The New York Analysis of Policy and Government presents the final excerpt from our review of the Department of Defense 2016 report on Chinese Military Developments.
CURRENT CAPABILITIES OF THE PEOPLE’S LIBERATION ARMY
The Rocket Force, renamed from the PLASAF late last year, operates China’s land-based nuclear and conventional missiles. It is developing and testing several new classes and variants of offensive missiles, including a hypersonic glide vehicle; forming additional missile units; upgrading older missile systems; and developing methods to counter ballistic missile defenses.
The force possesses approximately 1,200 short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM) in its inventory. China is increasing the lethality of its conventional missile force by fielding the CSS-11 (DF-16) ballistic missile with a range of 800-1,000 km. The CSS-11, coupled with the already deployed conventional land-attack and anti-ship variants of the CSS-5 (DF-21C/D) medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM), will improve China’s ability to strike not only Taiwan, but other regional targets. These ballistic missile systems are complimented by the CJ-10 ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM). The CJ-10 has a range in excess of 1500 km and offers flight profiles different from ballistic missiles that can enhance targeting options.
China is fielding a growing number of conventionally armed MRBMs, including the CSS-5 Mod 5 (DF-21D) anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM). The CSS-5 Mod 5, with a range of 1,500 km and maneuverable warhead, gives the PLA the capability to attack ships, including aircraft carriers, in the western Pacific Ocean.
China unveiled the DF-26 intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) during the September 2015 parade in Beijing. When fielded, the DF-26 will be capable of conducting precision strikes against ground targets and contribute to strategic deterrence in the Asia-Pacific region. The official parade announcer also referenced a nuclear version of the DF-26, which, if it shares the same guidance capabilities, would give China its first nuclear precision strike capability against theater targets.
The PLARF continued to modernize its nuclear forces by enhancing its silo-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) and adding more survivable, mobile delivery systems. China’s ICBM arsenal to date consists of approximately 75-100 ICBMs, including the silo-based CSS-4 Mod 2 (DF-5) and multiple independently-targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV)-equipped Mod 3 (DF-5B); the solid-fueled, road-mobile CSS-10 Mod 1 and 2 (DF-31 and DF-31A); and the shorter range CSS-3 (DF-4). The CSS-10 Mod 2, with a range in excess of 11,200 km, can reach most locations within the continental United States. China also is developing a new road-mobile ICBM, the CSS-X-20 (DF-41) capable of carrying MIRVs.
PLA Navy (PLAN). Over the past 15 years, China’s ambitious naval modernization program has produced a more technologically advanced and flexible force. The PLAN now possesses the largest number of vessels in Asia, with more than 300 surface ships, submarines, amphibious ships, and patrol craft. China is rapidly retiring legacy combatants in favor of larger, multi-mission ships equipped with advanced anti-ship, anti-air, and anti-submarine weapons and sensors. China continues its gradual shift from “near sea” defense to “far seas” protection as espoused in its most recent DWP, with the PLAN conducting operational tasks outside the so-called “first island chain” with multi-mission, long-range, sustainable naval platforms that have robust self-defense capabilities.
The PLAN places a high priority on the modernization of its submarine force and currently possesses five SSNs, four nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBN), and 53 diesel-powered attack submarines (SS/SSP). By 2020, this force will likely grow to between 69 and 78 submarines. In addition to the 12 KILO-class SS units acquired from Russia in the 1990s and 2000s, China has built 13 SONG-class SS (Type 039) and 13 YUAN-class SSP (Type 039A) with a total of 20 YUANs planned for production. China continues to improve its SSN force, and four additional SHANG-class SSN (Type 093) will eventually join the two already in service. The SHANG SSN will replace the aging HAN-class SSN (Type 091). These improved SHANG SSNs feature a vertical launch system (VLS) and may be able to fire the YJ-18 advanced anti-ship cruise missile (ASCM). Over the next decade, China may construct a new Type 095 nuclear-powered, guided-missile attack submarine (SSGN), which not only would improve the PLAN’s anti-surface warfare capability but might also provide it with a more clandestine land-attack option.
