PLA's Growing Force Projection Capabilities
Publication: China Brief Volume: 10 Issue: 25 December 17, 2010
By: Jeffrey Engstrom
Chinese Naval Flotilla
China’s assertiveness along its littoral—underscored by recent diplomatic disputes in the East China Sea and the South China Sea—has raised international concerns about how Beijing intends to project its growing military power. While certainly worthy of attention, a narrow focus on Chinese activities along the periphery obscures a more profound trend, whereby the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is modernizing in ways that will allow it to project forces farther beyond its borders. In the wake of President Hu Jintao’s promulgation of the “historic missions of the armed forces in the new period in the new century” (xin shiji xin jieduan wojun lishi shiming) or “new historic missions” for the PLA in 2004, China has engaged in a variety of missions abroad, including counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden, disaster relief in Haiti, and non-combatant evacuation operations in the Kyrgyzstan. Indeed, Beijing has invested resources in a number of platforms—such as large amphibious ships, long-range transport aircraft, at-sea replenishment vessels, and hospital ships—that cannot be explained in the context of preparing for a Taiwan conflict. Meanwhile, the PLA has begun training and equipping for a wider range of activities, some of which have already been demonstrated on the international stage. These types of activities are likely harbingers of Chinese force projection over the next few decades .
Force Projection Activities to Date
Non-combatant Evacuation Operations (NEO): As Beijing’s foreign interests and holdings continue to grow, its citizens are increasingly living abroad to manage and engage in a variety of business, manufacturing, energy, and mineral extraction activities. This trend increases the likelihood that foreign disasters, either natural or manmade, could affect Chinese citizens overseas. In the wake of ethnic unrest in southern Kyrgyzstan this past June, China evacuated nearly 1,300 nationals using a total of nine chartered flights (BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific, June 17). Similar small-scale Chinese non-combatant evacuation operations have also occurred in Haiti (2010) and the Solomon Islands (2006).
Peacekeeping Operations (PKO): China’s first foray into United Nations peacekeeping operations occurred in 1989, when Beijing sent 20 election observers to Namibia in support of UNTAG . In subsequent years, the number of Chinese deployed at any one time has swelled to over 2,000 peacekeepers . During this period, Chinese personnel have also participated in a wider range of activities well beyond their original observer duties, including peacekeeping and civil policing, as well as providing engineering, transport, and medical services. Today, Chinese peacekeeping personnel can be found in Cote D’Ivoire (UNOCI), Lebanon (UNIFIL), Liberia (UNMIL), Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC), Sudan (UNAMID & UNAMIS), Timor-Leste (UNMIT), and Western Sahara (MINURSO). Participation in UN missions provides the PLA with a number of benefits such as training in a multinational context, experience in conducting military operations other than war (MOOTW), and operational knowledge of different political, ethnic, and geographic environments .
Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Response (HA/DR): China has contributed to at least 10 HA/DR missions since 2002 . These include taking an active role in responding to Cyclone Nargis in Burma in 2007 and sending a 60-person search and rescue team to Haiti in January 2010. Meanwhile, the recent seventh revision of the PLA’s Outline of Military Training and Evaluation (OMTE), which delineates specific training requirements, underscored the importance of humanitarian assistance/disaster response. Both the recently built Anwei-class hospital ships and multipurpose large amphibious ships (of which one was recently added to the fleet) will contribute to the deployment of emergency response personnel overseas .
Sea-lines of Communication (SLOC) Protection: In December 2008, days after Chinese sailors were rescued from a pirate attack by Malaysian naval forces, the PLAN dispatched a flotilla of three ships. This original flotilla consisted of two destroyers, an at sea replenishment ship, included helicopters and approximately 70 naval special forces, and sailed over 4,600 nm to the Gulf of Aden . Now two years later, China has deployed its seventh flotilla and has maintained a continuous presence in the Gulf. Two Fuchi-class at-sea replenishment ships have alternated duties refueling a pair of deployed PLAN surface ships (a combination of various destroyers, frigates, and recently a landing platform dock), as well as re-stocking them with drinking water and food. The at-sea replenishment ships have made extensive use of local ports to re-supply (See “The Chinese Navy’s Emerging Support Network in the Indian Ocean,” China Brief, July 22).
