DoD’s 2010 Report on China’s PLA Military Modernization (II)

DoD’s new report on China’s People Liberation Army (PLA), “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China,” says that the pace and scope of China’s military modernization has changed over the last decade. Given China’s blistering economic growth over at least the past two decades, it would be highly unusual if the “pace” of military modernization had not increased. What we should focus on is the “scope” of that modernization; those areas where China is putting the most resources in terms of modernization.

The PLA’s primary mission remains deterring moves toward Taiwan independence. China’s massive buildup of missiles and other forces opposite Taiwan is as much a political as military move; a classic strategy of coercion.

The more interesting initiatives are those aimed at bolstering China’s regional and global ambitions. Chinese decision-makers remain heavily influenced by the 1995-1996 Taiwan Strait crisis when the U.S. sailed two carrier strike groups into the area. Much of China’s force modernization is intended to make sure that doesn’t happen again; hence, the much discussed anti-access capabilities the PLA is buying, or, to put it another way, China is buying stand-off.

The PLA’s emphasis on long-range precision strike is consistent with another dominant strain in Chinese military thinking: the revolution in military affairs. Whereas, the RMA crowd has taken a hit in U.S. defense circles because of actual combat experience in recent low-intensity wars, much of China’s thinking remains lodged in the theoretical. An important point to keep in mind is that the RMA has its roots in the maritime domain and that remains the one area where many of the RMA precepts still make the most sense.

“The PLA is attempting the concurrent pursuit of “mechanization” (application of late 20th-Century industrial technology to military operations) and “informatization” (application of information technology to military operations). As a consequence, and in recognition of the high costs of force-wide refitting with state-of-the-art weapons systems, the PLA is selectively acquiring new generation technologies in some areas, while deferring new acquisitions in others in favor of upgrading older, but capable, systems for networked operations.”

That line of thinking can be seen in China’s 2008 defense white paper which emphasized military strategic “guidelines” which include: “fighting and winning local wars under conditions of informatization”; bettering joint operations; and asymmetric warfare, attacking an enemy’s weak points.

Two of the smartest analysts I know, the Navy department’s Frank Hoffman and CSBA’s Jim Thomas, both make the point that China will not try to match the U.S. military force on force in the canonical big theater war scenario. Rather, they’ll seek out seams and weak points in an asymmetric fashion. For example, lots of folks focus on the PLA Navy’s dragging carrier project while not giving adequate attention to its deployment of 60 plus new Houbei class fast-attack craft, each armed with eight YJ-83 anti-ship cruise missiles.

— Greg Grant

  • Chops

    I’m curious about how much oil storage capacity China has.If they started a war, the flow of oil from the gulf would be shut down right away.

  • STemplar

    Their plan is a 90 day supply by 2020. Provided someone isn’t bombing where you keep your supply of course……

  • Enthusiast

    Chinese military is paper tiger. Lack of experience, lack of technology, lack of combat will - it’s so typical for them. Not mention how much money they spend. Look at the history with China in wars - Chinese army was beaten even by tiny Vietnam.

  • chaos0xomega

    In regards to Chinese Oil, I wouldn’t be surprised if a couple of years from now they get a direct oil pipeline from Iran or another nearby oil producing state (possibly even the Russkies?) Chances are that pipe would have to move through Afghanistan (India sure as hell wouldnt be a good choice for such a pipe), but given that the Chinese are investing so heavily in that country, its not too far-fetched.

    On the other hand, I don’t think all the carrier-killing missiles in the world could stop a repeat of the Taiwan Straight Crisis. Having the weapon is one thing, but using them is a whole different issue, and China does NOT want to see what would happen to it if it sank even ONE of our carriers.

  • bjando

    It needs to be understood that the US will not in anyway lose it’s military and deterance capabilities against a modernizng China even in 10-20 years. The US despite it’s budget cuts and billions being poured into projects that may or may not be developed is just a propagandic move developed by the US and utilized as a FUD Tactic to get congress to surge more money into the budget. Reality is logic sense. The US knows that its aging fighter fleet needs not to be updated but modernized, meaning the F22 will only be delayed but not cancelled. The F35 for Allied and JSF Capabilities well only be shortcut until congress is able to allocate funds and support for the project to develop and produce more aircraft (currently in LRIP).

  • bjando

    The Navy knows that it’s submarine fleet is extremely potent and the only area of focus currently needs not to develop dozens of new ships every year but to gradually do so and update our current electronics and weapon systems for our ships. As for Missile Defense I think thats pretty explanatory (its not dead) if you think about it with Iran and North Korea developing FRICBM we need to shield and prevent our own capabilites for missile defense so that way it well delay there knowledge of our defenses. As for space capabilites I believe that the new Keyhole series and smaller sats especially the LaCrosse EOSATs and even our High Endurance Experimental UAV designs currently in qeue are also self explanatory.

  • Chops

    You can’t see it now but in an attack on the US or one of our Allies one would hope our military would be allowed to take appropiate action.

  • John In Jacksonville

    In the long term, we should hope for, and encourage, political transformation in China. It’s a truism that no democracy has ever attacked another, and broadly speaking, it’s a valid truism. Totalitarian governments are the ones who go to war because a tiny number of often irrational people are making the big decisions. The internet has revealed lots of volatility and anger in rural China against unrepresentative government imposed from outside; factory laborers want higher wages, health plans, and shorter hours; and the rise of an educated, urban middle class is surely encouraging the spread of ideas. You have to suspect that before any apocalyptic military engagement takes place, China will have changed, and changed again.

  • chanel

    The new sino-american war must be a nuclear one at last that smashs all the world, even the space and the third power takes over China and America. Since the American military adventures fights in others hinging on non-nuclear wars, the Smart Power comes a giddy work.

  • hehe

    A war between the U.S. and China would destroy the world economy, and by the way Russia is big but it does not have any natural resources under its dirt which makes it worthless.

  • pulley

    China’s modernization while eye opening, really sholdent come as a shock. Over the past 20 or so years their economy has boomed. It makes perfect sense that increased modernization would happen. With China taking second place as the biggest economy (GDP rated at 1.4 trillion/year) in the world, and a superpower ( if not upcoming) we shouldent take it all as a threat, because it’s how world economics works. Now granted IF hostilities occured catostrofic would be the results, and China’s govt. is to fragile to piss off the populace. Besides the world dosen’t and couldent handle a 3rd world war.