The Pentagon’s 2017 Report On Chinese Military Affairs

The Pentagon report says China is “developing a strategic bomber that officials expect to have a nuclear mission.” The Internet is full of artistic fantasies of what it might look like.

By Hans M. Kristensen

The Pentagon’s latest annual report to Congress on Chinese military and security developments describes a nuclear force that is similar to previous years but with a couple of important new developments in the pipeline.

The most sensational nuclear news in the report is the conclusion that China is developing a new strategic nuclear bomber to replace the aging (but upgraded) H-6.

The report also portrays the Chinese ICBM force as a little bigger than it really is because the report lists missiles rather than launchers. But once adjusted for that, the report shows the same overall nuclear missile force as in 2016, with two new land-based missiles under development (DF-26 and DF-41) but not yet operational.

The SSBN force is described as the same four boats but with “others” under construction. The report is a bit hasty to declare China now has a survivable sea-based deterrent, a condition that will require a few more steps.

Finally, the report concludes that Chinese nuclear strategy and doctrine, despite a domestic debate about scope and role, are unchanged from previous years.  Continue reading

New FAS Nuclear Notebook: Chinese Nuclear Forces, 2016

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Click on image to download Notebook.

By Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris

China’s nuclear forces are limited compared with those of Russia and the United States. Nonetheless, its arsenal is slowly increasing both in numbers of warheads and delivery vehicles.

In our latest FAS Nuclear Notebook on Chinese nuclear forces published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, we estimate that China has a stockpile of about 260 nuclear warheads for delivery by a growing diversity of land- and sea-based ballistic missiles and bombers.

Changes over the past year include fielding of the new dual-capable DF-26 road-mobile intermediate-rage ballistic missile, the reported fielding of a new nuclear version (Mod 6) of the DF-21 road-mobile medium-range ballistic missile, more flight-tests of the long-rumored DF-41 road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile, and the slow readying of the Jin-class (Type 094) nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines.

China is also modernizing its aging fleet of H-6 bombers, some of which may have a secondary nuclear role.

Although China is still thought to be fielding more DF-31A launchers, the overall number of ICBM launchers has not increased since 2011 but remained at 50-75 launchers. The oldest of these, the liquid-fuel DF-4, apparently has an extra load of missiles but is thought to be close to retirement. None of the new ICBMs are thought to have reloads. Continue reading

Pentagon Report And Chinese Nuclear Forces

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By Hans M. Kristensen

The Pentagon’s latest annual report on Chinese military developments mainly deals with non-nuclear issues, but it also contains important new information about developments in China’s nuclear forces. This includes:

  • The size of China’s ICBM force has been relatively stable over the past five years
  • China has deployed a new version of a medium-range ballistic missile
  • A new intermediate-range ballistic missile is not yet deployed
  • China’s SSBN fleet has yet to conduct its first deterrent patrol
  • The possibility of nuclear capability for Chinese bombers
  • Changes (or not) to Chinese nuclear policy

ICBM Developments

The future development of China’s ICBM force has been the subject of much speculation and projections over the years. Despite important new developments, this year’s report describes the size of the ICBM force as consistent with the force level reported over the past five years: around 60 launchers. Fielding of the DF-31 appears to have stalled and the data suggests that fielding of the DF-31A has been modest: so far about 20-30 launchers, enough for perhaps 4-5 brigades (see graph).

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Click graph to view full size

In 2012, the DOD report predicted that by 2015, “China will also field additional road-mobile DF-31A” launchers. But that doesn’t seem to have happened. Instead, the ICBM launcher force has remained relatively stable since 2011.

The number of Ichina-icbm-nosCBM launchers reported by the annual DOD reports over the past 13 years has fluctuated considerably, from around 30 in 2003 to 50 to 60-plus launchers in 2008 and later years. The uncertainty has been greatest in 2011-2013 and 2016 with a plus/minus of 25 launchers. That’s a significant uncertainty of approximately 40 percent in recent years versus around 10 percent in earlier years. But it seems clear that the Chinese ICBM forces is so far not continuing to grow.

While the number of launchers has been relatively stable, the DOD report shows a mysterious increase of missiles for those launchers: 75-100 missiles for 50-75 launchers. This is inconsistent with previous DOD reports, which have either listed the same number of launchers and missiles, or a slightly higher number of missiles because of a reload capability of the old DF-4 (see table).

