Technology Provides Greater Leaps Forward for China

September 15, 2010
By Robert K. Ackerman, SIGNAL Connections
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The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is translating its dynamic economic growth into a long-term military program that projects power far beyond territorial or even regional defense. Intensive information operations may be buttressed by long-range ballistic missiles with warheads designed to evade missile defenses if China becomes involved in a large-scale conflict. And, a host of new technologies may upgrade traditional military systems to give the Asian nation a regionally destabilizing force.

These were among the many points raised in the U.S. Defense Department’s Annual Report to Congress—Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China, 2010.”

In a background briefing at the Pentagon, a senior defense official echoed the report’s executive summary by noting that China is well into a military development phase that articulates “roles and missions for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) that go beyond China’s immediate territorial interests.” While these efforts have enabled China to engage in cooperative military operations such as counterpiracy, they also represent capabilities “potentially destabilizing to regional military balances,” the official stated.

Two areas cited by the report as areas of expanding military capability are space and cyberspace. China continues to expand and improve its space-based intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, navigation and communications satellite constellations, the report states. A parallel development is a “multidimensional program” to limit or prevent the use of space-based assets by other countries during crisis or conflict. New reconnaissance and navigation satellites have been launched within the past 20 months, and the new Long March V rocket will double China’s low-earth-orbit payload capacity when its development is finalized.

The report links “authoritative PLA military writings” with cyberwarfare capabilities that seem to be under development or even in use. Last year, the report states, computer systems around the world—including some owned by the U.S. government—were the target of intrusions “that appear to have originated within the PRC.” These intrusions, which focused on extracting information, involved skills similar to those required for computer network attacks. The report also notes that Canadian researchers discovered a China-based electronic spy ring that allegedly infiltrated government offices in India and more than 100 other nations to tap more than 1,300 computers.

“An essential element of China’s emerging anti-access … regime is the pursuit of the ability to dominate across the spectrum of information in all its dimensions and modern battlespace,” the defense official declared. “China’s investment in advanced electronic warfare systems, counterspace weapons and computer network operations reflect the emphasis and priority China’s leaders place on building capability in these areas.”

These asymmetrical capabilities would be teamed with traditional tactical and strategic forces to expand China’s military reach. The nation is developing an antiship ballistic missile that would have a range greater than 1,500 kilometers, or about 1,000 miles. This would allow China to hit U.S. aircraft carriers in the western Pacific Ocean from as far away as Chinese territory.

The country’s scientists also are working on several technologies designed to overcome U.S. ballistic missile defenses. In addition to multiple independently targeted re-entry vehicles (MIRVs), China is developing maneuvering re-entry vehicles and decoy/deception technology that would foil attempts at warhead interception.

As destabilizing as many of these capabilities would be, some still are under development and others are not yet fully integrated into the Chinese military architecture. For example, the U.S. defense official offered that Chinese planners face further obstacles in integrating their emerging antiship ballistic missile with the country’s command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance architecture. Absent that integration, the missile will not be fully operational.


SIGNAL Magazine's October issue features a focus on the Asia-Pacific region that includes China's relationship with the United States. And, AFCEA International's TechNet Asia-Pacific conference takes place October 26-28 in Honolulu, Hawaii.

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