Skip to comments.China's Rising Forces
Posted on 08/08/2002 7:03:57 AM PDT by Stand Watch Listen
China's modernization efforts are complex and far-reaching, aiming to achieve improved warfighting capabilities without overdependence on imported systems, writes Yihong Zhang
The perceptions shaping China's current military posture date from about 1995. Bejing then became increasingly aware that Taiwan's status as a separate nation, whose independence has never been recognized, may one day achieve true independence. China made the strategic decision of "speeding up preparation for military conflicts and reinforcing the military deterrence against Taiwan", according to its own military treatises.
The 1996 Taiwan Strait crisis raised military tension to a high level during a series of missiles tests by the People's Republic of China (PRC), and the deployment of a US carrier battlegroup further stimulated the Chinese military, which formed the impression that, if conflict breaks out in this region, US involvement would be inevitable.
As a consequence, a movement developed to study and learn from US armed forces and a series of treatises published by the Chinese military strategists almost all said that future military exercises should take the US forces as the combat targets. "If China can defeat the US forces, other countries will be no match for the Chinese military". For this purpose, China has established a training base for the People's Liberation Army (PLA) in Inner Mongolia, the largest of its kind in Asia. At this training center, the enemy force in training programs mainly acts out the role of US forces.
In the areas of weapon system replacement, training and education, China has started to make practical preparations for military struggle against Taiwan with an attitude of "combat readiness".
Strategically, China maintains the theory, "Southeast front first and west front second" ('Dong Huan Xi Ji' in Chinese), in which the number one target enemy is Taiwan; then the US and Japanese forces, followed by India, Vietnam and the separatists in Xinjiang. This reasoning has caused China to divert more financial resources to such key areas as the air force, navy and strategic missile forces as well as special force units in the army. Military budget increases have naturally leaned toward those forces.
China's military budget has been increasing at a double digit rate for 12 consecutive years. The figures published in the Chinese official media clearly indicate that China's budget this year is expected to reach US$16 billion, while western observers tend to believe the actual number is at least double the officially disclosed figure. At one US congressional hearing, the CIA testified that, in the coming five years, China's military budget would double.
During the ninth Five-year Plan (1996-2000), China's officially publicized military budget was US$58.9 billion. If the budget doubles during the 10th Five-year Plan, it would mean the money that China is going to invest in the military will reach US$118 billion.
New weapon development
Due to the increased military funding, the pace of new weapon development has visibly increased in China.
China adopted a dual track system in order to accelerate the development of new weapon systems; this requires China develop its own products while at the same time importing Russian weapon systems. The main purpose of doing so is to guarantee the effectiveness of the weapon systems in case of war. In addition, a low-high combination of domestic and Russian weapon systems can be established, which will help to reduce the number of imported weapon systems or avoid over-dependence on foreign suppliers.
For instance, in the air force, at the same time as importing Russian Su-27SK and Su-30MKK combat aircraft, China has this year completed development of the J-10 fighter and JH-7A fighter-bomber.
The factor that has delayed China's development of its own fighters was its inability to develop and produce an advanced gas turbine engine. The development of the WS10A turbofan engine for the J-10 has been going on for over 10 years. It completed a trial flight earlier this year at the No.606 Research Institute in Shenyang. But this engine does not power the J-10.
In 2001, China and Russia signed the contract for importing AL-31F turbofan engines. Some 54 out of the contracted 300 'AL-31F For J-10' were delivered to China at the end of 2001. These turbofan engines, two of which power the Su-27, are being installed in the J-10.
The low state of airborne radar development in China was another factor that delayed the production of J-10. Once again, China turned to Russia for help. In the last two years, the Russian Phazotron Design Bureau provided China with Zhemchung and ZHUK 8II multifunctional radar systems. The latter is used for upgrading the Chinese-made J-8 II, while the related technologies of the former may be used for the development of J-10.
Zhemchung radar systems will enable the search capability of Chinese fighters to increase to over 100km. Fighters equipped with Zhemchung systems will then not only be able to track and attack multi-air targets simultaneously, but also mount precision ground attack missions with guided weapons. The radar system is expected to push the China-made fighters close to the standard of the third-generation western fighters. Judging from the number of AL-31F's being imported, at least 300 J-10 fighters will be in effective service in the Chinese forces after 2005. Following the Su-27SK's upgrade, a high-low combination of Su-27SK and J-10 can be achieved in the air force.