It is unclear why the 2016 report suddenly increases the number of missiles to 25 more than the number of launchers. Neither the DF-5 nor the DF-31/31A ICBMs are thought to have reloads. Past DOD reports that included missile estimates always listed one reload for the DF-4, not any other system. With only about 10 DF-4 launchers left in the arsenal, the number of extra missiles in 2016 should probably be 10, not 25 (the 25 would fit better if there were two reloads for the DF-4). As far as I can tell, here is what the Chinese ICBM force looks like:

china-icbms-tbl
Click table to view full size

Despite many rumors in the public debate that China has developed or is developing rail-based versions of its ICBMs, there is no mentioning in the DOD report of any rail-based system. Here is out latest overview of Chinese nuclear forces. An update will be published in July.

DF-26 Nuclear Precision Strike?

China’s newest nuclear-capable missile, the DF-26 (DOD provides no CSS designation for the new missile) that was unveiled during the September 2015 parade in Beijing, appears not to have been deployed with missile units yet.

DF-26
Sixteen six-axel launchers were displayed during the parade and described as the official commentator as nuclear-capable. The missile is not yet deployed. Image: PLA.

The DOD report states that the DF-26, if it uses the same guidance for the nuclear and the conventional payloads, “would give China its first nuclear precision strike capability against theater targets.”

This statement indicates that DOD does not believe that any of China’s other nuclear-capable missiles have precision strike capability.

A New DF-21 Version?

The DOD report also lists a new version of the nuclear medium-range DF-21 missile but provides no details. The new version is called DF-21 Mod 6, or CSS-5 Mod 6 as it is listed in the report.

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The DOD report says China has deployed a new version of the DF-21 medium-range ballistic missile. Here a DF-21 takes part in a nuclear strike exercise in 2015. Image: PLA via CCTV-13.

The previous report from 2015 stated that the ICBM force was complemented by the “road-mobile, solid-fueled CSS-5 (DF-21) MRBM for regional deterrence missions.” The 2016 report, however, states that the ICBM force “is complemented by road-mobile, solid-fueled CSS-5 Mod 6 (DF-21) MRBM for regional deterrence missions,” the first time the Mod 6 designation has been used.

DOD does not provide any details about what the Mod 6 version is and to what extent it affects the status of the two original nuclear versions (Mod 1 and Mod 2). The original versions are getting old, so one possibility might be that the Mod 6 version is intended to replace them. But it is unclear what the status is.

DF-21 holds a special status in the history of Chinese forces because it was the first real mobile solid-fuel missile that replaced the old and more cumbersome liquid-fuel missiles. The Mod 1 was first fielded in the late-1980s although deployment didn’t really get underway until 1992. The Mod 2 was “not yet deployed” in 1998, according to NASIC, but both versions were listed as deployed by 2000. That was also the case in 2013, which suggest that the two versions might not be that different (perhaps range is the only difference), or that they are different but both retained for specific missions.

There is a lot of confusion about the different versions of the DF-21 in the public debate where many authors re-use secondary sources instead of relying on the original reference material. The most common mistake is to refer to the DF-21C conventional land-attack version as the CSS-5 Mod 3 and the DF-21D anti-ship version as the CSS-5 Mod 4. Over the years, DOD and the U.S. Intelligence Community have reported the following versions of the DF-21 medium-range ballistic missile:

DF-21 (CSS-5 Mod 1): nuclear
DF-21A (CSS-5 Mod 2): nuclear
DF-21C (CSS-5 Mod 4): conventional land-attack
DF-21D (CSS-5 Mod 5): conventional anti-ship
DF-21 (CSS-5 Mod 6): nuclear (new)

It is not clear what happened to DF-21B and/or CSS-5 Mod 3. In any case, the DF-21 has now completely replaced the old liquid-fuel DF-3As that dominated the Chinese regional nuclear deterrence posture since the early-1970s. The last brigade to convert to DF-21 possibly was the 810 Brigade at Dengshahe in Liaoning province.

About That Credible Sea-Based Deterrent

It seems that various news media reports and official statement continue to exaggerate or preempt the operational capability of the Chinese submarine force. Many have said the new Jin-class SSBNs had begun conducting deterrent patrols, but the DOE report seems to indicate that the subs (or rather, their missiles) are not yet fully operational.

In February 2015, for example, the U.S. Chief of Naval Operations, Vice Admiral Joseph Mulloy, reportedly told Congress that one SSBN had gone on a 95-day patrol. Later, STRATCOM Commander Admiral Cecil Haney said SSBNs had been at sea but that he didn’t know if they had nukes on board but had to assume they did.

