China continues to increase spending to grow its already considerable military, and top Pentagon officials continue to watch the developments carefully.
– Anna Mulrine, Staff writer
1. Frequent cyberwarfare attacks, other espionage efforts
China has long been accused of engaging in cyber attacks and espionage on US networks, but for the first time the US military directly attributed some of those attacks to its counterparts in China, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
“In 2012, numerous computer systems around the world, including those owned by the United States government, continued to be targeted for intrusions, some of which appear to be attributable directly to the [Chinese] government and military organizations,” Mr. Helvey said during a Pentagon briefing this week.
The report points to cyberespionage, along with other activities – with the aim of bolstering China’s military advantages:
“China continues to leverage foreign investments, commercial joint ventures, academic exchanges, the experience of repatriated Chinese students and researchers, and state-sponsored industrial and technical espionage to increase the level of technologies and expertise available to support military research, development, and acquisition.”
2. Use of space to thwart the US military
In 2012, China conducted 18 space launches to expand its intelligence and surveillance satellites.
At the same time, China is working quickly to “improve its capabilities to limit or prevent the use of space-based assets by adversaries during times of crisis or conflict,” according to the report.
Indeed, “PLA writings emphasize the necessity of ‘destroying, damaging, and interfering with the enemy’s reconnaissance … and communications satellites,’ ” the DOD report notes, adding that such attacks would serve to “blind and deafen the enemy.”
The same PLA analysis also points out that “destroying or capturing satellites and other sensors … will deprive an opponent of initiative on the battlefield and [make it difficult] for them to bring their precision-guided weapons into full play.”
3. Development of ‘carrier killer’ missiles
China is developing specialized, precision anti-ship ballistic missiles that are capable of hitting US aircraft carriers from a range of about 600 to 1,800 miles, according to the report.
“This is something that China has invested in, and we’re watching very carefully as it’s developing that program,” Helvey said.
These weapons could potentially affect the US aircraft-carrier presence in the region. “We’re concerned about the ability of China to develop missiles that can project its military power with precision at great distances from China,” he added. “Obviously, something that can hold at risk large surface ships, including aircraft carriers, is something we pay attention to.”
4. Development of sophisticated ships, planes, and drones
The Chinese military is working quickly to improve its array of increasingly sophisticated fighter jets and attack helicopters.
Indeed, China is developing fourth- and fifth-generation aircraft that incorporate stealth technology, some of which, the report says, use technology captured by Chinese spies.
China has also launched its first aircraft carrier, which senior US military officials say they are watching carefully and which is “the most significant development in the [Chinese] Navy over the past year,” according to the report.
“The formation of carrier battle groups will enable the PLA Navy to conduct comprehensive operations and enhance its long-range operational capabilities,” it says.
The PLA is also “investing heavily in a robust program for undersea warfare,” developing nuclear-powered attack submarines, Helvey said.
Like the US, China is also interested in expanding its fleet of drones – as well as selling its technology. “We have seen some reports of China marketing unmanned air systems in air shows around the world,” Helvey added, “so that’s something we’ll have to continue monitoring very carefully.”