China has started the JH-7A fighter-bomber upgrade project. Production of the first batch of 40 JH-7As is expected to start after 2003. The trial flights of JH-7A prototypes will start this year. China also gets help from Russia on the JH-7A, as it can co-ordinate with Su-30MKK in the air-to-ground role. Russia provided KAB-500L laser guided bombs and X-31P anti-radiation missiles for JH-7A. In addition, China has purchased from Russia 20 sets of large diameter radar antenna designed by Phazotron, which has some relation to the development of JH-7A.
Deployment of Su-30MKK and JH-7A in the Chinese Air Force for the first time enables it to launch accurate long-distance strikes against ground targets, so that a progressive strategy of "balanced offense and defense" (Gong Fang Jian Bei) can be implemented. In early 2001 the Chinese official media broadcast television images of Su-30MKK launching -59M TV-command guided air-to-surface missiles at night. The deployment of this missile, with a maximum range of 105km, is another symbol of China's ability to apply pressure on Taiwan.
China has been trying to produce Su-27SK, JH-7A and J-10 simultaneously in Shenyang, Xian and Chengdu, so the aviation industry can achieve balanced development in the northeast, southwest and northwest regions of the country. The Russian specialists helping China in producing Su-27SK told IDR they were surprised at the advanced technological standard of the modern western facilities of China's aerospace industry. They rate the facilities and equipment as better than that in similar Russian enterprises. The JH-7A facilities are equipped with computer-controlled machine tools made in the West.
Despite all this, Su-27SK, J-10 and JH-7A still reflect the design concepts of the 1970s and 1980s. Whether or not they will be deployed in the combat units in large numbers is still a matter of some controversy. For this reason, the Chengdu and Shenyang Aircraft Companies have started the research and development on the next generation fighter internally. No.606 Research Institute has begun to experiment with Thrust Vector Control technologies on the WS10A turbofan engine.
Given the military aerospace facilities in China and current production conditions of operating at overload, IDR estimates that by 2005-06, the Chinese Air Force could receive another 35-40 JH-7A, about 60-80 domestically-made Su-27SK, 50 J-10 and 80 Su-30MKK, a net increase of 155 to 190 Chinese standard third-generation military aircraft. In addition, the production of military aircraft has entered a sustainable and stable stage, and it will continue to develop steadily by this trend during the 10th five-year plan.
Navy development plans
Special attention has been given to naval development in China. China is currently working hard to develop larger surface ships, SSBN, SSN and conventional submarines, aiming at acquiring the capability to blockade Taiwan and deter the involvement of the US Pacific Fleet in the Taiwan Strait in the next 10 years. For this purpose, the development of SSBNs has been given priority so as to build up new nuclear deterrence.
In 2001, after two years of upgrading work, type 092G SSBN (G: Gai Lian, meaning modification) was recommissioned in the navy. It is believed the vessel received the JL-1A ballistic missile, the effective range of which is said to be up to 2,800km. In order to reduce noise, 092G is coated with a new type of sonar absorbing material, and installed on it is the new sonar system similar to the DUUX -5.
In 1999, in a report carried out by the PLA Daily it was strongly suggested that China had started to build the new-generation SSBN. This type of SSBN, called Project 094 in the Chinese military, will be equipped with 16 JL-2 SLBMs with effective range of 8,000km. It is predicted that, by 2010, at least two Project 094 SSBNs will be in commissioned service.
The land-based version, DF-31, is already in service in the Second Artillery Force - which has also established a new long-range mobile strategic missile brigade.
Responding to the US National Missile Defense (NMD) program, China is conducting a series of upgrading projects on the DF-31 warheads. The missiles will be installed with a new decoy system, making them more difficult to identify and intercept. Experiments are ongoing.
Launching of the new generation SSBN build project indicates that manufacture of the new SSN began before 1999. China's SSBN and SSNs are use the same kind of nuclear powerplant. In addition, China has imported sonar communication systems form Belarus and heavyweight torpedoes from Kazakhstan, suggesting the integration of SSN was begun earlier than 1999.
