DoD Releases Annual Report On China’s Military Modernization

DoD finally released its annual report to Congress on the little that’s known about the Chinese military today and like previous reports its largely an exercise in bean counting. It points to the “limited transparency” and “many uncertainties” regarding China’s military modernization and acknowledges that due to a paucity of sources, studying China’s military strategy is an “inexact science.” Since the report is mandated by Congress, its authors go ahead and “make some generalizations.”

With those significant caveats in mind, I’m going to make some quick generalizations of my own about the report, titled “Military and Security Developments in the People’s Republic of China,” and provide additional analysis as I get a chance to read it more thoroughly as there’s a lot to digest.

First off, what is China’s military/security strategy? “China’s current strategy remains one of managing the external environment to ensure conditions are conducive to its own economic development,” the report says. There are internal debates, particularly in Chinese academic circles, on the best way to go about that, the report says. Some argue for a play it cool approach while others urge Chinese policymakers to be more aggressive on the world stage.

What is certain: China’s voracious raw material consumption is forcing the country to focus on securing its sea-lines of communication-up to 40% of crude oil destined for China transits the Straits of Hormuz and 80% transited the Straits of Malacca. While one eye focuses on the SLOCs, the other remains fixed on Taiwan, the PLA’s primary mission, the report says; although there is the occasional glance at U.S. carrier battle groups steaming around WestPac.

The report’s authors put Chinese military spending at $150 billion in 2009; in percentage terms, increases in Chinese military spending have closely tracked China’s GDP growth. Unlike the Cold War era Soviet Union, China is not bankrupting itself through huge defense expenditures.

The report points up China’s lack of operational experience, “the PLA remains untested in modern combat.” That absence of combat experience may explain some of the lack of sophistication in China’s doctrine and strategy vice what was seen in Soviet military doctrine during Cold War days (the Soviets had a very rich and innovative doctrinal heritage upon which to draw).

“China’s civilian leaders must rely upon the advice of commanders lacking direct experience in modern combat or upon “scientific” combat models divorced from the realities of the modern battlefield… Despite significant improvements, the PLA continues to face deficiencies in inter-service cooperation and actual experience in joint exercises and combat operations. Recognizing these shortcomings, China’s leaders continue to stress asymmetric strategies to leverage China’s advantages while exploiting the perceived vulnerabilities of potential opponents.”

Chinese military doctrine and strategy is still heavy influenced by 1991’s Desert Storm, the report says, which implies that the revolution in military affairs (RMA) line of thinking is a major driver. That certainly jibes with the PLA’s heavy investment in long-range precision strike. China is amassing a formidable guided missile arsenal with much of it aimed at Taiwan, although Beijing is looking beyond that scenario as it builds out its military.

— Greg Grant

  • nihil

    Basically, wait until the time to strike is optimum..

  • Dean

    One doesn’t need a crystal ball to see what is going to happen here. My guess is <5 yrs we will see China invade Taiwan. It will happen without much warning. We will know (via intel) that the invasion will happen with a few days notice but we won't have sufficient forces in the area at the time to stop them-we'll give warning to Taiwan-they will sortie their fleet and their air forces but that won't stop the Chinese from pounding their island with missiles and doing a great deal of damage. We'll be rushing all of our Naval assets to the area but it'll be too late to help. Taiwan's navy will be very busy trying to stop the amphibious invasion all the while dodging dozen of torpedoes. They will not be successful-China will land thousands of troops, it will be very bloody and costly for the Chinese but they will eventually take over the island in one week's time. Taiwan will put up a great fight and it'll be very costly to China's forces but they will eventually be overwhelmed by the numbers China bring to bear.

    • Alex

      The massive amount of Taiwanese investment in China might make that more costly to China than they want.

      I believe China will (or more likely, already is) building ties with sympathetic politicians in Taiwanese political circles. When they get a sufficient quorum elected, they will push forward with a negotiated Special Administrative Region solution.

      The military option serves to prevent Taiwan from declaring independence in the meantime.

  • Tim Adkison

    Only time will tell what will happen with China. But lets just says im gana minor in Chinese during my college years

  • daniel

    a few MEUs can take out these thousands of chinese troops that somehow got to Taiwan?

  • Bret

    Reading some Andrew Krepenivich? ANY prediction (I have authored my own also) can go wrong, but yours is definitley possible.

    One critique: Aren’t a substantial amount of China’s AFB located far inland? Or are those just their missile bases? The reason I ask is because I remember reading something saying how our reaction capacity will be limited.

    I forgot about using the SM-3 against satellites. That will definitley be an effective tool.

  • Jacob

    What does China need a large naval force force for anyhow? Every other country in the world is content to let America police the maritime commerce lanes for them, and they all save a bunch of money in doing so.

  • STemplar

    I think more likely they are trying to intimidate the Taiwanese into settling on their terms for reunification. I also can’t fathom why on God’s green Earth would we bother to invade and retake a Taiwan seized, when it would be far more effective to simply cut the oil flow off into China. They certainly won’t be able to stop us and severing the flow of oil would crush them economically. I also don’t see every other countries in the region standing idly by while China overtly invades and brutalizes Taiwan. Given that China is in territorially disputes with the Philippines, Japan, Vietnam, and Malaysia , I would think on some level they would not be content to sit back and let China do as it will unchecked.

