Presentation at the Heritage Foundation
With major ongoing military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as today’s tragic events, it is certainly tempting for pundits and defense officials alike to argue that U.S. defense planning, including the ongoing Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), should focus exclusively on the challenge posed by global terrorism. There has been no end of experts, academics and talking heads who have criticized the Bush Administration and QDR for being insufficiently aggressive about restructuring U.S. forces to combat terrorism and ridding the military of so-called “Cold War” legacy systems.
Such a reaction is natural. It also is wrong. The QDR is intended to look ahead some 20 years and consider how the character of U.S. military forces needs to be shaped to respond to security threats across that time span.
Looking out to 2025, it would be not merely foolish but a dereliction of duty for the Department of Defense not to consider the question of China’s place on the world stage and its future military power. This question is at least as important as that of how to win the global war on terrorism, perhaps more so.
I must take issue with the organizers of this conference. They have titled this meeting “The 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review: China and Space – the Unmentionables.” Although perhaps true in the sense that the QDR language is often intended more to obscure than illuminate, it is not precisely accurate. Some factors do not need mentioning. They loom above the strategic landscape, casting a shadow that is both long and wide. China – and I will comment in passing space too – is one of those factors. The potential security challenge posed by China has been at the forefront of concerns by this Administration since it took office. It is deeply embedded in the current QDR, through the guidance provided by the National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy and through such features as the so-called focus area on shaping the choices of countries at strategic crossroads and the major conflict scenarios that test QDR concepts.
So China may not be mentioned explicitly in the QDR, but it is like a boulder in the middle of the road. There is just no getting around it. The QDR must deal with the China question. In fact, one measure of success for this QDR is how it deals with the long-term challenge posed by China’s growing economic and military power while at the same time altering the design of U.S. forces to address better the nearer term problems of global terrorism and rogue states.
Make no mistake about it. China has every intention of becoming a major military power. According to the FY2004 report to Congress on PRC military capabilities, “China’s People’s Liberation Army is embarking on an ambitious, long-term military modernization effort to develop capabilities to fight and win short-duration, high-intensity conflicts along its periphery. China’s defense modernization is broad reaching, encompassing the transformation of virtually all aspects of the military establishment to include weapons systems, operational doctrine, institution building and personnel reforms.” The purposes for this transformation are several fold:
- Develop credible military options to deter Taiwan from seeking independence, and if necessary, compel its reintegration with the mainland. This is the main focus of China’s modernization program, according to the 2004 defense doctrine;
- Related to the first goal, deter, delay or disrupt third-party intervention in a cross-Straits crisis;
- Secure its economic and political interests along its periphery, to include Central Asia;
- Complicate, disrupt and even defeat attempts to use military force against the mainland;
- Address 21st Century threats such as terrorism.
China’s military modernization is just beginning to hit its stride, informed by Beijing’s growing sense of its own power and position and fueled by double digit GDP growth and the willingness, even fervor, of the world to trade with China. President Hu Jintao has called on the PLA not just to modernize itself but to pursue ‘leap ahead” technologies. Among the key aspects of modernization program are:
- Air Forces. SU-30s, SU-27s, the new model J-7/8. Missiles, precision weapons, UAVs, and airborne early warning. Also Russian IL-76 transport aircraft and possibly IL-78 Midas tankers.
- Air defenses: SA-10s and 20s.
- Naval forces. Not just Sovremmenys but much improved indigenously produced destroyers. Also two new classes of diesel submarines, as well as 8 Kilo-class from Russia, with wire-guided and wake-homing torpedoes. Small number of SSNs.
- New ground forces. Focus on rapid reaction units and air-ground cooperation. These, plus some special units, are useful across a range of scenarios.
- Space. Here the two issues for discussion today link up. China is making major strides in virtually all areas of military space: reconnaissance, communications, navigation and space control.
- Ballistic missile forces.
Current intelligence assessment supporting the scenarios for the QDR raises troubling questions about trends in Chinese military investment. Among other things, the assessment raises real doubts about the U.S. capacity to operate legacy (non-stealthy) fighters anywhere near China as next-generation radar, missiles and fighters are gradually netted together by the PLA Air Force. Similar worries are raised with regard to surface warships operating near the mainland. In the area of defense of the homeland the military modernization plan is guided, in part, by the “Three Attacks and Three Defense” plan which calls for “air defense training that concentrates on attacking stealthy aircraft, cruise missiles and helicopters, while defending against precision strikes, electronic warfare and enemy reconnaissance.” It has been suggested that the PLA is seeking to develop an elite core of modern units to enable it to act rapidly and decisively in a range of scenarios.In light of these factors, how should the QDR address the China question? There are two tests for the adequacy of U.S. forces vis-à-vis a potentially hostile China. The first is the ability of U.S. forces to operate successfully in near-mainland waters and airspace. The second is the ability to deny, on a selective basis, the advantage of a mainland sanctuary. Any conceivable conflict involving China will be for limited scope, scale and duration. China does not seek to physically expand its territory, with one notable exception. The PLA speaks of local wars. Nor would the United States seek to end a war with Beijing through conquest and regime change.
What kinds of forces does the China question entail?
- Long-range precision strike, including advanced stealth capabilities. There is a clear role for F-22 here. There is also a need to invest more in electronic warfare, next-generation low observables and very high-speed weapons.
- Theater and homeland air, missile and cyber defenses.
- A Navy capable of entering and remaining in contested waters. Key is a strong SSNs fleet, particularly new Virginia-class and the four SSGNs. Also a surface force, including at least 11 CVNs, that is networked, employs advanced platforms such as the upgraded E2-C, Global Hawk or other long-range, high endurance UAVs to provide broad area surveillance, the F-35 and Aegis BMDs.
- Ground forces with a capability to take the war to China.
- One might add weapons based on new physical principles, such as lasers and microwaves.
We are talking about forces quite different from those optimized for the global war on terror. These are forces that can gain and maintain air dominance, sea control and selective ownership of critical land nodes.
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