NEWS AND ANALYSIS:
Concerned over illicit Chinese acquisition of defense technology, the Pentagon has taken steps to tighten restrictions on employees who travel to China.
Security officials also are urging Defense Department travelers to avoid transit through the communist state after several incidents involving Americans who were detained or harassed on the way to third countries.
The changes to the DoD Foreign Clearance Guide for prior approval of all contacts with Chinese involving technology. The new rules also limit travel by Pentagon workers to or through China.
“Consistent with current practice and the standing guidance referenced above, all DoD entities and individuals engaged in science and technology (S&T) exchanges involving travel to China or prearranged technical or social contact with citizens of China at other venues are required to submit a Defense Contact Proposal (DCP) in advance that will be further coordinated by the Defense Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics (AT&L) Directorate for International Armaments Cooperation in addition to the existing approval process,” the notice states.
During the 1990s, Beijing obtained valuable nuclear weapons data during an Energy Department exchange program. Chinese weapons technicians were able to elicit the data during meetings with U.S. scientists and weapons makers.
The new review requirements augment existing controls on contacts with Chinese, including a classified directive known as DoD Instruction C-2000.23 and an annual memorandum on guidance for military-to-military exchanges with China.
The new rules direct Pentagon officials not to use flights that transit China if they are traveling to other countries.
“DoD travelers should NOT transit China en route to a third country whenever possible,” the notice states. “[Defense Attache Office] Beijing strongly recommends not attempting to transit Beijing while on LEAVE or OFFICIAL Travel unless a visa has been obtained prior to travel.”
The notice said Pentagon officials traveling through China without a visa have been detained and harassed during the transits.
A Pentagon spokeswoman did not return emails seeking comment.
EUCOM on Russia threat
Russia is engaged in a wide-ranging effort to undermine the West, the commander of the European Command told Congress on Tuesday.
“If you look at their forces, from what we know as hybrid or asymmetric means to conventional to nuclear, [the Russians] are modernizing this force in every one of those categories,” Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti told the House Armed Services Committee.
The hybrid warfare category includes the extensive use of cyber attacks, along with disinformation and what Moscow calls “information confrontation,” the Eucom commander said.
“In recent months they announced new elements within their force that focus on information confrontation, information operations,” he testified.
The operations are conducted below the threshold of traditional military conflict, employing such tactics as political provocation, information operations, disinformation and cyber attacks. The use of these new warfare methods is now part of Russia’s doctrine.
Conventional force improvements by the Russian military includes upgrading warships and warplanes, along with new weapons for the future.
Older aircraft also have been refitted to use newer munitions that can be fired from land-based, aerial and naval platforms.
“So it’s a multi-functional system,” Gen. Scaparrotti said. “It gives them long reach and precision.”
Nuclear weapons and delivery systems also are being modernized. “Across all the areas,” the general said, the Russians “have been increasing their capability, really refining their capability from the old systems,” adding that more weapons are dual-capable nuclear and conventionally armed.
The dual capability “makes it difficult for us to clearly understand what they’ve employed,” he said.
As for nuclear use doctrine, Moscow also has adopted a new policy that will permit escalating the use of nuclear weapons more easily during conventional conflicts.
“They’ve made the statement openly that they see a use for nuclear tactical capabilities within what we would consider a conventional conflict, which is very alarming,” Gen. Scaparrotti said.
In prepared remarks, Gen. Scaparrotti said Moscow is attempting to reemerge as a global power and regards the international order based on rule of law, democracy and human rights as part of a system aimed at suppressing Russia. The Russians under President Vladimir Putin are working to undermine the international system and discredit those in the West who set it up and maintain it.
To remedy U.S. military shortfalls in the face of a renewed Russian threat, Gen. Scaparrotti said his forces need more anti-submarine warfare weapons, missiles defenses, and intelligence and surveillance assets.
Chinese maritime forces in PLA role
China’s fleet of maritime militia forces that have been involved in incidents and skirmishes in the South China Sea act as surrogates for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), according to a report from the Naval War College.
“Despite being a separate component of China’s People’s Armed Forces (PAF), the militia are organized and commanded directly by the PLA’s local military commands,” the report by the college’s China Maritime Studies Institute says.
The militia are part of the world’s largest fishing fleet with thousands of vessels, a portion of which operates as a separate non-PLA force. Those units serve as “helpers of the PLA,” the report said, providing a “service on demand” when the Chinese military wants to harass U.S. naval surveillance ships.
Some of these ostensibly civilian fishing vessels have taken part in the harassment of Navy ships in the South China Sea and other military operations.
In 2009 the Navy ocean surveillance vessel USNS Impeccable was threatened by Chinese maritime militia ships, including two that came within 50 feet of the ship.
“The degree to which the PLA was involved in harassment of the USNS Impeccable is still unclear; at least one PLA vessel was on the scene,” the report said.
However, the fact that the fishing vessels involved were part of the maritime military “would necessitate PLA awareness” of the operation, the report said.
China’s military-guided maritime militia operations in several other cases, including the 1974 seizure of the Western Paracels from Vietnam; reconnaissance and sovereignty patrols during the February 2014 blockade of Second Thomas Shoal; and the 2014 repulsion of Vietnamese vessels from disputed waters surrounding a mobile Chinese oil platform.
The maritime militia also take part in intelligence gathering and surveillance for the PLA using China’s indigenous Beidou satellite navigation system. The system employs transmission capability of 120 Chinese characters per message. The report said the capability allows “conveying significant content thanks to Chinese characters’ unique logographic nature.”
The report was written by war college academics Conor M. Kennedy and Andrew S. Erickson.
• Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @BillGertz.