In China Restructures for War we find that China’s armed forces have reorganized even while they continue a rapid upgrade in the quality of their weapons systems.
China’s officially-disclosed military budget grew at an average of 9.8 percent per year in inflation-adjusted terms from 2006 through 2015, and Chinese leaders seem committed to sustaining defense spending growth for the foreseeable future.
During 2015, the PLA continued to improve key capabilities that would be used in theater contingencies, including cruise missiles; short, medium, and intermediate-range ballistic missiles; high performance aircraft; integrated air defense networks; information operations capabilities; and amphibious and airborne assault units. The PLA is developing and testing new intermediate- and medium-range conventional ballistic missiles as well as long range, land-attack, and anti-ship cruise missiles, which once operational would extend the military’s reach and push adversary forces further from potential regional conflicts. China is also focusing on counter-space, offensive cyber operations, and electronic warfare (EW) capabilities meant to deny adversaries the advantages of modern, information technology-driven warfare.
China has built a number of military outposts around the South China Sea, including Mischief Reef, Johnson Reef, Hughes Reef, Subi Reef, Cuarteron Reef, Fiery Cross Reef and Gaven Reef.
Over the past 15 years, China’s ambitious naval modernization program has produced a more technologically advanced and flexible force. The PLAN now possesses the largest number of vessels in Asia, with more than 300 surface ships, submarines, amphibious ships, and patrol craft. China is rapidly retiring legacy combatants in favor of larger, multi-mission ships equipped with advanced anti-ship, anti-air, and anti-submarine weapons and sensors. China continues its gradual shift from “near sea” defense to “far seas” protection…
In 2015, the PLAN’s first aircraft carrier, Liaoning, certified its first cohort of domestically trained J-15 operational pilots. The air wing is expected to deploy on the carrier in 2016. China also began construction of its first domestic aircraft carrier and could build multiple aircraft carriers over the next 15 years. Even when fully operational, Liaoning will not enable long-range power projection similar to U.S. NIMITZ class carriers. Liaoning’s smaller size limits the number of aircraft it can embark, while the ski-jump configuration limits aircraft fuel and ordnance loads. Liaoning will possibly be used for fleet air defense missions, extending air cover over a fleet operating far from land-based coverage. Although it possesses a full suite of weapons and combat systems, Liaoning will probably continue to play a significant role in training China’s carrier pilots, deck crews, and developing tactics that will be used with later, more capable carriers.
In his talk Chinese Views, Strategy and Geopolitics, Robert Kaplan sees China in the early 21st century as was the United States in the early 20th century, an emerging world military and economic power. In that respect, he says, China considers the South China Sea as the USA considers the Gulf of Mexico, a strategic naval zone it intends to dominate. With the Monroe Doctrine, the USA warned European colonial powers that the Americas were off limits to them, and with the Spanish American War the USA removed the last colonial influence and outpost from the region. We may see a similar attempt by China to remove American, Japanese, Philippine or any other influence or outpost from the South China Sea and possibly further.
Perhaps most worrying, China is engaging in a prolonged domestic campaign of anti-American rhetoric and propaganda. The only possible purpose for that, from my point of view, is to ideologically prepare its populace for war. And seeing Glasnost as a dangerous example of a loss of political control leading to societal breakup, it is redoubling political conditioning in its military, including an expansion of political commissars and checkists inside the chain of command with a purpose is to ensure ideological purity and loyalty.