“During the past decade alone, from counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden, to an expanded military presence in the East and South China Seas, China has demonstrated a willingness to use the [People’s Liberation Army] as an instrument of national power in the execution of what they call their historic mission in the new century,” Dan Taylor, a senior DIA analyst, told reporters at the Pentagon.
The assessment by the Pentagon’s intelligence agency comes as the U.S. military begins reshaping itself to counter powers such as China and Russia after nearly two decades of focusing on counterinsurgency and anti-terrorism operations. Though then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis released a new national defense strategy in January 2018 outlining the goals, the Pentagon is still working on implementing them, with officials promising that proof of the transformation will be visible in the department’s 2020 budget request, which is due out next month.
Acting defense secretary Patrick Shanahan has made the effort to outpace China a central aim of his tenure since joining the Pentagon as the deputy defense secretary in 2017. A former Boeing executive, Shanahan oversaw the 2020 budget request, which he has called a “masterpiece” designed to show how the U.S. military is reorienting itself toward China and Russia.
The DIA report places a new emphasis on the impact of China’s emerging status as a global military player, following Beijing’s establishment of permanent external facilities in the Horn of Africa and the South China Sea.
According to the report, China’s Communist Party leaders remain largely focused on preserving internal stability. But they also are increasingly concerned with dominance across East Asia, driven in large part by Beijing’s goal of reunification with Taiwan.
China has sought to demonstrate regional primacy by challenging other nations’ claims to disputed islands in the South China and East China seas, and building its first-ever locally designed and produced aircraft carrier. It has also developed new long-range bomber capabilities and constructed military outposts in disputed areas, allowing it to project military power in new ways.
Outside of Asia, China established its first foreign military base, in Djibouti, and used naval assets to evacuate civilians from Yemen.
Beijing has powered its advances with massive increases in its military budget, which grew at an average annual rate of 10 percent from 2000 to 2016, the DIA said. While the rate of China’s spending growth has slowed, it remains robust at up to 7 percent a year.
The report also said that China has acquired technology “by any means available” in its long-running effort to modernize its armed forces, an effort the DIA said has put the Chinese military “on the verge of fielding some of the most modern weapon systems in the world.”
Defense officials say that two areas where China may be pulling ahead of the United States are hypersonic glide vehicles and intermediate- and long-range missiles.
China is developing additional capabilities that can be used to attack and jam satellites after testing an antisatellite missile system in 2014, according to the DIA, which said Beijing also was researching and possibly developing antisatellite lasers.
In cyberspace, the Chinese may be combining cyberreconnaissance, cyberattack and cyberdefense into one organization known as the Strategic Support Force, which could centralize command and control and reduce bureaucracy in cyberwarfare, according to the report. Beijing has identified controlling the “information domain” as a prerequisite to achieving victory in modern war, the report says.
China is also overhauling its defense industrial base to help deliver cutting-edge technologies to Chinese forces and at times sell them to others. Among the disciplines the DIA says China has targeted for development are hypersonic missiles, nanotechnology, high-performance computing, quantum communications, space systems, artificial intelligence, autonomous systems and robotics.