Report Depicts China’s Military Progress, Strategic Thinking

WASHINGTON, May 18, 2012 — The Defense Department’s 2012 Mil­i­tary and Secu­ri­ty Devel­op­ments Involv­ing the People’s Repub­lic of Chi­na report details China’s grow­ing mil­i­tary capa­bil­i­ties, and points to areas of coop­er­a­tion between the Unit­ed States and Chi­na, a senior DOD offi­cial said here today.

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Deliv­ered to Con­gress today, the annu­al report dis­cuss­es China’s secu­ri­ty and mil­i­tary strat­e­gy, devel­op­ments in China’s mil­i­tary doc­trine and force struc­ture, the secu­ri­ty sit­u­a­tion in the Tai­wan Strait, U.S.-China mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary con­tacts, and the nature of China’s cyber activ­i­ties direct­ed against the Depart­ment of Defense.

Oth­er infor­ma­tion in the report includes the People’s Lib­er­a­tion Army invest­ments in China’s air­craft car­ri­er pro­gram, anti-ship bal­lis­tic mis­siles and air­craft devel­op­ment. It also dis­cuss­es China’s pur­suit of its “new his­toric mis­sions.”

Chi­na is build­ing its mil­i­tary to be able to fight and win “local wars,” said David Helvey, the act­ing assis­tant sec­re­tary of defense for East Asia. Helvey briefed the Pen­ta­gon press corps on the report.

The Chi­nese mil­i­tary is learn­ing from the lessons the U.S. mil­i­tary has com­piled since the Per­sian Gulf War, he said. The Chi­nese call this strat­e­gy “informa­ti­za­tion,” and Helvey said this is the phrase the Chi­nese use to encom­pass the rev­o­lu­tion in mil­i­tary affairs. Chi­na uses this term to mean the role of infor­ma­tion and infor­ma­tion sys­tems “not only as an enabler of mod­ern com­bat, but a fun­da­men­tal attribute of mod­ern war­fare,” he said.

The Chi­nese care­ful­ly watched U.S. and coali­tion mil­i­tary forces, begin­ning from the first Per­sian Gulf War in 1991, through today.

“One of the things that the PLA has con­sis­tent­ly high­light­ed is the role of advanced infor­ma­tion tech­nol­o­gy not only for intel­li­gence, sur­veil­lance and recon­nais­sance, but also enabling pre­ci­sion fires,” Helvey said. “And when they talk about fight­ing and win­ning local wars under con­di­tions of informa­ti­za­tion, that’s the type of warfight­ing envi­ron­ment that … they’re talk­ing about.”

Helvey said Chi­nese lead­ers view the first two decades of the 21st cen­tu­ry as China’s “peri­od of strate­gic oppor­tu­ni­ty.”

As China’s eco­nom­ic pow­er has boomed, its influ­ence has expand­ed. “As these inter­ests have grown and as Chi­na has assumed new roles and respon­si­bil­i­ties in the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty, China’s mil­i­tary mod­ern­iza­tion is also, to an increas­ing extent, focus­ing on invest­ments that would enable China’s armed forces to con­duct a wide range of mis­sions, includ­ing those that are far from Chi­na,” Helvey said.

Last year, he said, the People’s Lib­er­a­tion Army demon­strat­ed the capa­bil­i­ty to con­duct lim­it­ed peace­time deploy­ments and mil­i­tary oper­a­tions at great dis­tance from Chi­na, includ­ing non­com­bat­ant evac­u­a­tions from Libya, coun­ter­pira­cy mis­sions in the Gulf of Aden and peace­keep­ing oper­a­tions. Still, the focus remains on the Chi­nese mil­i­tary prepar­ing for con­tin­gen­cies in the Tai­wan Strait.

In addi­tion to Tai­wan, Chi­na places a high pri­or­i­ty on its mar­itime ter­ri­to­r­i­al claims, Helvey said. “In recent years Chi­na has begun to demon­strate a more rou­tine and capa­ble pres­ence in both the South Chi­na Sea and East Chi­na Sea,” he said.

Helvey stressed the oppor­tu­ni­ties the sit­u­a­tion presents to both the Unit­ed States and Chi­na. Chi­nese ships and crews could work with inter­na­tion­al part­ners to tamp down pira­cy. Air, naval and ground forces could con­duct human­i­tar­i­an and dis­as­ter relief exer­cis­es togeth­er.

“There’s an oppor­tu­ni­ty for Chi­na to part­ner with us and with oth­er coun­tries to address the types of chal­lenges that we all face in the 21st cen­tu­ry,” he said.

Helvey said oth­er por­tions of the report detail con­tin­ued Chi­nese invest­ments in nuclear forces, short- and medi­um-range con­ven­tion­al bal­lis­tic mis­siles, advanced air­craft, and inte­grat­ed air defens­es, cruise mis­siles, sub­marines and sur­face com­bat­ants and counter-space and cyber­war­fare capa­bil­i­ties. Many of these capa­bil­i­ties “appear designed to enable what we call anti-access and area-denial mis­sions, or what PLA strate­gists refer to as coun­ter­in­ter­ven­tion oper­a­tions,” Helvey said.

The Jan­u­ary 2011 flight test of China’s next-gen­er­a­tion fight­er air­craft, the J‑20, high­light­ed China’s ambi­tion to pro­duce advanced fight­er air­craft. The flight, which occurred dur­ing then-Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates’ vis­it to Chi­na, points to an effec­tive oper­a­tional capa­bil­i­ty no soon­er than 2018.

Oth­er steps include sea tri­als of China’s first air­craft car­ri­er, which it pur­chased from Ukraine in 1998. The ship could become avail­able to the PLA Navy by the end of the year, “but we expect it’ll take sev­er­al addi­tion­al years for an air group to achieve a min­i­mal oper­a­tional capa­bil­i­ty aboard the air­craft car­ri­er,” Helvey said.

Chi­na has also made invest­ments to improve its capac­i­ty for oper­a­tions in cyber­space, he said.

“That is some­thing that we pay very, very care­ful atten­tion to,” Helvey said. “There is the poten­tial for these types of oper­a­tions to be very dis­rup­tive — dis­rup­tive not only in a con­flict, [they] could be very dis­rup­tive to the Unit­ed States, but oth­er coun­tries as well.

“That’s one of the things about mil­i­tary oper­a­tions in cyber­space,” he added, “that there can be cas­cad­ing effects that are hard to pre­dict.”

The report is DOD’s effort to fore­cast China’s inten­tions, Helvey said. While there have been improve­ments in trans­paren­cy with­in the Chi­nese mil­i­tary, he added, much still occurs in secret. He point­ed to devel­op­ments in cyber, space and with for­eign-bought weapons sys­tems as not being part of China’s pub­lished nation­al secu­ri­ty bud­get.

That bud­get grew 11.2 per­cent from 2011’s $91.5 bil­lion to $106 bil­lion — con­tin­u­ing two decades of hot­house growth.

Helvey said the report is an effort to ensure the Unit­ed States isn’t tak­en unawares by China’s mil­i­tary progress, but he acknowl­edges there will prob­a­bly still be some sur­pris­es.

“We have seen in the past, instances where Chi­na has devel­oped weapons sys­tems and capa­bil­i­ties that appeared either ear­li­er than we expect­ed or that we were sur­prised when we saw it,” he said. “I think that is some­thing that we have to antic­i­pate and expect.

We’re pay­ing very care­ful atten­tion to China’s mil­i­tary mod­ern­iza­tion,” he added, “but we’ve been sur­prised in the past, and we may very well be sur­prised in terms of see­ing new weapons and equip­ment in the future.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)