    • Dave M.

      But at the same time North Korea might take that as the perfect time to invade the south. Which would complicate things greatly.

      • STemplar

        Complicate things for both sides, China is under no illusion that North Korea would win, or survive a war. So in addition to fighting to take Taiwan, the Chinese would then have to worry about having a unified Korea acting as an American client state right on their border. The focus of their forces and in particular anti access abilities, will be in dealing with Taiwan. The Chinese will have no ability to influence what occurs on the Korean peninsula. I also think under that scenario, the rest of the world would be more inclined, not less inclined to become involved, particularly Japan. I also think under those circumstances even our weary NATO partners would act.

  • ryan

    China and usa won’t fight for a long long time. It is of no benefit to anyone. Globalization is a very potent defense. If china were somehow economically alienated from the west, and its debtors ( who are quite capable of defending themselves) just refused to pay them back and stop buying their goods, they’d be pretty powerless. Militarily the costs would be so tremendous, noone wants to start that fight…

  • Brian

    Its funny how China is focusing in on Anti-access tech, but nothing they have deters our submarine force, our own long range strike forces. Their sphere of deterrence is short to mid range naval combat.

    Right, so its their goal to fight that kind of fight, a short to mid range naval battle to which they have bet their entire nation on. So if we fought this war kind of war, we would be fighting their strength. But as long as we don’t have an idiot running the joint chiefs or an really dumb president, we would focus on fighting them at their weakest, which is everything that is not short to mid range surface naval combat. Thats all we have to do, and they lose.

    This isn’t hard or particularly costly, its just interesting to see the top military brass in China agitating for a war they need another 20-30 years to be able to fight. This is what happens when you appoint people to positions based on party loyalty than actual intelligence.

    • Travis

      What can you do at long range? Nothing substantial; you can launch Tomahawks all day, which probably won’t even breach their Air defense network!

      • Travis

        Also, remember NATO bombing campaign of Yugoslavia? Even with total control of the air space, we barely even scratched their armed forces! Chinese on the other hand have sufficient technology and numbers necessary to practically turn us into spectators if they ever decided to Invade Taiwan (personally I don’t think they ever will….Taiwan will eventually reunite with China peacefully)

    • @Earlydawn

      Good question. Chinese submarines are supposedly pretty poor on the quality scale. How does this whole anti-access strategy survive when largely undetectable submarines lob tomahawks into a highly centralized C4ISR network?

  • dean

    why suppose we will even fight china? 50 years ago maybe but now? if they threaten to stop making kids meal toys we’ll capitulate, maybe not the americans ,but our government masters.

  • @Earlydawn

    Propose a counter-theory.

  • J Weich

    Nice fantasy, but that’s all it is (and a wet dream one, at that). This scenario and your postulated outcome are about as likely as Afghanistan becoming a model democracy and a pillar of freedom and women’s rights. Oh, and its entire population converting to Judaism.
    You’d beter get used to China successfully throwing its weight around, because rest assured, there’s not a hell of a lot that the US can do about it, short of mutual nuclear annihilation. Personally, I’d rather stay alive if it’s all right by you.

  • Greg

    Wow, you are very enlightened. Thanks for your very intelligent comments. You have too much anger, your not a patriot, you seem like a traitor to me. You will rewrite the laws to suite your own twisted delusional views.

    Back on topic, Nuke China, yea lets start a nuclear war that sounds fun and good for the planet and us all. Why not get Russia, Pakistan, Iran, and North Korea at the same time?

    You wilson are a moron.

  • Jacob

    Go to hell you damn Nazi.

  • Buck

    WTF? This is the most ridiculous comment stream I have ever seen on a legitimate post. This is an information paper, not an outline script for Red Dawn II.

  • Edyson

    Lets put it this way china have 1.3biilion people and us have 310million people and roughly the same size in terms of land yet United states spend 600+billion a year in defense related spending compare to china 150+ billions. Dont. You think it is a United states being paranoid or maybe this will make more dough/$$$ for defense industry. In my opinion US shouldnt meddling to much with other countries affairs, we got too much problems on our plate already. Look around you US becoming more2 like 3rd world country the government ought to spend that 600billions on how to get us back on top without much arms confrontations in the worlds.

  • @ConnaPrison

    If the U.S. attacked China in any way, Chinese popular opinion would swing completely against the U.S.

  • @ConnaPrison

    Yours is the most probable long-term scenario. Everyone else here who is fantasizing about war scenarios needs some “help”. Especially that one guy calling for nuclear holocaust. Nuke the hell out of China and you’ve just turned every Chinese-American/Chinese-Canadian/Chinese-European into a terrorist, including the ones that work in Western military/government.

  • Dave

    its just a matter of time
    china WILL invade taiwn
    IRAN WILL fight persuade other neighbors to join into a muslim alliance etc’ etc’
    the only thing i know for sure is things always change
    one day we are the greatest empire in the world and on another we are lacking in resources to even fuel our cars
    thats the way the world works
    the only way to prevent this is to destroy all the competition, which we wont do
    so we wait and see