BEIJING -- A top-to-bottom modernization is
transforming the Chinese military, raising the stakes for U.S. forces long dominant in the
programs to improve China's armed forces could soon produce a
stronger nuclear deterrent against the United States, soldiers better trained to use
high-technology weapons, and more effective cruise and anti-ship missiles for
use in the waters around Taiwan, according to foreign specialists
and U.S. officials.
the past several weeks, President Bush and his senior aides, including Defense
Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice and Director of Central Intelligence Porter J. Goss, have
expressed concern over the recent pace of China's military progress and its effect
on the regional balance of power.
comments suggested the modernization program might be on the brink of reaching
one of its principal goals. For the last decade -- at least since two U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups
steamed in to show resolve during a moment of high tension over Taiwan in 1996 -- Chinese leaders have
sought to field enough modern weaponry to ensure that any U.S. decision to intervene again would
be painful and fraught with risk.
far as is known, China's military has not come up with a weapon system that
suddenly changes the equation in the Taiwan Strait or surrounding waters where
Japanese and U.S. forces deploy, the specialists said. China has been trying to update its
military for more than two decades, seeking to push the low-tech,
manpower-heavy force it calls a people's army into the 21st-century world of
computers, satellites and electronic weapons. Although results have been slow
in coming, they added, several programs will come to fruition simultaneously in
the next few years, promising a new level of firepower in one of the world's most
is the harvest time," said Lin Chong-pin, a
former Taiwanese deputy defense minister and an expert on the Chinese military
at the Foundation on International and Cross-Strait Studies in Taipei.
U.S. and Taiwanese military officials
pointed in particular to China's rapid development of cruise and
other anti-ship missiles designed to pierce the electronic defenses of U.S. vessels that might be dispatched to
case of conflict.
Chinese navy has taken delivery of two Russian-built Sovremenny-class
guided missile destroyers and has six more on order, equipped with Sunburn
missiles able to skim 4 1/2 feet above the water at a speed of Mach 2.5 to
evade radar. In addition, it has contracted with Russia to buy eight Kilo-class diesel
submarines that carry Club anti-ship missiles with a range of 145 miles.
systems will present significant challenges in the event of a U.S. naval force
response to a Taiwan crisis," Vice Adm. Lowell E. Jacoby, director of the
Defense Intelligence Agency, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in
testimony March 17.
The Nuclear Deterrent
China's military is also close to achieving an improved
nuclear deterrent against the United States, according to foreign officials and
Type 094 nuclear missile submarine, launched last July to replace a
trouble-prone Xia-class vessel, can carry 16
intercontinental ballistic missiles. Married with the newly developed Julang-2
missile, which has a range of more than 5,000 miles and the ability to carry
independently targeted warheads, the 094 will give China a survivable nuclear deterrent
against the continental United States, according to "Modernizing
China's Military," a study by David Shambaugh of
George Washington University.
addition, the Dongfeng-31 solid-fuel mobile ballistic missile, a three-stage,
land-based equivalent of the Julang-2, has been deployed in recent years to
augment the approximately 20 Dongfeng-5 liquid-fuel missiles already in
service, according to academic specialists citing U.S. intelligence reports.
will be joined in coming years by an 8,000-mileDongfeng-41, these reports said,
putting the entire United States within range of land-based Chinese
ICBMs as well. "The main purpose of that is not to attack the United States," Lin said. "The main
purpose is to throw a monkey wrench into the decision-making process in Washington, to make the Americans think, and
think again, about intervening in Taiwan, and by then the Chinese have moved
a $1.3 trillion economy growing at more than 9 percent a year, China has acquired more than enough
wealth to make these investments in a modern military. The announced defense
budget has risen by double digits in most recent years. For 2005, it jumped 12.6
percent to hit nearly $30 billion.
Pentagon estimates that real military expenditures, including weapons
acquisitions and research tucked into other budgets,
should be calculated at two or three times the announced figure. That would
make China's defense expenditures among the world's largest, but still far behind the $400 billion
budgeted this year by the United States.
Projecting Force to Taiwan
the self-ruled island that China insists must reunite with the mainland, has
long been at the center of this growth in military spending; one of the
military's chief missions is to project a threat of force should Taiwan's
rulers take steps toward formal independence.
the threat, the 2nd Artillery Corps has deployed more than 600 short-range
ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan from southeastern China's Fujian and Jiangxi provinces,
according to Taiwan's deputy defense minister, Michael M. Tsai. Medium-range
missiles have also been developed, he said, and much of China's modernization campaign is
directed at acquiring weapons and support systems that would give it air and
sea superiority in any conflict over the 100-mile-wide Taiwan Strait.
the expansion of China's interests abroad, particularly
energy needs, has also broadened the military's mission in recent years.
Increasingly, according to foreign specialists and Chinese commentators, China's navy and air force have set out
to project power in the South China Sea, where several islands are under dispute and vital
oil supplies pass through, and in the East China Sea, where China and Japan are at loggerheads over mineral
rights and several contested islands.
