Near Peer CompetitorJanuary 16, 2019
Yesterday, the United States Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) released the 2019 China Military Power report to the public, highlighting developments in new technologies. These technologies include hypersonic and other indigenous capabilities such as stealth fighters, intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), and cruise missiles.
Released just days after acting Secretary of Defense, Patrick Shanahan, used his first staff meeting to emphasize the Pentagon’s focus on China, this report details new numbers for China’s ICBM, cruise missile, and hypersonic stockpiles.
Almost 20 years ago, the then commander of U.S. Strategic Command, General Eugene Habiger, testified in front of Congress that China retained 18 silo-based DF-5’s. Just six years later, the Pentagon released a report that stated China had 42 nuclear tipped ICBMs. Currently, the new DIA report estimates that China has 75-100 nuclear tipped ICBMs.
“China currently has 75 to 100 ICBMs, including the silo-based CSS-4 Mod 2/DF-5A and MIRV-equipped CSS-4 Mod 3/DF-5B; the solid-fueled, road-mobile CSS-10 Mod 1/DF-31 and CSS-10 Mod 2/ DF-31A; and the shorter-range CSS-3/DF-4. The CSS-10 Mod 2/DF-31A has a range of more than 11,200 kilometers and can reach most locations within the continental United States. China also is developing a new MIRV-capable road-mobile ICBM, the CSS-X-10/DF-41.”
China is also increasing its cruise missile capabilities, so it can reduce the burden on ballistic missile forces.
“The CJ-10 ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) has a range in excess of 1,500 kilometers and offers flight profiles different from ballistic missiles, enhancing targeting options. Because of overlap in the kinds of targets China is likely to engage with either ballistic missiles or cruise missiles, GLCMs and air-launched land-attack cruise missiles provide key operational and planning flexibility. These weapons are likely to reduce the burden on ballistic missile forces as well as create somewhat safer strike opportunities for Chinese aircrews, allowing them to engage from much greater distances and from more advantageous locations. This will complicate an adversary’s air and missile defense problem.”
Beyond ballistic and cruise missile capabilities, China has also been developing new technologies to counter missile defense systems around the world, including completing work on hypersonic weapons and directed energy.
“The PLA is developing a range of technologies to counter U.S. and other countries’ ballistic missile defense systems, including maneuverable reentry vehicles (MARVs), MIRVs, decoys, chaff, jamming, thermal shielding, and hypersonic glide vehicles.”
“The PLA is acquiring a range of technologies to improve China’s counterspace capabilities. China is developing antisatellite capabilities, including research and possible development of directed-energy weapons and satellite jammers, and probably has made progress on the antisatellite missile system that it tested in July 2014.”
However, officials are less worried with the technological advancements and instead are more concerned about Chinese confidence.
A senior defense intelligence official explains, “The biggest concern is that they are getting to a point where the PLA leadership may actually tell [President Xi Jinping] they are confident in their capabilities. We know in the past they have considered themselves a developing, weaker power. As a lot of these technologies mature, as their reorganization of their military comes into effect, as they become more proficient with these capabilities, the concern is we’ll reach a point where internally in their decision-making they will decide that using military force for regional conflict is something that is more imminent.”
Lastly, the report indicates that China is becoming an imminent threat and that its targets are expanding.
“PLA writings emphasize the necessity of “destroying, damaging, and interfering with the enemy’s reconnaissance…and communications satellites,” suggesting that such systems, as well as navigation and early warning satellites, could be among the targets of attacks designed to “blind and deafen the enemy.”