China is continuing a large-scale military buildup of high-tech forces that includes “disruptive” anti-satellite missiles, new strategic forces, and computer attack weapons, the Pentagon’s annual report to Congress on the Chinese military says.
“China has made steady progress in recent years in developing offensive nuclear, space, and cyber warfare capabilities — the only aspects of China’s armed forces that, today, have the potential to be truly global,” says the report entitled “Military Power of the People’s Republic of China (PRC)” that was released Wednesday.
While noting that China has limited ability to sustain power far from its shores, the report warns that Beijing’s communist controlled armed forces “continue to develop and field disruptive military technologies, including those for anti-access/area-denial, as well as for nuclear, space, and cyber warfare, that are changing regional military balances and that have implications beyond the Asia-Pacific region.”
Anti-access and area denial weapons include precision-guided ballistic and cruise missiles and submarines that are designed to attack aircraft carriers, the report said.
The report also criticized China’s arms sales to countries like Iran, Sudan and Zimbabwe. It noted that Chinese arms supplied to Iran were found to have been transferred to terrorist organizations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This is a serious issue that the United States continues to monitor, the report said.
Under a section on significant developments over the past year, this year’s report for the first time described China’s efforts to develop and wage computer warfare by attacking networks and electronic infrastructure.
In 2008, numerous computer systems around the world, including those owned by the U.S. Government, continued to be the target of intrusions that appear to have originated within the PRC, the report said.
Although these intrusions focused on exfiltrating information, the accesses and skills required for these intrusions are similar to those necessary to conduct computer network attacks.
The report said it is unclear whether the attacks were carried out by the Chinese military or with its support, or by other elements of the Chinese government.
However, developing capabilities for cyberwarfare is consistent with authoritative PLA military writings on the subject, the report said.
The U.S. military is also developing cyber warfare defense and attack capabilities.
The report disclosed three computer attacks by suspected PRC actors.
In April 2008, the computer networks at India’s Ministry of External Affairs was attacked by Chinese hackers, and in May 2008 Belgium’s government was attacked by Chinese hackers.
Also in May 2008, suspected Chinese agents secretly copied contents of a U.S. Government laptop during a visit to China by the U.S. commerce secretary and used the information to try to penetrate into Commerce computers.
Computer attacks are one element of what Chinese military theorists call integrated network electronic warfare, to include electronic disrupters and kinetic strikes on enemy infrastructures.
A new section of the report outlined China’s global military engagement, reflecting efforts by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to develop a greater military dialogue with China.
The report made no mention of China’s cutting off of U.S. military ties to protest the $6.5 billion arms sale to Taiwan announced in October.
The report also says:
• Chinese nuclear forces improved both qualitatively and quantitatively with new solid-fueled DF-31 and DF-31A road-mobile missiles, and the development of a new JL-2 sea-based nuclear missile. The long- and medium-range nuclear missile forces include about 160 missiles, including 20 new DF-31s and DF-31As.
• Chinese missiles will grow more lethal with development of maneuvering re-entry vehicles (MaRV), multiple independently targeted re-entry vehicles (MIRV), decoys, chaff, jamming, thermal shielding and anti-satellite weapons. The new systems, including long-range cruise missiles, will boost strategic strike capabilities.
• The military balance of forces across the 100-mile-wide Taiwan Strait continues to shift in Beijing’s favor as some 400,000 troops and more than 1,100 missiles are now deployed near the island Beijing views as a breakaway province.
• Chinese space warfare programs include direct ascent anti-satellite missiles, tested successfully against a satellite in 2007, as well as electronic jammers and laser weapons. China’s goal for the space arms is a space shock and awe strike prior to a conflict.
• China’s military budget has doubled twice since the 1990s. The latest announced annual defense budget was about $60 billion but the Pentagon estimates actual military spending could be as high as $150 billion.
• China’s military is aggressively seeking U.S. weapons technology both legally and illegally. U.S. intelligence officials say China’s technology acquisition is a growing threat to national security.
• China’s military doctrine views offensive military operations and pre-emptive attacks as defensive. Numerous cases show China’s leaders have claimed military preemption as a strategically defensive act. They include intervention in the Korean War and border conflicts against India, the Soviet Union and Vietnam.
The report states that U.S. intelligence analysts assess that China’s capability to sustain a major conflict remains limited.
“However, much uncertainty surrounds Chinas future course, particularly regarding how its expanding military power might be used,” the report said.
Larry Wortzel, co-chairman of the congressional U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, said the latest report is important for recognizing the Chinese military’s ambitions “to be a major military power with global reach” beyond just a conflict over Taiwan.
“The plans to deploy aircraft carriers and the illustrations of the extent of China’s anti-access strategies mean that United States forces in the western Pacific must take China’s capabilities into account,” said Mr. Wortzel, a former military attache in China.
Richard Fisher, a specialist on the China military, said the report contains more detail than in the past on China’s emerging power projection strategies and cyber and space warfare development, including linking the effort to its manned space program.
“This year’s DoD China military power report should be required reading for those proposing major U.S. military reductions like ending production of the F-22A fifth generation fighter, reducing U.S. carrier battle groups and unilaterally disarming future U.S. space warfare and robust missile defense capabilities,” said Mr. Fisher, with the private International Assessment and Strategy Center.
Typically, China criticizes the annual report the day after it is released, claiming its rise as a global power is not hostile. Prior to the release of this year’s report, Maj. Gen. Qian Lihua, director of the Chinese Defense Ministry Foreign Affairs Office, warned in a published article that the report would damage U.S.-China military relations.