Chinese strategic capabilities expanding, a US government report warns
20 November 2014
- China's nuclear forces are expected to expand considerably and become more lethal and survivable over the next 3-5 years, a US government report has warned
- The nuclear arsenal could grow so much that US extended deterrence, particularly with respect to Japan, will be weakened, it states
"Estimates of China's nuclear forces and nuclear capabilities by nongovernmental experts and foreign governments tend to be higher" than US estimates, the report by the US China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC) said.
The USCC, which was established by Congress in 2000, publishes an annual report for the legislature.
Whilst China has not disclosed data on its nuclear forces, experts say their arsenal is clearly growing.
"China's official pronouncements about its nuclear policies and strategies are short, rare, and vague," the report said. However, "despite the uncertainty surrounding China's stockpiles of nuclear missiles and nuclear warheads, it is clear China's nuclear forces over the next three to five years will expand considerably and become more lethal and survivable with the fielding of additional road-mobile nuclear missiles; as many as five Jin-class SSBNs, each of which can carry 12 JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missiles; and intercontinental ballistic missiles armed with multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs)."
The JL-2's range of approximately 4,598 miles "gives China the ability to conduct nuclear strikes against Alaska if launched from waters near China; against Alaska and Hawaii if launched from waters south of Japan; against Alaska, Hawaii, and the western portion of the continental United States if launched from waters west of Hawaii; and against all 50 US states if launched from waters east of Hawaii," the report warned.
The report added that China's nuclear arsenal is likely to grow and modernize in the next 3-5 years, so much so that the efforts "will [weaken] US extended deterrence, particularly with respect to Japan."
In addition to SLBMs, Beijing is fielding new road-mobile nuclear missiles. China has already deployed DF-31 ICBM and more advanced DF-31A ICBM. "The DF-31A has a maximum range of at least 6,959 miles, allowing it to target most of the continental United States," the report said. A new road-mobile ICBM, the DF-41, is now being tested, according to the authors. The new missile, which could be ready as early as 2015, could have a range of 7,456 miles, putting the entire US at risk. It can also carry 10 MIRVs, which could "[overwhelm] US ballistic missile defenses," according to the report
China's space-related capabilities are also growing. Beijing will be be able to attack US satellites both kinetically and electronically. "In space, China in 2014 continued to pursue a broad counter-space programme to challenge US information superiority in a conflict and disrupt or destroy US satellites if necessary," the report stated.
"China continues to expand and improve its ability to launch civil, military, and commercial satellites, despite enduring technological deficiencies in China's industrial base. China conducted 52 known space launches from 2011-2013, only three less than the United States during this period," the report added. "China likely will expand its space-based C4ISR architecture with the launch of approximately 35-50 additional satellites through 2015. This growth will be facilitated by planned improvements to China's ground-based space infrastructure and launch vehicles."
COMMENTThe US China Economic and Security Review Commission reports provide a valuable snapshot of Western open-source thinking on Chinese military capability and security policy, writes James Hardy . Other sections of the report provide insight into Beijing's North Korea policy, its South China Sea and global foreign policy objectives.
The report is scathing on the last point, noting that "China's effort to project an image of itself 'playing the role of a responsible, big country'' is at odds with its increased aggressiveness toward its neighbors and willingness to flout international laws and norms. Further, its commitment to 'playing the role of a responsible, big country' only seems to be a salient feature of China's foreign policy when 'being responsible' is in Beijing's own narrow national interests."
The report also notes a number of firsts for Chinese forces in 2014, such as its "combat readiness patrols" by nuclear-powered attack submarines in the Indian Ocean and large-scale drills in the Western Pacific that, in the words of one PLA senior colonel, "cut through the so-called 'first island chain'."
The commission's conclusion on the military balance of power between China and Taiwan is more nuanced than might be expected, noting the assessment of Ian Easton, a research fellow at the Project 2049 Institute, who told the commission that there has not been ''a fundamental shift in the cross-strait military balance. Rather, the situation remains fluid and dynamic" due to PLA uncertainty over its ability to achieve air superiority over the island.
The report, however, notes that "Taiwan has not acquired a modern combat aircraft or naval combatant since the mid-2000s" and that "China's vast arsenal of short-range ballistic missiles and cruise missiles would provide it with a crucial advantage in a conflict with Taiwan."