Finally, China continues to produce the JIN-class SSBN (Type 094) with associated CSS-N-14 (JL-2) submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) that has an estimated range of 7,200 km. This platform represents China’s first credible, sea-based nuclear deterrent. China will probably conduct its first SSBN nuclear deterrence patrol sometime in 2016. Four JIN SSBNs are operational, and up to five may enter service before China begins developing and fielding its next-generation SSBN, the Type 096, over the coming decade. The Type 096 will reportedly be armed with a successor to the JL-2, the JL-3 SSince 2008, the PLAN has continued a robust surface combatant construction program of various classes of ships, including guided-missile destroyers (DDG) and guided-missile frigates (FFG). During 2015, the final LUYANG II-class DDG (Type 052C) entered service, bringing the total number of ships of this class to six. Additionally, a second LUYANG III-class DDG (Type 052D) entered service in 2015. It has a multipurpose VLS capable of launching ASCMs, land-attack cruise missiles (LACM), surface-to-air missiles (SAM), and antisubmarine missiles. China has also probably begun construction of a larger Type 055 “destroyer,” a vessel better characterized as a guided-missile cruiser (CG) than a DDG. China has continued to produce the JIANGKAI II-class FFG (Type 054A), with 20 ships currently in the fleet and five in various stages of construction. These new DDGs and FFGs provide a significant upgrade to the PLAN’s air defense capability, which will be critical as it expands operations into distant seas beyond the range of shore-based air defense systems.
Augmenting the PLAN’s littoral warfare capabilities, especially in the South China Sea and East China Sea, is a new class of small LBM. combatant. Twenty-five JIANGDAO-class corvettes (FFL) (Type 056) are in service and the latest ships have been upgraded to anti-submarine warfare (ASW) variants with a towed array sonar. China may build more than 60 of this class, ultimately replacing older PLAN destroyers and frigates. China also has 60 HOUBEI-class wave-piercing catamaran guided-missile patrol boats (PTG) (Type 022) built for operations in China’s “near seas.”
The PLAN continues to emphasize anti-surface warfare (ASUW) as its primary focus, including modernizing its advanced ASCMs and associated over-the-horizon targeting systems. Older surface combatants carry variants of the YJ-83 ASCM (65 nm, 120 km), while newer surface combatants such as the LUYANG II are fitted with the YJ-62 (120 nm, 222 km). The LUYANG III and Type 055 CG will be fitted with a variant of China’s newest ASCM, the YJ-18 (290 nm, 537 km), which is a significant step forward in China’s surface ASUW capability. Eight of China’s 12 KILOs are equipped with the SS-N-27 ASCM (120 nm, 222 km), a system China acquired from Russia. China’s newest indigenous submarine-launched ASCM, the YJ-18 and its variants, represents an improvement over the SS-N-27, and will be fielded on SONG, YUAN, and SHANG submarines. China’s previously produced submarine-launched ASCM, the YJ-82, is a version of the C-801, which has a much shorter range. The PLAN recognizes that long-range ASCMs require a robust, over-the-horizon targeting capability to realize their full potential, and China is investing in reconnaissance, surveillance, command, control, and communications systems at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels to provide high-fidelity targeting information to surface and subsurface launch platforms.
China’s investments in its amphibious ship force signal China’s intent to develop an expeditionary and over-the-horizon amphibious assault capability as well as HA/DR and counterpiracy capabilities. Since 2005, China has built three large YUZHAO-class (Type 071) amphibious transport docks (LPD) with a fourth soon to enter service, providing considerably greater and more flexible capability for “far seas” operations than the older landing ships. The YUZHAO can carry up to four of the new YUYI-class air-cushion medium landing craft (LCMA) and four or more helicopters, as well as armored vehicles and marines for long-distance deployments. Additional YUZHAO construction is expected in the near-term, as is a follow-on amphibious assault ship that is not only larger, but incorporates a full flight deck for helicopters. Two YUTING II-class tank landing ships (LST) are currently being built to replace older LST units that are reaching the end of their service lives, and to support logistics operations, particularly in the South China Sea.
In 2015, the PLAN’s first aircraft carrier, LIAONING, certified its first cohort of domestically trained J-15 operational pilots. The air wing is expected to deploy on the carrier in 2016. China also began construction of its first domestic aircraft carrier and could build multiple aircraft carriers over the next 15 years. Even when fully operational, LIAONING will not enable long-range power projection similar to U.S. NIMITZ-class carriers. LIAONING’s smaller size limits the number of aircraft it can embark, while the ski-jump configuration limits aircraft fuel and ordnance loads. LIAONING will possibly be used for fleet air defense missions, extending air cover over a fleet operating far from land-based coverage. Although it possesses a full suite of weapons and combat systems, LIAONING will probably continue to play a significant role in training China’s carrier pilots, deck crews, and developing tactics that will be used with later, more capable carriers.
PLA Air Force (PLAAF) and PLA Navy Aviation. The PLAAF is the largest air force in Asia and the third largest in the world, with more than 2,800 total aircraft (not including UAVs) and 2,100 combat aircraft (including fighters, bombers, fighter-attack and attack aircraft). The PLAAF is rapidly closing the gap with western air forces across a broad spectrum of capabilities from aircraft and command-and-control (C2) to jammers, electronic warfare (EW), and datalinks. The PLAAF continues to field additional fourth-generation aircraft (now about 600). Although it still operates a large number of older second- and third-generation fighters, it will probably become a majority fourth-generation force within the next several years.