Current and Future Capabilities
As the PLA’s force projection capabilities continue to improve over time, China will have the means to participate in a wider range of operations outside of its borders, to potentially include counterinsurgency, foreign internal defense, and even forcible entry operations. Considered below are five categories of key platforms that will be crucial to China’s future force projection capabilities: transport aircraft, aerial refueling, large amphibious ships, aircraft carriers, and satellites. The PLA will undoubtedly have to develop associated doctrine as well as tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) to effectively employ these platforms, but the actual development of the platforms is an important and necessary ingredient for force projection.
1. Transport aircraft: Transport aircraft are the quickest means to move troops and most materiel long distances and to send forces far inland, often necessary when infrastructure such as road and rail are lacking. Provided a friendly airfield (or at least permissive skies for airborne insertion or drop), transport aircraft are essential arrows in the quiver of force projection as they can deliver mission critical materiel to overseas units in hours or days, rather than weeks typically required by cargo ships. While only the United States and Russia possess numbers of transport aircraft ranging in the hundreds, China currently has a small but not insignificant fleet of approximately 47 large and medium transport aircraft (the Il-76M and Y-8, respectively) . Augmenting China’s military airlift capability is a growing civil aviation fleet that consists of two dozen large transport aircraft and is composed of Boeing 747F, McDonnell Douglas MD-11F, and Airbus A-300F aircraft .
2. Aerial refueling: Aerial refueling presents another vital component for the projection of military force, without which many expeditionary capabilities are severely hampered. China currently possesses approximately 13 aerial refueling aircraft that can deliver slightly over 35 percent of France’s total refueling capacity at a range of approximately 1,000 nm . Cognizant of the need to improve capabilities in this realm, China has sought to purchase tankers abroad, as well as indigenously produce more aircraft capable of carrying out this task (Jane's Intelligence Review, June 12, 2008). Currently, the indigenously produced H-6U (converted from the B-6 medium bomber) is only capable of refueling PLA Air Force and Navy J-8s and J-10s through a probe-and-drogue system. China recently demonstrated its aerial refueling capability in support of simulated long-range operations this past September during the Peace Mission 2010 multilateral exercise in Kazakhstan (See “China Showcases Expeditionary Military Power in Peace Mission 2010,” Eurasia Daily Monitor, September 28).
Large amphibious ships: More than any other platform, large amphibious ships arguably most embody force projection because they allow a country to place forces ashore almost anywhere. Based on sealift capability alone, China can currently transport a theoretical maximum of nearly 12,000 PLAN marines and PLA amphibious infantry for relatively short distances to potential hot spots in the East and South China Seas with its fleet of 50+ medium and tank landing ships (LSM and LST, respectively) .
With the recent acquisition of a landing platform dock (LPD), Beijing has begun to develop amphibious capabilities that can achieve global reach. As a result of its single Type-071 LPD, an amphibious battalion of up to 800 PLAN marines can potentially be placed on nearly any undefended or lightly defended shore in the world without the need to secure basing rights or over-flight permission (Globalsecurity.org). This ability of the Type-071 LPD to operate worldwide was demonstrated recently in the aforementioned SLOC protection operations in the Gulf of Aden and could also be used to support other types of operations in the future such as an out of area HA/DR or NEO.
Though its goals are currently unknown, China is likely to develop more large amphibious ships in the future. For example, the theoretical acquisition of an additional two Type-071 LPD would provide enough sealift for a Marine Expeditionary Unit-sized force—a unit that is arguably the United States’ most flexible tool for force projection. However, to achieve true MEU-like ability China would still need to develop or acquire a helicopter carrier such as a landing helicopter assault (LHA) or landing helicopter dock (LHD) to provide air support.
