USA — Navy Intel Chief Discusses China’s Military Advances

WASHINGTON, Jan. 6, 2011 — Though Chi­na has demon­strat­ed its abil­i­ty to field advanced mil­i­tary pro­to­types speed­i­ly, how soon it can put those capa­bil­i­ties to use remains a key ques­tion, the Navy’s intel­li­gence chief said yes­ter­day.
Vice Adm. David J. “Jack” Dorsett, direc­tor of naval intel­li­gence and deputy chief of naval oper­a­tions for infor­ma­tion dom­i­nance, spoke to defense writ­ers about China’s emerg­ing mil­i­tary capa­bil­i­ties.

“They’ve entered oper­a­tional capa­bil­i­ty quick­er than we fre­quent­ly project,” Dorsett said.
“We’ve been on the mark on an awful lot of our assess­ments,” he added, “but there have been a hand­ful of things we’ve under­es­ti­mat­ed.” Dorsett’s remarks were deliv­ered on the same day that Pen­ta­gon spokesman Marine Corps Col. Dave Lapan e‑mailed reporters about the Defense Department’s annu­al report to Con­gress on “Mil­i­tary and Secu­ri­ty Devel­op­ments Involv­ing the People’s Repub­lic of Chi­na.”

The report, Lapan wrote, states Chi­na “con­tin­ues to make invest­ments to sup­port a com­pre­hen­sive mil­i­tary mod­ern­iza­tion pro­gram which includes advanced air­craft.” Specif­i­cal­ly, Lapan not­ed, the Chi­na report ref­er­ences the Qua­dren­ni­al Defense Review report.

“Chi­na is devel­op­ing and field­ing large num­bers of advanced medi­um-range bal­lis­tic and cruise mis­siles, new attack sub­marines equipped with advanced weapons, increas­ing­ly capa­ble long-range air defense sys­tems, elec­tron­ic war­fare and com­put­er net­work attack capa­bil­i­ties, advanced fight­er air­craft and counter-space sys­tems,” he wrote.

The lat­est Chi­nese mil­i­tary tech­nol­o­gy has been wide­ly report­ed in recent weeks. In Decem­ber, high-res­o­lu­tion pho­tos sur­faced of a Chi­nese air­craft that appears to be a large stealth fight­er. The pre­vi­ous week, Navy Adm. Robert F. Willard, com­man­der of U.S. Pacif­ic Com­mand, was quot­ed in a Japan­ese news­pa­per as say­ing a Chi­nese anti-ship bal­lis­tic mis­sile, the Dong Feng 21D or DF-21D, has been exten­sive­ly test­ed and now is con­sid­ered to be at ini­tial oper­a­tional capa­bil­i­ty.

Amid grow­ing glob­al atten­tion to China’s grow­ing mil­i­tary inven­to­ry, Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates will trav­el to Chi­na on Jan. 9 for long-planned meet­ings, the first between the two nations’ defense lead­ers since Chi­na sus­pend­ed mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary con­tact ear­ly last year.

Dur­ing his meet­ing with reporters, Dorsett said Chi­nese advances should be viewed in per­spec­tive. Their stealth fight­er, he said, will not be ful­ly oper­a­tional­ly capa­ble for years, and the DF-21D anti-ship bal­lis­tic mis­sile sys­tem has been test-fired over land, but is not believed to have been test­ed over water against maneu­ver­ing tar­gets. But recent devel­op­ments in bal­lis­tic-mis­sile tech­nol­o­gy has increased the prob­a­bil­i­ty that Chi­na could hit a maneu­ver­ing tar­get — such as an air­craft car­ri­er — with a mis­sile sal­vo, Dorsett said.

“How pro­fi­cient they are, or what that lev­el of prob­a­bil­i­ty is, we don’t know,” he said. “And frankly, I’m guess­ing that they don’t know.” China’s stealth air­craft, he said, like­ly is in ear­ly devel­op­ment. Based on pic­tures he has seen of the Chi­nese so-called J‑20 stealth air­craft, Dorsett said, it’s not clear when it will be ful­ly test­ed and oper­a­tional.

“Over the years, the Chi­nese mil­i­tary doc­trine was ‘hide and bide’ –- hide your resources and bide your time,” Dorsett said. “They now appear to have shift­ed into an era where they’re will­ing to show their resources and capa­bil­i­ties.”