In contrary to these statements, the DOD report states the Jin-class SSBN “will eventually carry” the JL-2 SLBM (apparently it doesn’t yet do so) and that “China will probably conduct its first SSBN nuclear deterrence patrol sometime in 2016.” So apparently not yet.

This “not quite yet” assessment was supported by the Defense Intelligence Agency saying “the PLA Navy deployed the JIN-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine in 2015, which, when armed with the JL-2 SLBM, provides Beijing its first sea-based nuclear deterrent.” (Emphasis added.)

So one or more SSBNs might have sailed on some kind of deployment, but not necessarily with nuclear weapons onboard. All four operational Jin SSBNs are based at Longpo (Yulin) Submarine Base on Hainan Island, along with two Shang-class nuclear-powered attack submarines. A fifth Jin SSBN is under construction.

Jin-ssbns_yulin2015
3 Jin SSBNs and 2 Shang SSNs at Longpo Submarine Base. Click to view full size.

The DOD report also seems to debunk a rumor that China is building up to five additional Jin-class SSBNs. The head of US Pacific Command in 2015 told Congress that in addition to the submarines already launched, “up to five more may enter service by the end of the decade.” That seems to have been a fluke. The DOD report says a fifth Jin is under construction after which China will probably move on to a next-generation SSBN (Type 096) armed with a new missile (JL-3).

Nuclear Bombers?

The DOD report for the first time raises the issue of a potential nuclear role for the bombers. It does so by referencing various Chinese writings but without presenting a clear U.S. Intelligence Community conclusion about such a capability:

china-bomb1967
A thermonuclear bomb is dropped from an H-6 bomber in June 1967.

“In 2015, China also continued to develop long-range bombers, including some Chinese military analysts have described as “capable of performing strategic deterrence”—a mission reportedly assigned to the PLA Air Force in 2012. There have also been Chinese publications indicating China intends to build a long-range “strategic” stealth bomber. These media reports and Chinese writings suggest China might eventually develop a nuclear bomber capability. If it does, China would develop a “triad” of nuclear delivery systems dispersed across land, sea, and air—a posture considered since the Cold War to improve survivability and strategic deterrence.”

Chinese bombers are normally not considered to have an active nuclear role and the “strategic deterrence” mission assigned to PLAA in 2012 could potentially also reflect the introduction of conventional land-attack cruise missiles on the modified H-6K bomber. Yet a US Air Force Global Strike command briefing in 2013 listed the new CJ-20 air-launched land-attack cruise missile carried by the H-6K as nuclear-capable.

And China in the past certainly developed the capability to deliver nuclear weapons from bombers. Between 1965 and 1979, bombers delivered the nuclear weapon for at least 12 of China’s nuclear test explosions. These tests involved both fission and thermonuclear weapons with yields ranging from 5-10 kilotons, a few hundred kilotons, to 2-4 megatons. The bombs were delivered by H-6 bombers (still in service and being modernized), H-5 bombers (retired), and Q-5 fighter-bombers (nearly all retired).

The Military Museum in Beijing apparently has on display models of at least two nuclear bomb designs: a fission bomb and a hydrogen bomb. This video shows what is said to be China’s first test of a thermonuclear bomb, delivered by an H-6 bomber in June 1967.

china-bombs
Two nuclear bomb models are displayed in Beijing, the first fission bomb (left) and the first thermonuclear bomb (right). The marking on the thermonuclear bomb H639-23 is similar to those on the bomb used in the nuclear test on June 17, 1967: H639-6. Image: news.cn

Nuclear Policy and Strategy

Finally, the DOD report also summarizes the US understanding of Chinese nuclear policy and strategy.

The first is that the PLA has deployed new command, control, and communications capabilities to its nuclear forces to improve control of multiple units in the field. “Through the use of improved communications links,” DOD concludes, “ICBM units now have better access to battlefield information and uninterrupted communications connecting all command echelons. Unit commanders are able to issue orders to multiple subordinates at once, instead of serially, via voice commands.”

This is intended to improve control of the units but also to enhance their combat effectiveness in a crisis situation. To that end the DOD report mentions recent press accounts that China “may be enhancing peacetime readiness for nuclear forces to ensure responsiveness.” Part of this debate reflects a report by Gregory Kulacki citing Chinese military documents and statements that the nuclear forces may move towards a “launch-on-warning” posture to be able to launch missiles before they can be destroyed.

