China is emphasizing stand-off precision weapons, space and cyber capabilities in its continued effort to upgrade its military, according the Defense Department’s annual report on China released today.
The congressionally-mandated report, “2013 Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China,” says the People’s Liberation Army wants to be ready to fight short, regional, high intensity information wars that span kinetic, cyber and information warfare.
While China wants to become a stronger regional power, its Navy also wants to develop an ability to project power globally for short bursts of several months, “similar to the United Kingdom’s deployment to the South Atlantic to retake the Falkland Islands in the early 1980s,” the report says. “However, logistics and intelligence support remain key obstacles, particularly in the Indian Ocean.”
China’s ongoing military expansion is an extension of its strategic goals which include defending resources and shipping lanes, said David F. Helvey, deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia, at a press conference.
The PLA has undertaken a series of missions related to those goals, such as anti-piracy operations, regional naval maneuvers, and a growing number of bilateral military exercises with nations such as Pakistan and Mongolia. However, much of its regional operations and training remain focused on the Taiwan Strait, Helvey said.
Beyond Taiwan, China continues to grow its presence in the South and East China Seas with military and civilian law enforcement vessels.
Ongoing military acquisitions and upgrades include the development and deployment of new generations of area-denial weapons such as anti-ship and ballistic missiles. China is also developing two stealth fighters, the J-20 and J-31, although Helvey said both aircraft are still very much in the prototype stage with no formal operational training programs yet established. He said the Defense Department doesn’t expect either aircraft to be fully operational before 2018.
China has also been active in both the space and cyber realms. In 2012, China conducted 18 space launches and continues work on tactics designed to limit or deny access to space by other nations during wartime.
The PLA has also been very active in cyberspace and continues to develop a cyber warfare doctrine, which partly explains the intrusions into U.S. government and commercial networks, many of which are attributable to Chinese cyber intelligence units, according to the report.
The increased military growth is reflected in the nation’s growing defense budget. Although China’s official military budget for 2013 is $114 billon, reflecting a continuous spending growth of 10.7 percent for nearly two decades, the Defense Department estimates China’s actual military expenditures for 2012 to be between $135 billion to $215 billion.
Despite these concerns, Helvey said that the U.S. government continues to work on developing a stable military relationship with China. These efforts include various national visits by high level U.S. and Chinese officials and ongoing work on regional and international security agreements. He noted that China is considering participation in the multinational Pacific Rim 2014 exercise.