China has acquired signals-monitoring
facilities on Burma's Coco Islands and, according to U.S. reports, at a port it is building
in cooperation with Pakistan near the Iranian border at Gwadar, which looks out over tankers exiting the Persian Gulf. According to a report prepared for
Rumsfeld's office by Booz
Allen Hamilton, the consulting firm, China has developed a "string of
pearls" strategy, seeking military-related agreements with Bangladesh, Cambodia and Thailand in addition to those with Burma and Pakistan.
this background, unifying Taiwan with the mainland has become more
than just a nationalist goal. The 13,500-square-mile territory has also become
a platform that China needs to protect southern sea
lanes, through which pass 80 percent of its imported oil and tons of other
imported raw materials. It could serve as a base for Chinese submarines to have
unfettered access to the deep Pacific, according to Tsai, Taiwan's deputy defense minister. "Taiwan for them now is a strategic must
and no longer just a sacred mission," Lin said.
China's threat against Taiwan has been envisaged as a
Normandy-style assault by troops hitting the beaches. French, German, British
and Mexican military attaches were invited to observe such landing exercises by
specialized Chinese troops last September.
in that vein, specialists noted, the Chinese navy's fast-paced ship construction
program includes landing vessels and troop transports. Two giant transports
that were seen under construction in Shanghai's shipyards a year ago, for
instance, have disappeared, presumably to the next stage of their preparation
U.S. and Taiwanese officials noted that China's amphibious forces had the ability
to move across the strait only one armored division -- about 12,000 men with
their vehicles. That would be enough to occupy an outlying Taiwanese island as
a gesture, they said, but not to seize the main island.
Taiwanese officials said, if a conflict arose, they would expect a graduated
campaign of high-tech pinpoint attacks, including cruise missile strikes on key
government offices or computer sabotage, designed to force the leadership in
Taipei to negotiate short of all-out war. The 1996 crisis, when China test-fired missiles off the coast,
cost the Taiwanese economy $20 billion in lost business and mobilization
expenses, a senior security official recalled.
A little-discussed but key facet of China's military
modernization has been a reduction in personnel and an intensive effort to
better train and equip the soldiers who remain, particularly those who operate high-technology
weapons. Dennis J. Blasko, a former U.S. military attache
in Beijing who is writing a book on the
People's Liberation Army, said that forming a core of skilled commissioned and
noncommissioned officers and other specialists who can make the military run in
a high-tech environment may be just as important in the long run as buying
Wen Jiabao told the
National People's Congress last month that his government would soon complete a
200,000-soldier reduction that has been underway since 2003. That would leave
about 2.3 million troops in the Chinese military, making it still the world's biggest, according to a report issued recently by
the Defense Ministry.
of pensions and retraining for dismissed soldiers, the training and personnel
reduction program has so far been an expense rather than a cost-cutter,
according to foreign specialists. But it has encountered competition for funds
from the high-tech and high-expense program to make China's military capable of waging what
former president Jiang Zemin
called "war under informationalized
emphasis on high-tech warfare, as opposed to China's traditional reliance on masses of
ground troops, was dramatized by shifts last September in the Communist Party's
decision-making Central Military Commission, which had long been dominated by
the People's Liberation Army. Air force commander Qiao
Qingchen, Navy commander Zhang Dingfa
and 2nd Artillery commander Jing Zhiyuan,
whose units control China's ballistic missiles, joined the
commission for the first time, signaling the importance of their
responsibilities under the modernization drive.
for air superiority over the Taiwan Strait, the air force has acquired from
Russia more than 250 Sukhoi Su-27 single-role and
Su-30 all-weather, multi-role fighter planes, according to Richard D. Fisher,
vice president of the International Assessment and Strategy Center in
Washington. The Pentagon has forecast that, as the Sukhoi
program continues to add to China's aging inventory, the air force
will field about 2,000 warplanes by 2020, of which about 150 will be
fourth-generation craft equipped with sophisticated avionics.
specialists noted that many of China's Su-27s have spent most of the
time on the ground for lack of maintenance. In addition, according to U.S. and Taiwanese experts, China has remained at the beginning
stages of its effort to acquire the equipment and skills necessary for midair
refueling, space-based information systems, and airborne reconnaissance and
battle management platforms.
senior Taiwanese military source said Chinese pilots started training on
refueling and airborne battle management several years ago, but so far have
neither the equipment nor the technique to integrate such operations into their
order of battle. Similarly, he said, China has been testing use of Global
Positioning System devices to guide its cruise missiles but remains some time
away from deploying such technology.
such electronic equipment would be China's most likely objective if the
European Union goes ahead with plans to lift its arms sales embargo despite
objections from Washington, a senior European diplomat in Beijing said. A Chinese effort to acquire Israel's Phalcon
airborne radar system was stymied in 2000 when the United States prevailed on Israel to back out of the $1 billion deal.