The PLAAF and PLAN may become more prominent within the PLA if China proceeds with the personnel reductions announced in September 2015. Last year, the personnel levels of the PLAAF and PLAN were just 398,000 and 235,000 respectively, accounting for 27.5 percent of the PLA overall. The PLA’s planned personnel reductions may increase the relative size of the PLAAF and PLAN; Chinese analysts speculate the absolute size of the two services may even increase.
China has developed the J-10B follow-on to its first indigenously designed fourth-generation fighter and it is expected to enter service in the near-term. The PLA is also likely to acquire the Su-35 Flanker aircraft from Russia along with its advanced radar system. If China does procure the Su-35, the aircraft could enter service by 2018. In November 2015, talks to purchase 24 Su-35 fighters reportedly concluded successfully.
China has been pursuing fifth-generation fighter capabilities since at least 2009 and is the only country other than the United States to have two concurrent stealth fighter programs. China seeks to develop these advanced aircraft to improve its regional power projection capabilities and to strengthen its ability to strike regional airbases and facilities. The PLAAF has observed foreign military employment of stealth aircraft and views this technology as a core capability in its transformation from a predominantly territorial air force to one capable of conducting both offensive and defensive operations. PLAAF leaders believe stealth aircraft provide an offensive operational advantage that denies an adversary the time to mobilize and to conduct defensive operations. In 2015, China began flight testing its fifth and sixth J-20 stealth fighter prototypes. Within two years of the J-20’s first flight in January 2011, China tested a second next-generation fighter prototype. The prototype, referred to as the FC-31 (and unofficially as the J-31), is similar in size to a U.S. F-35 fighter and appears to incorporate design characteristics similar to the J-20. The FC-31 conducted its first flight on October 31, 2012, and debuted at China’s 10th China International Aviation & Aerospace Exhibition in Zhuhai in November 2014. The Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) is actively marketing the FC-31 as an export fifth-generation multirole fighter to compete with the F-35 for foreign sales. AVIC is reportedly in negotiations with the PLAAF to sell the FC-31 for domestic use. In addition to manned fighter aircraft, the PLAAF also views stealth technology as integral to unmanned aircraft, specifically those with an air-to-ground role, as this technology would improve that system’s ability to penetrate heavily protected targets.
China is also producing bomber-class aircraft. China continues to upgrade its H-6 bomber fleet (originally adapted from the late-1950s Soviet Tu-16 design) to increase operational effectiveness and lethality by integrating new standoff weapons. The PLAAF operates three different H-6 bomber variants. The H-6H and the more capable H-6M have been in service since the last decade. The PLAAF also employs the new, fully redesigned H-6K variant with new turbofan engines for extended range and the capability to carry six LACMs. Converting the H-6 into a cruise missile carrier gives the PLA a long-range standoff offensive air capability with precision-guided munitions capable of striking Guam. In 2015, China flew H-6Ks into the western Pacific Ocean in a demonstration of the airframe’s long-range capability. PLA Navy Aviation utilizes a nearly identical version of the earlier H-6, known as the H-6G equipped with systems and four weapons pylons for ASCMs to support maritime missions. All of China’s H-6 variants maintain their traditional bomb bay for gravity bombs, target-acquisition systems, including SOF trained for deep-strike reconnaissance. All elements of the PLAA were major players in the extensive JOINT ACTION-2015 series of exercises which included a focus on SOF integration with long-range fire strike assets.
The growth of additional regional training centers with full-time non-cooperative OPFORs, along with dedicated observer-controller personnel to conduct unit training evaluations and training support elements, as seen in the expansion of the STRIDE exercise series noted above, continues to drive realistic training across major portions of the PLAA. The primary limiting factor at this time seems to be the simple availability of training time at the current centers, in comparison with the size of the world’s largest ground force. Extensive media coverage of Army exercises in 2015 again underscored a growing national confidence in the PLAA’s ability to conduct modern air-land battle.
Space and Counterspace Capabilities. Using its on-orbit and ground-based assets to support its national civil, economic, political, and military goals and objectives, China’s space program continues to mature. China has invested significantly in improving its space capabilities, with particular emphasis on satellite communications (SATCOM); intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR); satellite navigation (SATNAV); meteorology; as well as manned, unmanned, and interplanetary space exploration. In addition to its on-orbit assets, China’s space program has built a vast ground infrastructure supporting spacecraft and space launch vehicle (SLV) manufacturing, launch, C2, and data downlink. In parallel with its space program, China continues to develop a variety of counterspace capabilities designed to limit or to prevent the use of space-based assets by the PLA’s adversaries during a crisis or conflict.
