Pentagon report anticipates China’s “nuclear triad”, naval base in Pakistan - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Friday 17 August 2018

Pentagon report anticipates China’s “nuclear triad”, naval base in Pakistan

Report confirms Chinese submarines visited Malaysia and Pakistan, but Sri Lanka turned one away

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 18th Aug 18

The United States Department of Defense (the Pentagon) revealed on Thursday that the Chinese air force “has been reassigned a nuclear mission”, and is developing long-range strategic bombers to deliver nuclear weapons. 

“The deployment and integration of nuclear capable bombers would, for the first time, provide China with a nuclear ‘triad’ of delivery systems dispersed across land, sea, and air,” it said.

The US Congress-mandated “Annual Report on Military and Security Developments Involving the People's Republic of China” is a Pentagon summary of Chinese military developments over the preceding year.

The People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) already fields the nuclear capable Xian H-6K bomber, with a range of 3,500 kilometres – enough to strike targets in India with the cruise missiles it carries. But now, says the Petagon, China is developing a “stealthy, long-range strategic bomber with a nuclear delivery capability that could be operational within the next 10 years.”

India claims to have a “nuclear triad”, but its air-delivered capability is makeshift, based on tactical fighter aircraft like the Jaguar and Mirage-2000 that are jury-rigged to deliver nuclear weapons. 

India neither has, nor is developing or buying, long-range strategic bombers of the kind that China is developing. The Indian nuclear deterrent is primarily based on Agni-series ballistic missiles, with a usable submarine-launched missile capability still some distance away.

The report takes note of last year’s 73-day standoff at Doklam when “India halted China’s efforts to extend a road in territory disputed with Bhutan near the India border.” While that was resolved with a mutual troop withdrawal in August, “both countries maintain a heightened military presence in the surrounding region.”

Interestingly, the Pentagon believes that China’s response at Doklam was commanded from one of the five new theatre commands that the PLA switched to in 2016. “Theater commands appear to have assumed more operational control from the services, and probably commanded the PLA’s responses to North Korea, India, and activities in the South China Sea,” says the report.

The report noted: “India halted another Chinese road construction effort in disputed territory in Arunachal Pradesh in December 2017.”

Acknowledging the PLA Navy’s growing presence in the Indian Ocean, the Pentagon noted the deployment of four counter-piracy task forces to the Gulf of Aden. This means the PLAN has rotated 28 task forces since 2008, when it began these missions.

The Pentagon underlined the continued deployment of PLAN submarines to the Indian Ocean region. “Chinese attack submarines conducted port calls in Seppangar, Malaysia and Karachi, Pakistan, but they were denied a port call in Colombo by Sri Lanka. These submarine patrols demonstrate the PLAN’s emerging capability both to interdict key sea lines of communication (SLOC) and to increase China’s power projection into the Indian Ocean,” the report stated.

As part of this, China’s first overseas base in Djibouti, which was operationalised last July, and its controversial acquisition of Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port, would be followed by more Chinese bases. The Pentagon says Beijing “will seek to establish additional military bases in countries with which it has a longstanding friendly relationship and similar strategic interests, such as Pakistan, and in which there is a precedent for hosting foreign militaries.”

After changing from seven geographical commands to five theatre commands, the PLA Army (PLAA) is focusing on “flattening” the command hierarchies, while still retaining most combat units. First the PLAA reorganised its 18 group armies into 13 (renamed) group armies. The combat echelons in the five dissolved group armies were retained as brigades, without the overarching headquarters of divisions, corps and group armies. These brigades, which are largely self-sufficient in combat power, can be switched between theatres quickly, depending on the requirement.

This brigade structure is being extended to the PLAAF and PLAN. “The PLAAF is also converting its fighter and ground attack [aircraft] divisions into brigades subordinate to air bases, and the PLAN is creating brigade-level frigate flotillas. The PLA probably expects that a more consistent brigade structure across the force will improve joint combat capabilities,” says the report.

All of this is resulting in manpower cuts, with the PLAA having reduced its numbers by 300,000 in 2017. In contrast, India is making heavy weather with much smaller cuts. “The first phase of the (manpower) reforms involves redeployment and restructuring of approximately 57,000 posts,” said Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in her Independence Day broadcase on Wednesday.

The Pentagon report also highlights the manpower shift between China’s army, navy and airforce. This involves “increasing the relative size of the PLAN and PLAAF and reducing PLAA personnel to less than half of the PLA,” it says. 


  1. Theatre Jointness is being constantly enhanced by Chinese military educational institutes, and young officers are adept at integrated operations, it is the young and technology savvy that do the planning in China.
    Gen Zhao Zongqi, one of the more experienced officers in mountain warfare will probably use intensive fire strikes against Indian forces in case of a limited conflict.
    The Western theatre command has been allocated specialised equipment and forces to carry out this task, the decision made as the result of jointness in the Chinese Central Military Commission.
    A) If Indian Mountain roads are to be destroyed using massive missile and PLAAF fire strikes creating landslides to block roads.
    B) If Helicopter borne troops are to be landed at the rear, to cut off Indian forward formations - the Chinese Western theatre command conducts frequent joint training operations for this purpose.
    Then On our side India must counter Chinese long-range precision strikes by beefing up air defences. Building alternative mountain roads infrastructure. But India has failed to built the border roads already planned.
    And the decision to purchase the Russian S-400 missile system by defence procurement and how many to purchase, was it a result of input from a joint decision? Via a carefully considered strategic plan on the Indian side???
    Joint planning mechanisms are absent on the Indian side for dealing with potential resource constraints between our three services.
    There seems a lack of efficient allocation of joint resources to face specific contingencies.
    Most of our million strong army, towards which the bulk of our defence budget is used, is useless in modern warfare. For Poverty ridden India to squander money on a white elephant of an army is criminal.

  2. What about Rafale? Maybe that is why only 36 were bought. Now a fresh tender is there for 110+ aircraft ?

    Even if govt does not do it , it is expected defence blogs like this push it.

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