Despite these problematic developments, the DOD report concludes that there are no signs that China’s no-first-use policy and negative security assurance have been changed.

In other words, while Chinese nuclear policy itself does not appear to have changed, the way China deploys and operates its nuclear forces appears to be evolving significantly.

Additional resources:

The research for this publication was made possible by a grant from the New Land Foundation, and Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.

FAS Engagement With China

“Supporting and expanding on Frank von Hippel’s cogent and exciting narrative of some of the great accomplishments of the Federation of American Scientists, I detail below two endeavors, at least one of which may have had far-reaching impact. The first was the initiative of FAS Director (and later President) Jeremy J. Stone who, in 1971, wrote the president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences to introduce FAS and to begin some kind of dialogue…”

Read on: View the full version of the article here.

Nuclear Transparency and the Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan

ssmp2016By Hans M. Kristensen

I was reading through the latest Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan from the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and wondering what I should pick to critique the Obama administration’s nuclear policy.

After all, there are plenty of issues that deserve to be addressed, including:

– Why NNSA continues to overspend and over-commit and create a spending bow wave in 2021-2026 in excess of the President’s budget in exactly the same time period that excessive Air Force and Navy modernization programs are expected to put the greatest pressure on defense spending?

– Why a smaller and smaller nuclear weapons stockpile with fewer warhead types appears to be getting more and more expensive to maintain?

– Why each warhead life-extension program is getting ever more ambitious and expensive with no apparent end in sight?

– And why a policy of reductions, no new nuclear weapons, no pursuit of new military missions or new capabilities for nuclear weapons, restraint, a pledge to “put an end to Cold War thinking,” and the goal of disarmament, instead became a blueprint for nuclear overreach with record funding, across-the-board modernizations, unprecedented warhead modifications, increasing weapons accuracy and effectiveness, reaffirmation of a Triad and non-strategic nuclear weapons, continuation of counterforce strategy, reaffirmation of the importance and salience of nuclear weapons, and an open-ended commitment to retain nuclear weapons further into the future than they have existed so far?

What About The Other Nuclear-Armed States?

Despite the contradictions and flaws of the administration’s nuclear policy, however, imagine if the other nuclear-armed states also published summaries of their nuclear weapons plans. Some do disclose a little, but they could do much more. For others, however, the thought of disclosing any information about the size and composition of their nuclear arsenal seems so alien that it is almost inconceivable.

Yet that is actually one of the reasons why it is necessary to continue to work for greater (or sufficient) transparency in nuclear forces. Some nuclear-armed states believe their security depends on complete or near-compete nuclear secrecy. And, of course, some nuclear information must be protected from disclosure. But the problem with excessive secrecy is that it tends to fuel uncertainty, rumors, suspicion, exaggerations, mistrust, and worst-case assumptions in other nuclear-armed states – reactions that cause them to shape their own nuclear forces and strategies in ways that undermine security for all.

Nuclear-armed states must find a balance between legitimate secrecy and transparency. This can take a long time and it may not necessarily be the same from country to country. The United States also used to keep much more nuclear information secret and there are many institutions that will always resist public access. But maximum responsible disclosure, it turns out, is not only necessary for a healthy public debate about nuclear policy, it is also necessary to communicate to allies and adversaries what that policy is about – and, equally important, to dispel rumors and misunderstandings about what the policy is not.

Nuclear transparency is not just about pleasing the arms controllers – it is important for national security.

So here are some thoughts about what other nuclear-armed states should (or could) disclose about their nuclear arsenals – not to disclose everything but to improve communication about the role of nuclear weapons and avoid misunderstandings and counterproductive surprises: Continue reading

Questions About The Nuclear Cruise Missile Mission

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During a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on March 16, Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the ranking member of the committee, said that U.S. Strategic Command had failed to convince her that the United States needs to develop a new nuclear air-launched cruise missile; the LRSO (Long-Range Standoff missile).

“I recently met with Admiral Haney, the head of Strategic Command regarding the new nuclear cruise missile and its refurbished warhead. I came away unconvinced of the need for this weapon. The so-called improvements to this weapon seemed to be designed candidly to make it more usable, to help us fight and win a limited nuclear war. I find that a shocking concept. I think this is really unthinkable, especially when we hold conventional weapons superiority, which can meet adversaries’ efforts to escalate a conflict.”