While Chi­na is pro­vid­ing more insight, Dorsett said, “Still, the lack of trans­paren­cy into what they’re doing, the lack of open­ness, remains a con­cern for us.” Anoth­er con­cern is China’s abil­i­ty to become oper­a­tional­ly pro­fi­cient in a joint, sophis­ti­cat­ed com­bat envi­ron­ment, he said.

“I don’t see Chi­na [with] those capa­bil­i­ties right now. I see them deliv­er­ing indi­vid­ual com­po­nents, indi­vid­ual weapons sys­tems,” Dorsett said. “So one of the areas that I focus on is how good are they at devel­op­ing their oper­a­tional pro­fi­cien­cy to man­age across the spec­trum of war­fare.

“That’s one [area] where I don’t want to get the assess­ment wrong,” he con­tin­ued. “I want to get it pret­ty right on about when we think they’re going to become oper­a­tional­ly pro­fi­cient.”

It’s clear the Chi­nese are mod­ern­iz­ing across a broad array of weapons sys­tems, Dorsett said. “Their econ­o­my is such that they can invest, and have been able to invest this decade, quite heav­i­ly in a mil­i­tary buildup,” he added.

China’s advances in procur­ing mod­ern mil­i­tary equip­ment should not be a sur­prise, Dorsett said, but the speed of their progress has been. “I am intrigued by the devel­op­ments. I am quite inter­est­ed in the quan­ti­ties and dif­fer­ent types of tech­nol­o­gy that have been devel­oped that we either did­n’t expect or we under­es­ti­mat­ed,” he said.

Still, Dorsett said, field­ing a pro­to­type is just the first step toward inte­grat­ing it into rou­tine mil­i­tary oper­a­tions.

“For exam­ple, while they’re devel­op­ing tech­nol­o­gy and capa­bil­i­ties, it has just been [dur­ing] the last year and a half, two years, that we’ve seen the Chi­nese navy deploy out of area for any peri­od of time,” he said.

“In … late 2008, when they deployed a three-ship task group to the Gulf of Aden to con­duct coun­ter­pira­cy oper­a­tions, that was a big step for them,” Dorsett added. “Three ships to the Gulf of Aden, com­pared to what the U.S. Navy does on a dai­ly basis, … you can’t con­trast the two, because the dif­fer­ence is so great.” Chi­na lacks some basic com­po­nents of advanced mil­i­tary pow­er, Dorsett said: inte­grat­ed intel­li­gence, sur­veil­lance and recon­nais­sance capa­bil­i­ty, anti-sub­ma­rine war­fare capa­bil­i­ty, a lev­el of sophis­ti­ca­tion in joint warfight­ing, and mature oper­a­tional pro­fi­cien­cy across the board.

“So what would be dan­ger­ous for us is to over­es­ti­mate them today but under­es­ti­mate [the] time­line of try­ing to syn­chro­nize these var­i­ous ele­ments togeth­er,” he said. The Chi­nese “game plan” is to grad­u­al­ly build to glob­al pow­er, Dorsett said, offer­ing their planned air­craft car­ri­er capa­bil­i­ty devel­op­ment as an exam­ple. “They’ve got a used, very old Russ­ian car­ri­er that they’re going to prob­a­bly start con­duct­ing sea tri­als with lat­er this year,” he said. “They are plan­ning on build­ing indige­nous air­craft car­ri­ers that will come into their order of bat­tle lat­er on, over the next decade.”

But by 2020, Chi­nese air­craft car­ri­er pro­fi­cien­cy and capa­bil­i­ty will still be very lim­it­ed, Dorsett said, because inte­grat­ing fly­ing air­craft into not just flight deck oper­a­tions but bat­tle group oper­a­tions “takes a fair amount of time.”

“The U.S. Navy has had … 100 years of flight activ­i­ty. So it’s going to take time for them to build that capa­bil­i­ty,” he said. “They’re prag­mat­ic; they’ve got a game plan that deals in decades.”

Dorsett said in his view, Chi­na is try­ing to build a navy that becomes a near-term region­al pow­er, with long-term sig­nif­i­cant glob­al impli­ca­tions in sup­port of their nation.

“They want a naval force that can be deployed to pro­tect their resource flow or their vital nation­al inter­ests, such as the anti-pira­cy oper­a­tions,” he said.

