On September 1st, the US Department of Defense released its annual “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China” report.
The 200-page report [pdf], in short, summarizes that China is now, actually, ahead of the US in numbers of Ships, Missiles and Air Defense.
Below are some of the highlights from the report.
In terms of over-all national strategy, Beijing aims to achieve “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” by 2049.
The US understands that as a determined pursuit of political and social modernity that includes far-ranging efforts to expand China’s national power, perfect its governance systems, and revise the international order.
In terms of defense policy, The PRC has stated its defense policy aims to safeguard its sovereignty, security, and development interests. China’s military strategy remains based on the concept of “active defense.”
China’s leaders stress the imperative of meeting key military transformation markers set in 2020 and 2035. These milestones seek to align the PLA’s transformation with China’s overall national modernization so that by the end of 2049, China will field a “world-class” military.
However, there’s really no definition of what “world-class” means.
By around 2050 China is likely to develop a military that is equal to—or in some cases superior to—the U.S. military, or that of any other great power that China views as a threat to its sovereignty, security, and development interests.
Now, how does China plan to achieve that.
The PRC’s strategy includes advancing a comprehensive military modernization program that aims to “basically” complete military modernization by 2035 and transform the PLA into a “world-class” military by the end of 2049.
The PLA’s evolving capabilities and concepts continue to strengthen the PRC’s ability to counter an intervention by an adversary in the Indo-Pacific region and project power globally.
The worrisome thing about the US, and it admits it, is that Beijing has already achieved parity, or surpassed the US in several areas:
- Shipbuilding: The PRC has the largest navy in the world, with an overall battle force of approximately 350 ships and submarines including over 130 major surface combatants. In comparison, the U.S. Navy’s battle force is approximately 293 ships as of early 2020.China is the top ship-producing nation in the world by tonnage and is increasing its shipbuilding capacity and capability for all naval classes.
- Land-based conventional ballistic and cruise missiles: The PRC has developed its conventional missile forces unrestrained by any international agreements. The PRC has more than1,250 ground-launched ballistic missiles (GLBMs) and ground-launched cruise missiles (GLCMs) with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. The United States currently fields one type of conventional GLBM with a range of 70 to 300 kilometers and no GLCMs.
- Integrated air defense systems: The PRC has one of the world’s largest forces of advanced long-range surface-to-air systems—including Russian-built S-400s, S-300s, and domestically produced systems—that constitute part of its robust and redundant integrated air defense system (IADS) architecture.
The 20th annual report on China by DoD noted the “staggering” improvements in China’s ability to build, coordinate and project power since the first report was issued.
“DoD’s first annual report to Congress in 2000 assessed the PRC’s armed forces at that time to be a sizable but mostly archaic military that was poorly suited to the CCP’s long-term ambitions,” the report said.
In 2000, “the PLA lacked the capabilities, organization, and readiness for modern warfare,” the report said. But the CCP, it added, recognized the shortcomings and set about with determination to “strengthen and transform its armed forces in a manner commensurate with its aspirations to strengthen and transform China.”
“More striking than the PLA’s staggering amounts of new military hardware are the recent sweeping efforts taken by CCP leaders that include completely restructuring the PLA into a force better suited for joint operations” and for “expanding the PRC’s overseas military footprint.”
In its commentary on the DoD assessment, the American Enterprise Institute noted that the report also stressed that “The PRC has likely considered locations for PLA military logistics facilities in Myanmar, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, United Arab Emirates, Kenya, Seychelles, Tanzania, Angola, and Tajikistan.”
Regardless of these advancements, the situation is note dire, according to the report.
For these Chinese military “major gaps and shortcomings remain” in readiness and operational capability.
“Of course, the CCP does not intend for the PLA to be merely a showpiece of China’s modernity or to keep it focused solely on regional threats,” the report said.
“As this report shows, the CCP desires the PLA to become a practical instrument of its statecraft with an active role in advancing the PRC’s foreign policy, particularly with respect to the PRC’s increasingly global interests and its aims to revise aspects of the international order,” it added.
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