China is continuing to make advances in military warfighting techniques, including a crucial ability to direct multiple forces from different branches of service in the same theater of operations, a recent analysis said.
According to a report written by Al Santoli — an Asian-affairs expert, editor of the American Foreign Policy Council’s China Reform Monitor, and a senior national-security adviser to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif. — during “ongoing large-scale military exercises, China has demonstrated significant new joint-service warfighting skills ‘under high-tech conditions’ that are steadily altering the balance of power in the Taiwan Strait.”
Specifically, the report said, China’s People’s Liberation Army is applying U.S. military doctrine to integrate its “relentless expanding” of strategic missile forces; high performance Su-27 and Su-30 fighter planes bought from Russia; new blue-water, long-range naval ships, including a pair of Russian-built Sovremenny-class destroyers armed with SS-N-22 “Sunburn” anti-ship missiles; state-of-the-art communications systems purchased from U.S. and Western companies; and “development of advanced information and electronic warfare capabilities.”
The United States currently possesses the capability to coordinate its forces through secure, satellite-linked communications systems. In practice, that means possessing the ability to guide land, air and naval forces simultaneously and against multiple targets and threats, though the U.S. is currently at work developing more advanced systems that will eventually include the ability for small-unit ground commanders, Navy ship captains and air battle group commanders to all share the same battle data in real time.
For the past decade, China has also been working to develop this capability and, according to the AFPC report, is making greater progress than previously acknowledged in recent years by the former Clinton administration, the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies.
The report said that “Taiwan’s senior military intelligence analysts observe that in current large-scale exercises,” the PLA is “showing surprisingly rapid advances in joint maneuvers between naval, air force, marine infantry, paratroop, armored and missile units.”
The PLA is also developing a radar information network “that includes some 68 interconnected radars” for the PLAAF — the People’s Liberation Army Air Force, the report said.
Growing air power
Taiwan’s military leaders have been particularly impressed with China’s rapidly developing air combat and command capabilities.
For example, the report said Taiwanese military officials have noted a marked increase in PLAAF missions flown over the Taiwan Straits, especially as China acquires more sophisticated fighters, and in higher numbers.
“On the other hand,” the report said, “with a 2- to 10-minute response time to a PLA air or missile strike across the strait, Taiwan has repeatedly requested that the United States help upgrade its early-warning radar systems and transfer software that integrates these disparate systems.”
Over the past half-decade, however, former Clinton administration officials were not responsive to Taiwan’s requests, either for upgraded radar systems or more lethal weapons designed to counter China’s growing threat in terms of technology and numbers of systems deployed against the island.
The last major fighter purchase by Taiwan came in 1981, when the Reagan administration agreed to sell Taipei 150 then-modern F-16 fighters. However, because of diplomatic differences, the planes were not actually delivered until 1992. China was angered by the sale and would, undoubtedly, oppose further advanced-fighter sales to Taiwan.
Taiwan’s request to buy new U.S. destroyers equipped with the ultra-modern Aegis battle management systems — needed to help form a cohesive and effective anti-air and missile defense shield to protect against Chinese planes and ballistic missiles — was denied last year by the Clinton administration.
Since then, Taiwan has repeated its request for more advanced weapons, including a request to purchase up to four Aegis destroyers at a cost of $1 billion each.
In response to Taiwan’s destroyer request, the Pentagon has said it would be willing to sell the island less-sophisticated Kidd-class destroyers — ships Taiwan has said it would accept as a short-term fix in advance of the eventual deliveries of the Aegis warships, if approved by the Bush administration.
“Our president is saying we need the Aegis ships and that the Kidd-class ships are not enough,” Parris Chang, a legislator and senior member of Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party, told the Washington Times last week.
“This will be very, very important for Taiwan’s defense,” he added.
Growing technological edge
“Taiwan is particularly impressed with the PLA’s rapid advances in utilizing a national ‘plug-and-play’ fiber optic civilian telecommunications network to thoroughly secure its military communications,” the AFPC report said. “At the same time, Taiwan believes its current military information system is relatively easy to monitor,” meaning Chinese intelligence assets can keep a better eye on Taiwanese military and security capabilities than Taiwan agencies — without U.S. help — can monitor Chinese advances.
Worse, the report said, Taiwanese military and political leaders believe their forces have “fallen behind the PLA in that important command-and-control area, which could lead to their defeat” in a cross-strait conflict.