Aircraft carriers: China is by some accounts currently pressing ahead with refurbishing the Soviet-built, Ukrainian-supplied carrier Varyag. Others have suggested that Beijing is seeking to build an indigenous carrier from scratch (See “Is the PLA Navy Making Plans for a Three Carrier Battle Group?”, China Brief, January 4, 2008; “China’s ‘Charm Offensive’ Loses Momentum in Southeast Asia [Part I],” China Brief, April 29). Further speculation exists over whether the PLAN will purchase Russian built aircraft such as the Su-33 or develop an aircraft carrier capable version of the J-10, tentatively named the J-15 . A future Chinese aircraft carrier would provide defensive air cover and a platform for strike aircraft, a capability that would vastly enhance force projection capabilities and flexibility, but is certainly not the only means to prosecute such operations.
Satellites: China is developing satellites for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and navigation purposes. The Jianbing/Haiyang series of electro-optical and synthetic aperture radar (SAR) reconnaissance satellites has grown over the past decade and is currently supplemented by one Tianlian data relay satellite . China is expected to eventually develop a future network of six data relay satellites that will provide near real-time feeds of its various ISR satellites . Not willing to fully rely on unimpeded access to the U.S. maintained GPS network in the future (a system that Washington can turn off), China sees its Beidou series of satellites as an important means of navigation. That said Beijing has yet to expand the system for extra-regional use .
Although still relatively nascent compared to France or the United Kingdom, two countries that regularly send forces abroad, Chinese force projection capabilities are growing and expanding under the broad rubric of President Hu’s “new historic missions.” The development witnessed in these growing operational capabilities along with an expanded strategic-level focus potentially is a double-edged sword, likely to have profound implications for both the U.S.-Sino relationship and international politics more broadly.
On the one hand, Washington’s call for China to become a “responsible stakeholder” in the international system implies burden sharing in the maintenance of international peace and security. In this regard, a more active and capable PLA will enable China to better contribute to multilateral efforts seeking to provide global public goods. The ability to identify and capitalize upon opportunities for military-to-military collaboration will be a crucial task for U.S. policymakers. On the other, even in the defense of the global commons—the policing of sea-lanes, for instance—Chinese force projection capabilities have the potential to erode or displace American leadership. A more active PLA also increases the possibility of encountering U.S. forces abroad or, even possibly, of the PLA operating at cross-purposes to American interests. Finally, future expeditionary activities, even of a non-combat nature, will further improve the war-fighting capabilities of the PLA, a point clearly not lost on Chinese strategists.
1. I define Chinese force projection capability as the ability of the PLA to send military equipment and personnel from Mainland China to engage in overseas military operations across the full spectrum of combat and non-combat missions.
2. Bates Gill and Chin-Hao Huang, “China’s Expanding Role in Peacekeeping,” SIPRI Policy Paper, No. 25, November 2009: 4-5.
3. As of February 28, 2010 China was the 14th largest contributor of currently deployed peacekeepers, ahead of the United States, France, or the United Kingdom. “Factsheet: United Nations Peacekeeping,” United Nations, accessed: December 13, 2010, www.un.org/en/events/peacekeepersday/2010/factsheet.pdf.
4. Bates Gill and Chin-Hao Huang, “China’s Expanding Role in Peacekeeping,” SIPRI Policy Paper, No. 25, November 2009: 15-16.
5. Military Power of the People’s Republic of China 2009, Washington, D.C.: Office of the Secretary of Defense: 56.
6. The OMTE is “the authoritative guide to how the PLA organizes, implements, and evaluates training.” Military Power of the People’s Republic of China 2009, Washington, D.C.: Office of the Secretary of Defense: 51; Jane’s Information Group, “Anwei (Type 920) class,” Jane’s Fighting Ships, February 2010 and Jane’s Information Group, “Procurement, China,” Jane’s Sentinel Security Assessment, April 2009.
7. China did not undertake this operation lightly. Beijing acted only after the passage of four related United Nations Security Council resolutions, an invitation from the Somali Prime Minister to join the operation, and public statements testing the waters of international opinion by senior PLA officials. Peter Kammerer, "Shot Across the Bow," South China Morning Post, January 9, 2009: 13.
