US Pentagon's annual report on China: PLA is readying all branches, arms and services - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Tuesday 24 October 2023

US Pentagon's annual report on China: PLA is readying all branches, arms and services

While fighting a major war, the PLA wants to simultaneously counter an enemy intervention along its periphery, and to project power globally


By Ajai Shukla

Business Standard, 24th Oct 23


The US Department of Defense (the Pentagon) on Thursday said the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) was strengthening its ability to “fight and win wars” against a “strong enemy”—a likely euphemism for the United States.


The Congress-mandated annual report on the People’s Republic of China (PRC)  is titled “Military and security developments involving the PRC.”


Alongside the ability to fight a major war, the PLA is building its ability to simultaneously counter an intervention by a third party in a conflict along the PRC’s periphery, and to project power globally. 


“The PLA has sought to modernize its capabilities and improve its proficiencies across all warfare domains so that, as a joint force, it can conduct the full range of land, air, and maritime as well as nuclear, space, counterspace, electronic warfare (EW), and cyberspace operations,” states the US DoD’s report.


The Pentagon’s report deals separately with the People’s Liberation Army Army (PLAA); the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN); People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) and PLAN Aviation, and the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF).


People’s Liberation Army Army (PLAA)


The Pentagon report states that the “PLAA continues to modernize equipment and focus on combined arms and joint training in order to meet the goal of becoming a world class military.”


The PLAA demonstrated a new long-range fire capability in the PLA military response to the August 2022 US Congressional Delegation (CODEL) visit to Taiwan. The PLAA continues to incorporate a twice a year conscript intake. The long-term effects of the policy are not clear, says the report. 


People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN)


The Pentagon report states the PRC has the world’s largest navy with an overall battle force of over 370 ships and submarines, including more than 140 major surface combatants.


“The PLAN is largely composed of modern multi-mission ships and submarines. In 2022, the PLAN launched its third aircraft carrier, CV-18 Fujian,” said the US report. 


Demonstrating a powerful amphibious assault capability, the PLAN also commissioned its third Yushen-class amphibious assault ship (LHA) and has probably begun construction on a fourth.


“In the near-term, the PLAN will have the ability to conduct long-range precision strikes against land targets from its submarine and surface combatants using land-attack cruise missiles, notably enhancing the PRC’s power projection capability,” stated the US report.


Meanwhile, the PRC continues challenging foreign military activities in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in a manner inconsistent with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. At the same time, the PLAN conducts activities in the EEZs of other countries, including the United States, Australia, Philippines, Vietnam, and Malaysia. 


People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) and PLAN Aviation


The PLAAF and PLAN aviation together constitute the largest aviation force in the Indo-Pacific region. It is catching up with western air forces with the delivery of domestically built aircraft and a wide range of UASs. 


“In October 2019, the PLAAF signalled the return of the airborne leg of its nuclear triad after publicly revealing the H-6N as its first nuclear-capable, air-to-air, refuellable bomber,” said the Pentagon.


People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF)


The PLARF is enhancing its “strategic deterrence” with new intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) to improve its nuclear-capable missile forces and nuclear warhead production.


This is especially so due to the induction of multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicle (MIRV) capabilities.


“The PRC may be exploring development of conventionally-armed intercontinental 

range missile systems. If developed and fielded, such capabilities would allow the 

PRC to threaten conventional strikes against targets in the continental US, Hawaii, and Alaska,” stated the US report. 


Joint capabilities


According to the Pentagon report, the PLA is creating options for dissuading, deterring and defeating external intervention in the Indo-Pacific region. 


The PRC’s counter-intervention strategy aims to restrict the US from having a presence in the East and South China Sea regions, within the First Island Chain, and to hold at risk US access in the broader Indo-Pacific region.


Long-Range Precision Strike and Supporting ISR. PLA texts state that precision attack in all warfare domains is critical in modern war. PLA writings state that precision weapons are not only force multipliers, but also a means of “war control” to prevent escalation.


Integrated Air Defense System (IADS). The PRC has a robust air defence architecture over land areas and within 300 nautical miles (556 km) of its coast that relies on an extensive early warning radar network, fighter aircraft, and a variety of SAM systems. The PRC has also placed radars and air defense weapons on outposts in the South China Sea, further extending the range of its IADS. 


Hypersonic Weapons. The PRC’s deployment of the Dong Feng-17 medium range ballistic missile (MRBM), armed with hypersonic glide vehicles, will continue to transform the PLA’s missile force. The system, which is possibly intended to replace older short range ballistic missile (SRBM) units, is probably intended to strike foreign military bases and fleets in the Western Pacific.

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