Feinstein made her statement only a few hours after Air Force Secretary Deborah James had told the House Armed Services Committee on the other side of the Capitol that the LRSO will be capable of “destroying otherwise inaccessible targets in any zone of conflict.”

Lets ignore for a moment that the justification used for most nuclear and advanced conventional weapons also is to destroy otherwise inaccessible targets, what are actually the unique LRSO targets? In theory the missile could be used against anything that is within range but that is not good enough to justify spending $20-$30 billion.

LRSOtargets

So Air Force officials have portrayed the LRSO as a unique weapon that can get in where nothing else can. The mission they describe sounds very much like the role tactical nuclear weapons played during the Cold War: “I can make holes and gaps” in air defenses, then Air Force Global Strike Command commander Lieutenant General Stephen Wilson explained in 2014, “to allow a penetrating bomber to get in.”

And last week, shortly before Admiral Haney failed to convince Sen. Feinstein, EUCOM commander General Philip Breedlove added more details about what they want to use the nuclear LRSO to blow up:

“One of the biggest keys to being able to break anti-access area denial [A2AD] is the ability to penetrate the air defenses so that we can get close to not only destroy the air defenses but to destroy the coastal defense cruise missiles and the land attack missiles which are the three elements of an A2AD environment. One of the primary and very important tools to busting that A2AD environment is a fifth generation ability to penetrate. In the LRSB you will have a platform and weapons that can penetrate.” (Emphasis added.)

Those A2/AD targets would include Russian S-400 air-defense, Russian Bastion-P coastal defense, and Chinese DF-10A land-attack missile launchers (see images).

Judging from Sen. Feinstein’s conclusion that the LRSO seems “designed candidly to make it more usable, to help us fight and win a limited nuclear war,” Admiral Haney probably described similar LRSO targets as Lt. Gen. Wilson and Gen. Breedlove.

After hearing these “shocking” descriptions of the LRSO’s warfighting mission, Senator Feinstein asked NNSA’s Gen. Klotz if he could do a better job in persuading her about the need for the new nuclear cruise missile:

Sen. Feinstein: “So maybe you can succeed where Admiral Haney did not. Let me ask you this question: Why do we need a new nuclear cruise missile?”

Gen. Klotz: “My sense at the time, and it still is the case, is that the existing cruise missile, the air-launched cruise missile, is getting rather long in the tooth with the issues that are associated with an aging weapon system. It was first deployed in 1982. And therefore it is well past it service life. In the meantime, as you know from your work on the intelligence committee, there has been an increase in the sophistication and capabilities as well as proliferation of sophisticated air- and missile-defenses around the world. Therefore the ability of the cruise missile to pose the deterrent capability, the capability that is necessary to deter, is under question. Therefore, just based on the ageing and the changing nature of the threat we need to replace a system we’ve had, again, since the early 1980s with an updated variant….I guess I didn’t convince you any more than the Admiral did.”

Sen. Feinstein: “No you didn’t convince me. Because this just ratchets up warfare and ratchets up deaths. Even if you go to a low kiloton of six or seven it is a huge weapon. And I thought there was a certain morality that we should have with respect to these weapons. If it’s really mutual deterrence, I don’t see how this does anything other…it’s like the drone. The drone has been invented. It’s been armed. Now every county wants one. So they get more and more sophisticated. To do this with nuclear weapons, I think, is awful.”

Conclusion and Recommendations

Senator Feinstein has raised some important questions about the scope of nuclear strategy. How useful should nuclear weapons be and for what type of scenarios?

Proponents of the LRSO do not seem to question (or discuss) the implications of developing a nuclear cruise missile intended for shooting holes in air- and coastal-defense systems. Their mindset seems to be that anything that can be used to “bust the A2AD environment” – even a nuclear weapon – must be good for deterrence and therefore also for security and stability.

While a decision to authorize use of nuclear weapons would be difficult for any president, the planning for the potential use does not seem to be nearly as constrained. Indeed, the nuclear LRSO anti-A2AD mission that defense officials describe raises some serious questions about how soon in a conflict nuclear weapons might be used.

Since A2AD systems would likely be some of the first targets to be attacked in a war, a nuclear LRSO anti-A2AD mission appears to move nuclear use to the forefront of a conflict instead of keeping nuclear weapons in the background as a last resort where they belong.

