The Chinese have long realised that technology is the cutting edge in modern combat. Accordingly, China has embarked on an ambitious programme to revamp its technological capability and this process is likely to take between fifteen to twenty years. Evidence suggests the PLA is engaged in a sustained effort to interdict, at long ranges, aircraft carrier and expeditionary strike groups that might deploy in the Western Pacific. Following the experience of US intervention with Carrier Battle Groups during the 1995 and 1996 Taiwan Strait crises, evidence suggests the Chinese military has invested in research, development, and technology acquisition oriented on anti-carrier operations. Similarly, China’s placement of long-range SAM systems capable of providing coverage over Taiwan’s airspace, combined with expansion of SRBM and amphibious forces, has introduced a destabilising capability.
“We should achieve developments by leaps and bounds in the modernisation of weaponry in our armed forces.” —General Li Jinai
China’s leaders have placed a near-term emphasis on asymmetric programmes and systems to leverage China’s advantages while exploiting the perceived vulnerabilities of potential opponents…
China has stated its intentions and allocated resources to pursue a broad-based military build-up encompassing force-wise professionalisation, improved training, more robust and realistic joint exercises as also accelerated acquisition of modern weapons. The Intelligence Community estimates that China will take until the end of this decade or later for its military modernisation programme to produce a modern force capable of defeating a moderate-size adversary. Recognising this deficiency, China’s leaders have placed a near-term emphasis on asymmetric programmes and systems to leverage China’s advantages while exploiting the perceived vulnerabilities of potential opponents – so-called Assassin’s Mace (Sha Shou Jian) programmes. Although military modernisation figured last among Deng Xiao Ping’s Four Modernisation, there are increasing signs that China has embarked on its military modernisation to turn its People’s Liberation Army (PLA) into a modern force capable of defeating a moderate size adversary.
The Chinese have long realised that technology is the cutting edge in modern combat. Accordingly, China has embarked on an ambitious programme to revamp its technological capability and this process is likely to take between 15 to 20 years. Evidence suggests the PLA is engaged in a sustained effort to develop the capability to interdict at long range, aircraft carrier and expeditionary strike groups that might deploy in the Western Pacific. Following the experience of US intervention with Carrier Battle Groups during the 1995 and 1996 Taiwan Strait crises, evidence suggests the Chinese military has invested in research, development and technology acquisition oriented on anti-carrier operations. Similarly, China’s placement of long-range SAM systems capable of providing coverage over Taiwan’s airspace, combined with expansion of SRBM and amphibious forces, has introduced a destabilising capability.
As far as technological advancement of the PLA Ground Force is concerned, it will have the following postulates:
• Improvement in the battlefield survivability of Armoured and Mechanised Forces
• Fire power, synchronisation and economy of force.
PLA planners are focused on targeting surface ships and submarines at long ranges…
• Operational concepts aimed at preventing an adversary from deploying military forces to forward operating locations and thus, rapidly destabilise critical military balance.
• Emphasis on asymmetric programmes and systems to leakage China’s advantages while exploiting the vulnerabilities of potential opponents.
• Creation of Rapid Reaction Force in order to respond in real time to rapidly changing battle scenario.
• Capability to launch precision strikes.
• Improving expeditionary operation.
• Logistics reforms for integration of the civil sector with military procurement system and acquire dual technology.
• Strategic reconnaissance capability.
• Network Centric operations.
The Most Likely Military Strategy
• Emphasis on active defence.
• Control and use of Armed Forces and other coercive instrument of power essential components of security strata.
• Coercive military capabilities including air power, missiles and information about operations.
China is developing forces and concepts focused on denying an adversary the ability to deploy to locations from which it can conduct military operations…
• Employment of ground forces for final ‘shock value’ to destroy adversary’s will to resist.
• Creation of Rapid Reaction Formations (RRF) equipped with hi-tech weapons for flexible use in regional contingencies.