8. The Military Balance 2010, London: IISS, 2010: 402-404; Jane’s Information Group; “Infrastructure, China,” Jane’s Sentinel Security Assessment, January 2010; Jane’s Information Group; “Air Force, China,” Jane’s Sentinel Security Assessment, August 3, 2010.
9. “Infrastructure, China,” Jane’s Sentinel Security Assessment, January 2010 and “Jade Cargo International – Details and Fleet history,” Planespotters.net, accessed: December 15, 2010, www.planespotters.net/airline/jade-cargo-international.
10. It is also important to note that the B-6 has a much more limited range than France’s aerial tankers which have refueling reach well beyond 1,000 nm. These estimates are approximate and are based on simple modeling using data provided by The Military Balance 2010, London: IISS, 2010: 129; Jane’s Information Group, “XAC H-6”,” Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft, May 25, 2010; Air Force Pamphlet 10-1403: Air Mobility Planning Factors, Secretary of the Air Force, Washington, DC: U.S. Air Force, December 18, 2003.
11. These numbers exclude the Yulian-class (a ship that is limited to coastal use) and are derived from data from The Military Balance 2010, London: IISS, 2010; 402; Jane’s Information Group, “Sea Lift,” Jane’s Amphibious and Special Forces, August 27, 2009; and “Type 079 (Yulian Class) Medium Landing Ship,” Sinodefence.com, accessed: December 14, 2010, www.sinodefence.com/navy/amphibious/type079_yulian.asp.
12. Roy Kamphausen, David Lai, and Andrew Scobell, eds., Beyond the Strait: PLA Missions Other Than Taiwan, Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, 2009: 371.
13. Kim Nodskov, The Long March of Power: The New Historic Missions of the People’s Liberation Army, Copenhagen: Royal Danish Defence College Publishing House, 2009: 246-258.
14. Ibid., 248.
15. Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2010, Washington, D.C.: Office of the Secretary of Defense: 36.
Project 048: China's Secret Aircraft Carrier Command
According to information circulated in the Chinese media, during the meeting between Chinese Defense Minister General Liang Guanglie and Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada on March 20, wherein General Liang confirmed China's intent to develop aircraft carriers, a mysterious unit was reportedly present at the meeting.
The “048 Engineering Command" is purportedly an inter-agency task force within the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) responsible for developing "special large military ships" or aircraft carriers (Stnn.cn, March 22; Nownews, March 21).
"Project 048," as it is referred to in the Chinese media, is reportedly equal in stature with other core units under the umbrella of the PLAN Headquarters, and under the directorship of the PLAN Party Committee. Although the precise status of the unit is unconfirmed through available sources, reports speculate that the joint-command of "Project 048" may be under a PLAN deputy commanding officer, or as high as under the direct command of a PLAN commanding officer.
According to Chinese media reports, the name of the project may have been determined based on the Central Military Commission's decision to launch its project to build "special large military ships" back in 2004 in the month of August, which corresponds with the number 04 and 8 (hence Project 048) (Stnn.cn, March 22; Nownews, March 21).
Full preparations for building the aircraft carriers reportedly followed in 2005, which includes the purchase of ship-based test machines and ship-borne landing gears. While domestic carrier power, power distribution system designs were all allegedly completed (Hong Kong Commercial Daily, March 22).
A Japanese news report citing unspecified military sources reported that "China will begin construction of two conventional aircraft carriers this year." Citing the same source the report stated, "production of parts for the electricity control system has already begun in China and plans call for completing the two conventional carriers by around 2015 … [a] system for operating those carriers will be established by 2020." "[China's] first nuclear-powered flattops would be constructed in 2020 or later" the report added (Asahi Shimbun, February 14).
According to Li Ou, deputy-mayor of Siping City in Jilin Province, who wrote a commentary in the People's Daily—the media organ of the Central Committee of the CCP—the reason behind the timing of General Liang's statement, “China cannot be without an aircraft carrier forever," has to do with the situation along the Taiwan Strait. According to Li, China already possessed the "compressive national strength to construct aircraft carriers" many years ago, and the reason why China denied this capability for so long was due to the tense state of cross-Strait relations.