And the nuclear LRSO anti-A2AD mission sounds eerily similar to the outrageous threats that Russian officials have made over the past several years to use nuclear weapons against NATO missile defense systems – threats that NATO and US officials have condemned. Of course, they don’t brandish the nuclear LRSO anti-A2AD mission as a threat – they call it deterrence and reassurance.

Nor do LRSO proponents seem to ask questions about redundancy and which types of weapons are most useful or needed for the anti-A2AD mission. The A2AD targets that the military officials describe are not “otherwise inaccessible targets,” as suggested by Secretary James, but are already being held at risk with conventional cruise missiles such as the Air Force’s JASSM-ER (extended range Joint Air-to-Surface Missile) and the navy’s Tactical Tomahawk, as well as with other nuclear weapons. The Air Force doesn’t have endless resources but must prioritize weapon systems.

Gen. Klotz defended the LRSO as if it were a choice between having a nuclear deterrent or not. But, of course, even without a nuclear LRSO, US stealth bombers will still be armed with the new B61-12 guided nuclear bomb and the US nuclear deterrent will still include land- and sea-based long-range ballistic missiles as well as F-35A stealthy fighter-bombers also armed with the B61-12.

The White House needs to rein in the nuclear warfighters and strategists to ensure that US nuclear strategy and modernization plans are better in tune with US policy to “reduce the role of nuclear weapons in deterring non-nuclear attacks” and enable non-nuclear weapons to “take on a greater share of the deterrence burden.” Canceling the nuclear LRSO would be a good start.

The research for this publication was made possible by a grant from the New Land Foundation, and Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the authors.

The Chinese Military, and More from CRS

New and updated publications from the Congressional Research Service obtained by Secrecy News include the following.

The Chinese Military: Overview and Issues for Congress, September 18, 2015

Maritime Territorial and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) Disputes Involving China: Issues for Congress, updated September 18, 2015

China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities — Background and Issues for Congress, updated September 15, 2015

Guatemala: President Pérez Resigns; Runoff Presidential Election on October 25, CRS Insight, September 17, 2015

Russian Deployments in Syria Complicate U.S. Policy, CRS Insight, September 18, 2015

Extreme Weather Events and Government Compensation, CRS Legal Sidebar, September 22, 2015

Third Circuit Affirms the FTC’s Authority to Regulate Data Security as an Unfair Trade Practice, CRS Legal Sidebar, September 21, 2015

Credit Union’s Plan to Serve the Marijuana Industry Goes Up in Smoke, CRS Legal Sidebar, September 21, 2015

Is There a Gap in Insider Trading Coverage for Hacking?, CRS Legal Sidebar, September 18, 2015

Vulnerable Youth: Employment and Job Training Programs, September 16, 2015

Insurance Regulation: Background, Overview, and Legislation in the 114th Congress, September 16, 2015

Copyright Law Restrictions on a Consumer’s Right to Repair Cars and Tractors, CRS Legal Sidebar, September 18, 2015

Classified Military R&D in China

China’s military research and development program is organized around 16 “national megaprojects” that are intended to advance and transform that country’s capabilities in core technology areas including electronics, aerospace, clean energy, and so on. Three of the 16 national projects are classified and have not been officially acknowledged.

But in a recently published US Army War College volume, China specialists Richard A. Bitzinger and Michael Raska identified “three prime candidates” for the classified Chinese programs: 1) a laser fusion program; 2) a navigational satellite system; and 3) a hypersonic vehicle technology project.

The Shenguang (Divine Light) laser is an experiment in inertial confinement fusion. The project reportedly aims to achieve ignition and plasma burning by 2020. “Shenguang has two strategic implications: it may accelerate China’s next-generation thermonuclear weapons development, and advance China’s directed-energy laser weapons programs,” wrote Bitzinger and Raska, who are based at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

The Beidou 2 satellite system is a network of hardened navigational satellites, which potentially “eliminates China’s dependency on the U.S. GPS and Russia’s GLONASS satellite navigation systems that could be deactivated in select areas in times of conflict,” they wrote.

Finally, “there are signs that China is developing conceptual and experimental hypersonic flight vehicle technologies such as hypersonic cruise vehicles (HCV) capable of maneuvering at Mach 5.”

See Capacity for Innovation: Technological Drivers of China’s Future Military Modernization by Ricard A. Bitzinger and Michael Raska, in The Chinese People’s Liberation Army in 2025 (Roy Kamphausen and David Lai, eds.), published July 2015 by the Strategic Studies Institute and the US Army War College Press.