The Most Likely Modernisation Strategy
• New ideas are being studied to incorporate new concepts including rethinking assumptions about the value of long-range precision strikes, independent of ground forces, in a Taiwan conflict scenario, integration of psychological operations with air and rapid ground operations and improving joint operations capability by developing advance C4ISR systems and improving inter-service cooperation.
• Increased interaction and cooperation with foreign military to improve political and military ties.
• China’s extensive and well established ballistic missile industrial infrastructure continues to concentrate on replacing liquid propellant missiles with mobile solid propellant ones, reflecting concerns for survivability, maintenance and reliability as also developing high priority ICBMs for theatre and strategic missions.
• Research and development to produce a variety of systems including tactical and special purpose (aerial refueling tankers, airborne early warning and electronic counter measures) aircraft as well as modern turbofan engine technology.
• Building modern and combat-capable surface combatants, submarines and amphibious vessels.
• Producing advanced armoured systems, upgrading older models and developing next generation missiles.
Mao’s doctrine of a People’s War has now been revamped to cater for the following three possibilities:
PLA planners have observed the primacy of precision strike in modern warfare and are investing in both the offensive and defensive elements of this emerging regime…
• A People’s War under modern conditions
• Local war under hi-tech conditions (jubu zhanzhing zai gao jishu tiaojian xia)
• Asymmetric warfare (bu dimchen zhan zheng)
• Force Restructuring programme is based on the following parameters:
• Reduction in Military Regions (MR)
• Merging of traditional field armies into group armies.
• Raising of Rapid Reaction Forces.
• Raising of Special Forces.
Modernisation Parameters: Area Denial Capability
China is developing forces and concepts focused on denying an adversary the ability to deploy to locations from which it can conduct military operations. Increasingly, China’s area denial forces overlap, providing multiple layers of offensive capability. PLA planners are focused on targeting surface ships and submarines at long ranges. Analysis of current and projected force structure improvements suggest that in the near term, China is seeking the capacity to hold surface ships at risk through a layered defence that reaches out to the ‘second island chain’. China has expressed interest in developing naval anti-access capabilities that use a comprehensive C4ISR network to direct and coordinate naval, air, space and missile forces.
One area of apparent investment involves the pursuit of medium-range ballistic missiles, an extensive C4ISR system for geo-location of targets and onboard guidance systems for terminal homing to strike surface ships on the high seas or their onshore support infrastructure. This capability would have particular significance for regional stability, owing to the preemptive and coercive options that it would provide China’s leaders.
China has accorded building a modern ISR architecture a high priority in its comprehensive military modernisation…
A layered system to achieve local sea denial would also employ submarines, maritime strike aircraft, and modern surface combatants equipped with Anti-Ship Cruise Missiles (ASCMs). China’s development of numerous varieties of mines, its acquisition of the KILO, SONG, and YUAN class diesel submarines and development of the SHANG class SSN illustrate the importance the PLA is placing on undersea warfare in its pursuit of sea denial. The purchase of two new Russian SOVREMENNYY II-class DDGs and indigenous production of the LUYANG I/LUYANGII DDGs equipped with long-range ASCM and SAM systems demonstrate a continuing emphasis on improving anti-surface warfare capabilities combined with mobile, wide area air control.
Strengthened Nuclear Deterrence
China is qualitatively and quantitatively improving its long-range nuclear missile force. China is pursuing strategic forces modernisation to provide a credible, survivable nuclear deterrent and counterstrike capability in response to its perception of an increasingly complex nuclear security environment.
The PLA Second Artillery is fielding mobile, more survivable missiles capable of targeting the US, Japan, India, Russia and other targets in Asia and the rest of the world. It currently deploys approximately 20 silo-based, liquid-fuelled CSS-4 ICBMs, which constitute its primary nuclear means of holding continental US targets at risk. In addition, it maintains approximately 20 liquid-fuelled, limited range CSS-3 ICBMs that enable it to attach targets in the Asia region.
China’s ‘theatre’ nuclear force is made up of the CSS-2 IRBMs and solid propellant, road-mobile CSS-5 MRBMs.