Li said that the central leadership was concerned that the United States would use this known Chinese capability as an excuse to support Taiwan's independence. Now that tensions in the Taiwan Strait have eased, Li wrote that the central leadership no longer has to worry about U.S. interference, and in the event that Taiwan independence forces return, if China has an aircraft carrier then it will be more difficult for the United States to intervene (People's Daily Online, March 25).
According to the Asahi Shimbun: “Construction has already begun on a wharf along Yalong Bay in the Sanya district of Hainan island. The wharf would provide base functions for aircraft carriers as well as include underground storage for ammunition” (Asahi Shimbun, February 14).
Information concerning "Project 048" also appeared in the same report, which referred to it as a “special task force for [the] construction of aircraft carriers” (Asahi Shimbun, February 14). The reported unveiling of "Project 048" at the meeting with the Japanese defense minister, whom—along with its Asian neighbors—has been wary of China's military modernization, is another demonstration of China's increased confidence in both regional and global affairs.
The outpour of statements from high ranking Chinese military officers in recent months, culminating in Defense Minister Liang's remark, may be "signaling" a major announcement at the upcoming PLAN Naval Review on April 23, which commemorates the
60th anniversary of the PLAN's founding back in 1949.
The initial recognition of an official document of the Chinese aircraft carrier construction program December 17, 2010
The initial recognition of an official document of the Chinese aircraft carrierconstruction program
Core Tip: Recently, Japanese media said the research institute under China's State Oceanic Administration, China Institute for Marine in the recently published "China National Offshore Development Report", the first time an official document of the
State of China in 2009 confirmed the aircraft carrierconstruction program and Speculation that China will be the first aircraft carrier built in 2012. Japanese media also speculated that China is building two Shanghai Changxing 50,000 to 60,000 tons class aircraft carrier.
Foreign media release Varyag aircraft carrier converted the island when the ship clear pictures.
Foreign media's latest aircraft carrier Varyag modification shown in the Varyaghas been installed radar.
Global Times, December 17 the Japanese media recently reported that theresearch institutions under the State Oceanic Administration of China, China Institute for Marine in the recently published "China National OffshoreDevelopment Report"mentioned in 2009, China has developed the idea ofbuilding aircraft carrier And plans. Japanese media that China plans to buildaircraft carriers for the first time recognized by national official documents, and speculation that China will be the first aircraft carrier built in 2012.
According to Japan, "Asahi Shimbun " reported on the 16th, the Chinese State Oceanic Administration research institute under the China Institute for Marinein the recently published "China National Offshore Development Report says that " in 2009, China has developed the concept and plans to build aircraft carriers. The report also said the construction of aircraft carriers that China will officially to the sea power, the great rejuvenation of Chinese nation, which isnecessary for achievement of the conditions.
Reported that the aircraft carrier built in China it is already open, but has not been officially confirmed. Japanese media speculated that China is in ShanghaiChangxing Island shipyard is building two 50,000 to 60,000 tons-class aircraft carrier, one of them into the water in 2014. Meanwhile, Dalian Port is beingrenovated the former Soviet Union aircraft carrier Varyag (5.85 tons), and put into use in 2012.
01-10-2008, 09:01 PM
On December 31, the Hong Kong newspaper Wen Wei Pao cited a report that no one in the western media has detected concerning a Jane's Defence Weekly article which reported that China has plans to develop three-carrier battle groups (CBVG) over the next decade. News about this development has been widely discussed in the Hong Kong and Taiwanese press. Citing Jane?s, Wen Wai Pao reported that as a part of its carrier battle group plans the People?s Liberation Army Navy's (PLAN) intends to establish an even stronger submarine fleet; having added 20 nuclear-powered submarines in the past five years, increasing the total number of submarines to 55. The report indicated that the PLAN currently has 70 destroyers and frigates, 50 dock-landing ships and 45 coastal warships (Wen Wei Pao, December 31, 2007).
Taiwanese news sources highlighted Gordon Jacobs, a Chinese military analyst based in the United States?whose report on the modernization of China's navy in the Jane's report was one of the sources for the report?as stating that if the Chinese government contracted for the construction of the carrier groups in 2006, then it is possible for the first battle carrier group to break water as early as 2011, be in service in 2014, and by 2016 be accompanied by a second service-ready aircraft carrier group (Lienhe Pao, December 31).