“Although China’s military innovation lagged behind that of Western powers, China’s ‘latecomer advantage’ has enabled it to skip various phases of development,” the volume editors wrote. “As a latecomer, the PLA has been able to identify and absorb key foreign civil and military technologies.”

A recently updated report from the Congressional Research Service discusses China’s Economic Rise: History, Trends, Challenges, and Implications for the United States, September 11, 2015.

Regulating US Air Force Contacts with China

The U.S. Air Force last week issued updated guidance both to foster and to limit contacts with Chinese military personnel, based in part on classified Defense Department directives.

“With the rise of PRC influence in the international community and the increasing capabilities of the Chinese military, Air Force military-to-military relationship with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), and the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) is becoming more crucial than before,” the Air Force document stated.

See Conduct of USAF Contacts with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Government of the Hong Kong, Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) of the PRC, Air Force Instruction 16-118, August 5, 2015.

The Instruction provides a framework for conducting reciprocal US-PRC visits to each other’s military installations.

“The success of these visits, whether US or PRC-led, directly affects relationships between the US and the PRC, as well as our relationships with our allies and partners, and is thereby important in support of national and regional politico-military objectives.”

But the Instruction also identifies numerous topical areas that are likely to be off-limits for USAF-PRC military contacts.

“[P]rohibited contacts… may involve: force projection operations, nuclear operations, advanced combined-arms and joint combat operations, advanced logistical operations, chemical and biological defense and other capabilities related to weapons of mass destruction, surveillance and reconnaissance operations, joint war-fighting experiments and other activities related to a transformation in warfare, military space operations, other advanced capabilities of the armed forces, arms sales or military-related technology transfers, release of classified or restricted information, and access to a DoD laboratory.”

The new USAF Instruction implements two classified DoD Instructions, which have not been released: Department of Defense Instruction (DoDI) C-2000.23, Conduct of DoD Contacts with the People’s Republic of China (PRC), and DoDI S-2000.24, Conduct of DoD Contacts with the Government of Hong Kong, Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) of the PRC.

The Congressional Research Service produced a related report on U.S.-China Military Contacts: Issues for Congress, updated October 27, 2014.

China’s Science of Military Strategy (2013)

Updated below

In 2013, the Academy of Military Sciences of the People’s Liberation Army of China issued a revised edition of its authoritative, influential publication “The Science of Military Strategy” (SMS) for the first time since 2001.

“Each new edition of the SMS is closely scrutinized by China hands in the West for the valuable insights it provides into the evolving thinking of the PLA on a range of strategically important topics,” wrote Joe McReynolds of the Jamestown Institute.

A copy of the 2013 edition of the Science of Military Strategy — in Chinese — was obtained by Secrecy News and is posted on the Federation of American Scientists website (in a very large PDF).

“The availability of this document could be a huge boon for young China analysts who have not yet had the chance to buy their own copy in China or Taiwan,” said one China specialist.

An English translation of the document has not yet become publicly available.

But an overview of its treatment of nuclear weapons policy issues was provided in a recent essay by Michael S. Chase of the Jamestown Institute.

“Compared to the previous edition of SMS, the 2013 edition offers much more extensive and detailed coverage of a number of nuclear policy and strategy-related issues,” Mr. Chase wrote.

In general, SMS 2013 “reaffirms China’s nuclear No First Use policy…. Accordingly, any Chinese use of nuclear weapons in actual combat would be for ‘retaliatory nuclear counterstrikes’.”

With respect to deterrence, SMS 2013 states that “speaking with a unified voice from the highest levels of the government and military to the lowest levels can often enhance deterrence outcomes. But sometimes, when different things are said by different people, deterrence outcomes might be even better.”

SMS 2013 also notably included the first explicit acknowledgement of Chinese “network attack forces” which perform what the U.S. calls “offensive cyber operations.”

In a separate essay on “China’s Evolving Perspectives on Network Warfare: Lessons from the Science of Military Strategy,” Joe McReynolds wrote that the SMS authors “focus heavily on the central role of peacetime ‘network reconnaissance’ — that is, the technical penetration and monitoring of an adversary’s networks — in developing the PLA’s ability to engage in wartime network operations.”

On July 28, the Congressional Research Service updated its report on China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities — Background and Issues for Congress.

Update: The Union of Concerned Scientists has published a detailed review of the 2013 Science of Military Strategy, including translations of some key passages.