China Shifts Spending Focus to Info War
By WENDELL MINNICK, TAIPEI
China’s defense buyers have a new mantra: zhixin xiquan, or “informatization” — the purchase of systems that improve or complement existing weapons’ ability to provide information dominance.
“The procurement priority for the Chinese military will be those [systems] able to boost China’s information warfare capability, i.e., C4ISR [command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] systems, AWACS [airborne warning and control] systems and EW [electronic-warfare] systems,” said Arthur Ding, a cross-strait military affairs expert and research fellow at the National Chengchi University’s Institute of International Relations.
For example, China has only one electronic reconnaissance satellite. It is desperately trying to acquire advanced Western radar technology, electronic and optical surveillance, interception, jamming and anti-jamming, and electronic warfare capabilities. The PLA also hopes to develop hardware and software to conduct offensive and defensive information warfare.
“The People’s Liberation Army [PLA] has grasped the implications of a modern, information-driven military and understands the importance of C4ISR systems to create a knowledge-based war-fighting architecture,” said Larry Wortzel, chairman of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.
China is serious about space, as shown by its manned orbital flights in 2003 and 2005 and by more than 20 satellites it operates for positioning, navigation, reconnaissance, scientific research and meteorology.
Now the PLA is working on satellites to improve its abilities in command and control, early warning, battlefield surveillance, sealift and airlift navigation, missile control, all-weather surveillance and reconnaissance. The PLA wants to create precision image databases.
A Taiwan defense official said China has been deploying Beidou navigation satellites since 2000 and, since 2003, participating in the European Union’s Galileo navigation satellite project in hopes of improving its navigation satellites and precision strike weapons.
China’s satellite program will aid the Second Artillery Corps by providing terrain mapping and satellite navigation to improve the accuracy of its ballistic and cruise missiles. China has about 800 short-range ballistic missiles targeted on Taiwan, and is preparing to deploy its first intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting Washington and New York City this year.
The Air Force is focusing on three areas: upgrading its aircraft, improving air defense, and building and developing fighters.
China is improving the beyond-visual-range weapons of its H-6 Badger bomber and JH-7 fighter-bomber, early warning aircraft and Shaanxi Y-8 airborne electronic warfare planes.
It also is accelerating its weapon research and production through foreign acquisition and indigenous development. With the help of Israeli and Russian contractors, China has developed anti-radiation and video-guided air launched missiles.
China has acquired Russian S-300 anti-air missiles and is attempting to copy them. China is also fielding the Hongying-5 (Red Tassel) and Qianwei-1/2 (Advance Guard) self-propelled, man-portable anti-air missiles.
China is developing advanced fighters such as the FC-1 Xiaolong (Fierce Dragon) under a joint venture with Pakistan, which dubbed it the Joint Fighter-17 (JF-17) Thunder. The aircraft will provide closer air support with both anti-ship and beyond-visual-range capabilities. China is also mass-producing the Shenyang J-11 (Su-27) and Chengdu J-10 fighter aircraft.
China is accelerating its research and manufacture of guided missile destroyers and has acquired Russian Sovremenny-class destroyers. The Navy is developing phased-array radar and stealth capabilities, and is adding tank-landing ships to its amphibious capabilities.
But trumping all these is China’s research into nuclear-powered and diesel electric submarines, and its purchased eight Russian Kilo-class submarines.
“I think it is clear that Beijing has decided to focus the PLAN’s [People’s Liberation Army Navy] procurement efforts on modernizing its submarine force,” said Bud Cole, a China Navy specialist at the National War College in Washington. “I think we will see continued construction of Song- and Yuan-class conventionally powered submarines. Less certain are additional purchases from Russia of Kilo-class conventionally powered boats. China will also continue its new program of constructing nuclear powered attack and ballistic missile submarines.”
For surface combat, the Navy wants to improve the precision and extend the range of its Yingji anti-ship missiles. The Navy has acquired Russian SS-N-22 Sunburn supersonic anti-ship missiles and SS-N-27 Klub submarine-launched anti-ship missiles. China appears to be focusing on weaponry that can strike aircraft carriers.
“The PLAN is also continuing to build surface combatants, concentrating on ships with significantly improved anti-air warfare capabilities,” Cole said. “The focus of PLAN modernization continues to be possible Taiwan scenarios. I think a particularly significant factor in current PLAN modernization is the increasingly capable indigenous shipbuilding industry being developed, for submarines as well as surface combatants.”
China is continuing to mass-produce the T-96 and the new T-99 (ZTZ-99) main battle tanks, upgrading both firepower and armor-penetration capabilities.
China also is developing a self-propelled artillery, howitzers and programs to extend firing range. Much of this equipment is being modified for airdrop and rapid deployment missions. Helicopter procurement includes continued imports of Russian Mi-17 Hip transport helicopters.
“The most distinctive principle of China’s arms acquisition for decades has been to put qualitative improvement on top of quantitative expansion,” said Lin Chong-pin, president of the Taipei-based Foundation on International and Cross-Strait Studies and former Taiwan vice minister of national defense. “Spectrum enlargement [increasing the variety of weapons] has been more important for Beijing than merely reproducing the same items.”
But Wortzel, of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, argues that China’s defense industry cannot manufacture much of what the PLA needs.
“Big-money items will come from Russia and Eastern Europe with purchases of systems that can accept digital data transfer and link data with precision attack weapons, like advanced submarines, Sovremenny frigates, Su-27 and Su-30 aircraft, and AWACS aircraft, and the weapons suites for all these platforms. China will also spend heavily on what advanced technology it can buy from Europe that is not controlled by the arms embargo.”
Fortunately for China, money for new systems will not be a problem.
“At the current annual growth rate of 12.6 percent, China’s national defense budget is going to rise to $100 billion around the year 2015, which will make China a genuine superpower,” said Lin.
“Economists estimate that as long as China’s economy continues to grow at a steady rate of 6 percent, a double-digit increase in its national defense spending can be guaranteed. Calculating at the growth rate of 12.6 percent, China’s national defense budget will rise from its current $33.69 billion for 2006 to $110.39 billion in 2016,” said Andrei Chang, founder and editor of the Hong Kong-based Kanwa Defense Review.
“The calculation has been based on the average growth rate of 12.6 percent, and if we look back at the past 15 years, China’s defense spending has been growing steadily at double-digit rate each year except 2003,” Chang said. “The average increase rate in the past 16 years is 14.14 percent.” said Chang.
However, Chang warns that these numbers are based on China’s official figures, and actual spending is much greater.
East Asia defense specialist June Teufel Dreyer of the University of Miami, Fla. agrees: “As always, readers should probably be reminded that this is only a fraction of what the Chinese actually spend on defense.”
The biannual 2006 National Defense Report, released Aug. 29 by Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense, describes China’s “hidden” budget.
“Careful examination of previous actual military spending shows that certain outlays were channeled through some 10 other government organizations,” according to the report. “Hidden expenses are also appropriated under nonmilitary expenditures.”
The report cautions that China’s defense budget might exceed $90 billion, which would make it the third largest in the world.