China’s most recent DWP affirmed the PLA’s focus on new, emerging security domains such as outer space. The report called space the “commanding height in international strategic competition.” Although China continues to advocate the peaceful use of outer space, the report also noted China would “secure its space assets to serve its national economic and social development, and maintain outer space security.”
As of December 2015, China launched 19 SLVs carrying 45 spacecraft, including navigation, ISR, and test/engineering satellites. Noteworthy 2015 accomplishments for China’s space program include:
> Two New Launch Vehicles: September 2015 saw the successful debut of both the Long March (LM)-6 and the LM-11 “next generation” SLVs. The LM-6 is a small liquid-fueled SLV designed to carry up to 1000 kg into low Earth orbit (LEO), and the LM-11is described as a “quick response” SLV designed to launch a small payload into LEO on short notice in the event of an emergency.
> China’s Largest Multi-Payload Launch and Smallest Satellites: The 19 September 2015 inaugural launch of the LM-6 SLV carried the largest number of satellites (20) China has ever launched on a single SLV. Most of the satellites carried onto orbit by the LM-6 were technology-demonstration satellites smaller than 100 kg. Furthermore, the four Xingchen femtosatellites launched aboard the LM-6 are the smallest Chinese spacecraft to date, weighing just 100 g each.
> Launches Begin for Beidou Global Network: China’s Beidou SATNAV constellation began the next step of its construction in 2015 with the launch of the Beidou I1-S, an inclined geosynchronous orbit (IGSO) satellite, on March 30. In 2015, China launched two more medium Earth orbit satellites and two more IGSO satellite. This phase of the project plans to extend the Beidou network beyond its current regional focus to provide global coverage by 2020.
The PLA is acquiring a range of technologies to improve China’s counterspace capabilities. In addition to the development of directed energy weapons and satellite jammers, China is also developing anti-satellite capabilities and has probably made progress on the antisatellite missile system it tested in July 2014. China is employing more sophisticated satellite operations and is probably testing dual-use technologies in space that could be applied to counterspace missions.
In the summer of 2014, China conducted a space launch that had a similar profile to the January 2007 test. In 2013, China launched an object into space on a ballistic trajectory with a peak altitude above 30,000 km, which could have been a test of technologies with a counterspace mission in geosyncronous orbit.
Although Chinese defense academics often publish on counterspace threat technologies, no additional antisatellite programs have been publicly acknowledged. PLA writings emphasize the necessity of “destroying, damaging, and interfering with the enemy’s reconnaissance…and communications satellites,” suggesting that such systems, as well as navigation and early warning satellites, could be among the targets of attacks designed to “blind and deafen the enemy.”
China’s Engagement on International Cyber Issues. China is engaged in cyber related diplomatic and advocacy efforts in multilateral and international forums such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations ASEAN), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), and among Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa (BRICS). China promotes international cooperation on combatting terrorists’ use of the internet and countering cyber-related criminal activity and advocates for cyber norms that include principles of sovereignty, non-interference and states’ rights to control online content. China, along with several other countries contributed to the UN Group of Governmental Experts on Development July 2015 report that addresses cyber related issues and state behavior in cyberspace.
U.S.-China Cyber Engagement. DoD engages China to bring greater transparency of each nation’s military doctrine, policy roles and missions in cyberspace as part of the U.S.-China Defense Consultative Talks, the Strategic Security Dialogue, and related dialogues. DoD participates in the U.S.-China Senior Experts Group on International Security Issues in Cyberspace, which was one of the outcomes of the cyber commitments between President Obama and President Xi in September 2015.
DEVELOPMENTS IN NUCLEAR DETERRENCE
China continues to modernize its nuclear forces across the PLA. In 2015, China maintained nuclear-capable delivery systems in its missile forces and navy, giving it a dispersed and more-survivable capability.
> The PLA Rocket Force’s (PLARF) arsenal contains 75-100 ICBMs. The PLARF is modernizing these airframes, including through the development of a new road-mobile ICBM capable of carrying multiple independent reentry vehicles (MIRVs). China has also tested a hypersonic glide vehicle, although official statements make no reference to its intended mission or potential capability to carry a nuclear warhead.
> The PLAN continues to produce the JIN-class SSBN, with four commissioned and at least one under construction. The JIN class and its SLBMs will give China its first reliable long-range, sea-based nuclear capability.
In 2015, China also continued to develop long-range bombers, including some Chinese military analysts have described as “capable of performing strategic deterrence”—a mission reportedly assigned to the PLA Air Force in 2012. There have also been Chinese publications indicating China intends to build a long-range “strategic” stealth bomber. These media reports and Chinse writings suggest China might eventually develop a nuclear bomber capability. If it does, China would develop a “triad” of nuclear delivery systems dispersed across land, sea, and air—a posture considered since the Cold War to improve survivability and strategic deterrence.