replacing the Soviet Union as the "evil state" in the equation. China has a firm No First Use (NFU) policy when it comes to its nuclear inventory, however this is somewhat ambiguous. Some key members of the PLA have suggested that China needs to spell out more clearly when it might need to use nuclear weapons first, for example, in the case if an enemy's conventional attack threatened the survival of the ruling party or the nation's nuclear force.
In part two of this posting, I will take a closer look at recent developments in the South China Sea and how China is handling the decades-old conflict with Taiwan.