In May this year, China ordered eight Kilo 636 submarines armed with Club-S surface-to-surface missiles (SSMs) from Russia. It is planned that the submarines will be delivered to China within five years. Because of this, Russia is planning to produce these submarines simultaneously in different shipyards. As in the case in the aerospace industry, China will not be giving up the Song-class conventional submarine-upgrading project. The first two stages of the upgrade work have been completed. Starting with the third vessel, the Song (Type 039) submarine is very close to the French Agosta 90B in external shape. The height of the sail has been lowered in order to increase stability underwater. It is equipped with a new weapon control system. Song and Kilo 636 will also form a type of high-low combination.
What has perplexed the Chinese Navy for a long time in the development of large surface ships is propulsion systems. The official media eventually acknowledged that the new-generation Luhai-class (No.167) destroyer had steam turbines and accidents had occurred due to the leakage of the boiler during long deployments. In 1999, China signed a contract with the Ukraine covering the import of GTE80 (DN80) gas-turbines, and is currently trying to achieve license-production of the system. At the same time, China started the 052B large destroyer project. Two 6,000-ton class 052B destroyers are now under construction at the Shanghai No.436 navy shipyard. The 052B resembles the British Type 45 destroyer in shape. It is believed that 052B will be installed with China-made or Russia-made vertical-launch system (VLS) surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) in order to strengthen long-distance air-defense capabilities. The candidates include the Russia-made RIF-M and China-made FD2000 SAM. Both of the missiles have an effective range of over 100km. The design of 052B embodies stealth concepts.
In order to meet the needs in the transitional period, China purchased from Russia a further two Type 956ME destroyers, armed with longer range upgraded 3M80E supersonic SSMs. By 2006, China will have seven 6,000-ton class large destroyers and have established a substantial naval force.
Chinese Army digitization
The reforms in the system of the Chinese Army have also been deepening. The Chinese military is deeply aware of the difficulty in modernizing the whole army of 2.5 million soldiers. Because of this, the system being implemented is the "one army multisystems" (Yi Jun Duo Zhi) model. The capability of rapid reaction and digital battle was reinforced first in the key group armies (GA). However, due to the immense size of the army, even if only one-tenth of the personnel - that is, 250,000 - were mechanized or digitalized, the influence on the Asia-Pacific region military balance would be very significant.
To reinforce the capability of the military in handling emergent incidents and launching assaults across the Taiwan Strait, the Chinese conducted a "building block" reform concerning the establishment of the army. More 'divisions' were restructured into 'brigades'. For instance, in the No.27 GA and No.40 GA of the army, brigades have replaced all the divisions. No.65 GA has begun to implement a mixed establishment of divisions and brigades, aimed at building up the Chinese version of 'medium-size combat force'. For this purpose, industry has supplied the army with more Type 92 wheeled armored cars.
The Type 92 is fast becoming the most important piece of equipment for the army in establishing light mechanized brigades. The wheeled armored car has entered Xizang and Xingjiang Military Command. To deal with the Xinjiang and Tibetan separatists, the No.52 Mountain Brigade of the Xizang Command and the No.6 Infantry Division of the Xinjiang Command conducted anti-terrorism activities in the exercises, which helped to improve the rapid reaction ability of the combat units. On the basis of the No.1 Division of the No.1 GA of Nanjing Military Command, the Chinese Army recently established a new amphibious mechanized division armed with 63A light amphibious tanks.
The scale of experimental digital forces is much larger than the West expected. In the No.6 Armored Division of No.38 GA, combat experiments of the digital artillery force and digital tank force have obviously accelerated. This armored division is armed with a new generation of Type 98 main battle tanks.
Each military command has established the special force units. Battlefield picture transmission and digital communication systems are being used by those troops.
However, the Chinese military force is now facing its biggest obstacle, the overall low quality of the personnel. In the original planning, the Su-27SK - made in Shenyang - would be the first to be deployed in the No.1 Fighter Division based in Anshan, Liaoning Province. To date, only 10 pilots have completed flight training for the new fighters. This may affect the planned deployment of the fighters in the relevant combat units. No.1 Fighter Division is the A Class division in the Chinese Air Force and is equipped with the best J-8II fighters.
In addition, due to the lack of practical battle experience and the ability of the soldiers to endure hardship is much weaker than those in the Korean War years. Additionally, there exists a general sentiment of fear of the US forces.
The first decade of this century will be crucial for the development of the Chinese military. They will gradually complete the process of changing from mechanization to digitization, and attempt to establish regional military advantage against the Taiwanese forces.
In my fictional series, for the purposes of the story-line, I accellerate their development somewhat to be prepared for the outbreak of major hostilities in 2006.