Tuesday, 3 March 2015

US Defense Intelligence Agency's Take on China

PLA Navy, future adversary? (Source: US Navy) 

US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) Director Lt Gen Vincent Stewart recently provided the agency's latest assessment of the global security environment and to address the threats facing the US at the Senate Armed Services Committee Worldwide Threat Assessment Hearing. 


According to DIA, China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) is building a modern military capable of defending China's "core interests" of preserving its political system, protecting territorial integrity and sovereignty (China views these to include Taiwan and other contested claims to land and water), and ensuring sustainable economic and social development.

The PLA remains focused on transforming the army into a fully mechanized force. The PLA is converting its divisions into brigades to increase lethality and improve combat capabilities. China's national-level training focus has been on brigade-level exercises that stress unit combat mission capabilities under realistic conditions, long distance mobility, and command and control. DIA expect these trends to continue.

The PLA Navy continues to expand its operational and deployment areas. China's first aircraft carrier, commissioned in late 2012, will not reach its full potential until it acquires a fully operational fixed-wing air regiment, but DIA expects the navy will make progress toward its goal this year.

The South China Sea (SCS) remains a potential flashpoint. Overlapping claims among China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Brunei- exacerbated by large-scale construction or major steps to militarize or expand law enforcement- has increased tensions among claimants. This has prompted an increase in defense acquisition, to include submarine capabilities, in some of these countries.

In 2014, China twice deployed submarines to the Indian Ocean. The submarines probably conducted area familiarization to form a baseline for increasing China's power projection. China continues production of JIN-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines and submarine-launched ballistic missiles. DIA expects China to conduct its first nuclear deterrence patrols this year.

The PLA Air Force (PLAAF) is approaching modernization on a scale unprecedented in its history. China now has two stealth fighter programs- the third and fourth J-20 prototypes, which conducted their first flights in March and July 2014. Further PLAAF developments are anticipated.

China's nuclear arsenal currently consists of 50-60 ICBMs. China is adding more survivable road-mobile systems, enhancing its silo-based systems, and developing a sea-based nuclear deterrent. They are also augmenting more than 1,200 conventional short-range ballistic missiles deployed opposite Taiwan with a limited but growing number of conventionally armed, medium-range ballistic missiles, including the DF-16, which will improve China's ability to strike regional targets. China continues to deploy growing numbers of the DF-210 antiship ballistic missile and is developing a tiered ballistic missile defense system, having successfully tested the upper-tier capability on two occasions.


According to DIA's assessment, Chinese and Russian military leaders understand the unique information advantages afforded by space systems and are developing capabilities to deny US use of space in the event of a conflict. Chinese military writings specifically highlight the need to interfere with, damage, and destroy reconnaissance, navigation, and communication satellites. China has satellite jamming capabilities and is pursuing other antisatellite systems. In July 2014, China conducted a non-destructive antisatellite missile test. A previous destructive test with this same system in 2007 created long-lived space debris.

China will continue to be a source of dual-use WMD-applicable goods, equipment, and materials to countries of concern, like Iran, North Korea, and Syria. Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea engage in national-level military denial and deception programs that include the use of underground facilities to conceal and protect WMDs, and command, control, and other strategic assets and functions.

Finally, foreign intelligence threats from Russian, Chinese, and Cuban intelligence services continue to be a challenge. Trusted insiders who disclose sensitive US information for nefarious purposes will also remain a significant threat in 2015. The technical sophistication of this insider threat exacerbates the challenge.

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