The ability to monitor Chinese progress, however, may be changing somewhat more to Taiwan’s favor. Last week, Jane’s Defense Weekly reported that Taiwan and the U.S. National Security Agency are jointly operating a major signals intelligence, or SIGINT, facility on Yangmingshan Mountain, just north of Taipei.
Jane’s said the NSA was helping Taiwan to “coordinate and process its SIGINT data collected from various SIGINT stations located around Taiwan.” The data is subsequently used by Taiwan’s military intelligence wing and is relayed via satellite back to the NSA.
Also, as reported by WorldNetDaily Jan. 19, the Chinese are also developing “asymmetrical warfare” techniques — unconventional warfare tactics designed to attack an enemy’s information, financial and other high-tech centers — with alarming speed.
One such development, called the “parasitic satellite,” is a mini-satellite capable of attaching itself to U.S. military and communications satellites, rendering them useless or destroying them outright. Also, the weapon can be used against space stations and space-based laser weapons.
“The PLA doctrine of ‘asymmetrical’ warfare emphasized paralyzing the high-tech strength of the U.S. and our allies through attacks on military, economic and governmental computerized information systems,” the AFPC report said. “Since mid-1999, some of the first incidents of 21st century Internet warfare have been conducted across the strait, with the PLA now openly recruiting an ‘army of hackers’ in civilian newspapers.”
Also, the report said, the PLA has an “aggressive” program under way to develop exotic high-tech weapons.
“Titled 1-26, which was initiated in January 2000 … this program involves dual-use space and information technology, and exotic weapons, such as miniaturized nano weapons,” the report said, noting that “unfortunately,” U.S., European and Israeli technology is in use in different aspects of the project.
The AFPC analysis said China was also working on “deception tactics” designed to prohibit detection of its missiles by U.S. satellites.
Taiwanese leaders, the report said, also find it “significant” that Beijing seems to be conditioning its population for an eventual war with the democratic island nation.
“This includes such activities as a highly publicized mid-August air raid drill in the Shanghai area — the first such drill in 50 years,” the report said.
Other analysts say that in order to avoid any such eventuality, the U.S. must redouble its diplomatic efforts aimed at developing better relations between Beijing and Washington, though most analysts believe the road will not be smooth either way because of competing interests.
“Of all the bilateral relationships the United States will negotiate in the coming decade, the most critical — and complex — is that with the People’s Republic of China,” says a Brookings Institute report on China diplomacy, released last fall.
The relationship between the U.S. and China “has been on a downward slide since the mid-1990s, as the two sides have become increasingly wary of one another’s long-term intentions,” the Brookings Institute — a liberal-leaning think tank based in Washington, D.C. — said.
“Can a consistently stable relationship with China be expected? Probably not. Most indicators point to a rocky road ahead, with many potential detours into even worse conditions,” said the Brookings report, noting that “the stakes for regional stability and prosperity that come from a China that is ‘tied in,’ rather than ‘shut out,’ are too high to allow such challenges to slip into hostility, confrontation, or even conflict.”
The report recommends that the Bush administration put more of an effort into fostering a better relationship with China than did the Clinton administration.
Of China’s military and technological advances, AFPC said those “activities may not mean that Beijing is ready to immediately launch a war to conquer Taiwan. However, the PLA’s rapid advances do show that China is serious in its professed claims to dominate the Asia-Pacific region during the 21st century,” which is “underscored by Beijing’s steadily increasing military budget” and quest to improve military systems.
In testimony to the House Armed Services Committee July 19, 2000, Bates Gill — a senior Asian policy fellow for Brookings — said “acquisition” of better and more deadly weapons and technology does not necessarily equate to “capability,” adding that many U.S. analysts often define the two as the same thing.
“It is easy to see and touch an Su-27, for example, and readily recognize its potential,” Gill said. “But noting its existence, while important, does very little to inform us of how, when, and under what conditions that weapon will be operated, how well it will operate, what can be expected of it under combat conditions, and whether it will be integrated to fight with other military assets.”
Consequently, “our job should be to carefully analyze what potentiates China’s military modernization program,” he said, adding that U.S. analysts should put more effort into understanding “Chinese security assessments, doctrinal shifts, operational planning, logistics capacities, training regimens, command and control guidelines, and technology absorption, assimilation, and diffusion.”