Jacobs cited Chen Yung-kang, an official in Taiwan's Ministry of Defense (MOD), who during a presentation at a defense conference held in Taiwan in 2006 argued that Taiwan needed submarines to strengthen its defense capability against China's quickly expanding naval power and its plan to develop two battle carrier groups by 2020 (AFP, November 26, 2006). Chen added that the Soviet-made Varyag Carrier was being upgraded and repaired at Dalian in Northeastern China, and being prepared for training use (Chinesenewsnet.com, December 30, 2006; China Times, December 31, 2006). The Chinese government is still tight lipped about its future plans for the former Soviet aircraft carrier which is now dry docked in Dalian and painted in standard PLAN grey. Taiwanese experts believe that the PLAN intends to activate the carrier as a part of its three carrier battle group plan.
In 2007 Chinese government sources admitted for the first time that Beijing is researching and capable of building an aircraft carrier, as stated by Huang Qiang, a spokesman for the Commission of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense of China (CSTIND). Furthermore, Zhang Yunchuan, the CSTIND chairman, said in March 2007 that China was indeed researching the building of aircraft carriers: "China stands for strategic active defense and, even when it owns aircraft carriers, it will definitely not intrude into or occupy any other nation or resort to force with the use of carrier vessels," Zhang said (People's Daily, April 25, 2007).
China Plans Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) Within Taiwan Straits
On December 4, 2007, during a meeting with a visiting U.S. delegation headed by U.S. Representative Eni Faleomavaega (D-AS), chairman of the Subcommittee on Asia, The Pacific, and the Global Environment in the U.S. House of Representatives, Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian asserted that China was planning to design an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) within the Taiwan Strait (Liberty Times, December 6, 2007). President Chen alleged that Beijing planned to submit the proposal to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), and at the same time, Beijing planned to inaugurate a new air route on the Chinese side of the median of the Taiwan Straits.
According to Dr. Joseph Wu?Taiwan?s de facto ambassador to the United States?in early December, the General Administration of Civil Aviation of China (CAAC) issued a press release stating that the Central Military Commission and the State Council had approved the route and flights would run some 4.2 nautical miles (7.8km) west of the centerline (Taipei Times, December 20, 2007).
The Taiwanese government claims that since approval for the bid had to be attained from the Central Military Commission, which has authority over China's civilian aviation and airspace, China?s bid to the ICAO to operate on Taiwan's side of the Straits can be construed as a militarily provocative move, as it also gives them the ability to deny access to foreign aircraft in the area.
China?s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Qin Gang repeatedly denied any knowledge of China?s plan to establish an ADIZ within the Taiwan Straits at press briefings (Ta Kung Pao, December 11, 2007).
In related news, citing Taiwanese military sources that Japanese government sources later confirmed, Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun revealed that Chinese Hong-6 bombers from the Huaining air force base in Anhui province conducted military maneuvers in areas of the East China Sea in September 2007, the route covered areas that are jointly enclosed by the Taiwan Straits Air Defense Identification Zone and the Japan Air Defense Identification Zone. The Hong-6 bombers reportedly made 20 sorties to the area on September 11 and 23, which forced Japanese F4 fighter jets based at Naha base in Okinawa Prefecture to respond by conducting a total of 12 sorties along the routes (Asahi Shimbun, January 2).
In an interview with Kensuke Ebata, a subject matter expert on defense and military affairs in Tokyo and member of the Japanese Security Export Control Committee, Asahi Shimbun reported Ebata as saying:
Hong-6 bombers can carry long-range air-to-sea missiles ? So it is possible for the bombers to attack vessels at sea. Personally, I think the bomber pilots were undergoing a training exercise under the scenario of blocking the arrival of U.S. aircraft carriers in Taiwan in the event of an emergency situation there."
The flights may also have been aimed at trying to contain U.S. forces following large-scale maneuvers near Guam in August under a scenario that the United States was at war with China," he added (Asahi Shimbun, January 2).