While the Chi­nese plan to build a mas­sive mil­i­tary infra­struc­ture is long-range, their pur­suit of tech­no­log­i­cal capa­bil­i­ty is much quick­er, Dorsett said, not­ing that over the last 10 years, Chi­na has devel­oped a “com­pe­tent capa­bil­i­ty” in intel­li­gence, sur­veil­lance and recon­nais­sance sys­tems and over-the-hori­zon radars.

“Ten years from now, we expect a much greater increase in the num­ber of satel­lites they have in orbit and their capa­bil­i­ty to fuse infor­ma­tion,” he said.

The Chi­nese are matur­ing in their use of capa­bil­i­ties, Dorsett said. “But have you seen them deploy large groups of naval forces?” he added. “No. Have we seen large, joint, sophis­ti­cat­ed exer­cis­es? No. Do they have any com­bat pro­fi­cien­cy? No. That’s what I’m say­ing –- they are at the front end of devel­op­ing that mil­i­tary capa­bil­i­ty.”

While devel­op­ments in Chi­nese mar­itime, bal­lis­tic mis­sile and stealth fight­er capa­bil­i­ty deserve atten­tion, Dorsett said, “The area and the tech­nol­o­gy that I’m most con­cerned about is China’s focus and atten­tion on try­ing to devel­op capa­bil­i­ties to dom­i­nate in the elec­tro-mag­net­ic spec­trum, to con­duct counter-space capa­bil­i­ties, and clear­ly to con­duct cyber activ­i­ties.”

The Chi­nese write about what they call joint infor­ma­tion­al­ized oper­a­tions and attempt­ing to dom­i­nate the elec­tro­mag­net­ic envi­ron­ment, Dorsett said.

“In fact, you see through­out their train­ing, their exer­cis­es, they attempt to employ a wide range of elec­tron­ic war­fare and elec­tro­mag­net­ic con­trol mech­a­nisms,” he said. “They try to real­ly use space –- so all of these things that are non­k­i­net­ic are pret­ty cru­cial to war­fare for Chi­na. But guess what? In the Infor­ma­tion Age, they need to be crit­i­cal ele­ments for all nations.”

Non­k­i­net­ic and infor­ma­tion war­fare and dom­i­nat­ing the elec­tro­mag­net­ic spec­trum are key com­po­nents of warfight­ing for the future, Dorsett said. “We real­ly should­n’t focus exces­sive­ly on Chi­na,” he added. “We should focus on infor­ma­tion capa­bil­i­ties and how nations might employ those in the future.”

Dorsett said the Unit­ed States and Chi­na are focused on a new area of war­fare that oth­er nations also are look­ing at and devel­op­ing.

“We’re going through a trans­for­ma­tion, if not a rev­o­lu­tion, in mil­i­tary capa­bil­i­ties these days — and it’s more toward the infor­ma­tion, the non­k­i­net­ic, the cyber side of the house,” he said.

The Unit­ed States mil­i­tary is in the midst of that par­a­digm shift, Dorsett said.

“We don’t want to shoot behind the tar­get,” he said. “We don’t want to pre­pare for the last war. We don’t want to pre­pare for ground activ­i­ties in Iraq and Afghanistan, in a rel­a­tive­ly benign envi­ron­ment in terms of sophis­ti­ca­tion of war­fare.”

Road­side bombs and insur­gents on the ground pose a great threat to U.S. troops in Afghanistan, Dorsett said, but the present war should­n’t pre­vent defense experts from plan­ning for future con­flicts.

“I do think [in future con­flicts] we’ll use advanced tech­nolo­gies, advanced capa­bil­i­ties, and [be] much more non­k­i­net­ic than we’ve ever seen in the past,” he said. “So [the Defense Depart­ment] is, in fact, prepar­ing for that.”

The U.S. mil­i­tary must also main­tain its com­bat capa­bil­i­ty and pro­fi­cien­cy in irreg­u­lar war­fare, such as the fight in Afghanistan, he said.

“We real­ly need to com­mit the right resources to win in Afghanistan, to be suc­cess­ful there, but at the same time, … we are look­ing at oth­er ele­ments of warfight­ing, espe­cial­ly on the infor­ma­tion side, where we need to make improve­ments,” Dorsett said. “It’s not either-or. It’s both, and at the same time, we’re going through a sig­nif­i­cant tran­si­tion.”

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

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