29 August 2012

China and the Emerging Strategic Competition in Aerospace Power

Mark Stokes and Ian Easton, China and the Emerging Strategic Competition in Aerospace Power,” in Henry D. Sokolski, ed., The Next Arms Race (Carlisle, PA: Army War College Strategic Studies Institute, 2012), 141-75.

Competition is emerging over efforts to secure ac­cess to and control of the air and space mediums in the Asia-Pacific region. This competition is being driven in large part by the Chinese development of military ca­pabilities and strategies, which increasingly challenge the ability of regional air-, missile-, and space-defense programs to keep pace. The emergence of aerospace power as a key instrument of Chinese statecraft has implications for the strategic landscape of the region and well beyond.

The military modernization campaign being un­dertaken by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Chinese development, testing, and deploy­ment of advanced aerospace capabilities are eroding the confidence of other regional actors that they will have ensured access to and control of the air and space mediums in the event of a conflict. This is of crucial importance, because the Asia-Pacific region, defined by its vast distances and long-time horizons, is an aerospace theater by its very nature, and access to and control of the air and space dimensions of any future conflict will be critical to achieving political and mili­tary successes on the land and the sea. 

The rise of China as a major economic, technologi­cal, military, and political player is changing the dy­namics within the Asia-Pacific region and the world at large. Uncertainty over Chinese intentions is creating anxieties. As Richard Bush of the Brookings Institute notes, “A rising power poses a challenge to the prevail­ing international system and to the states that guard that system, because the new power’s intentions are usually unclear.” Against the backdrop of ambiguity and uncertainty of the future, China’s aerospace de­velopments merit further examination.

The latest Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), in reference to China, states: “Future adversaries will likely possess sophisticated capabilities designed to contest or deny command of the air, sea, space, and cyberspace domains.” Indeed, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is rapidly advancing its capacity to apply aerospace power to create effects across domains in order to defend against perceived threats to national sovereignty and territorial integrity. Influential Chi­nese strategists argue that modern conventional aero­space capabilities transcend the nuclear threshold, in that they are powerful enough to deter and defeat for­midable enemies without having to resort to the threat of using nuclear weapons. Constrained by a relative­ly underdeveloped aviation establishment, the PLA is investing in aerospace capabilities that may offset shortcomings in the face of a more technologically ad­vanced adversary. Whoever dominates the skies over a given territory—such as Taiwan; disputed territories in northern India or Japan, and the South China Sea—has a decisive advantage on the surface.

This chapter addresses trends in PRC force mod­ernization intended to exploit weaknesses in regional air, missile, and space defenses, including a growing ability to maintain persistent surveillance around Chi­na’s periphery. Included is a brief overview of China’s expanding short- and medium-range ballistic missile and ground-launched cruise missile infrastructure. The subsequent section outlines trends in missile de­fense and long-range precision strike modernization in Taiwan, Japan, India, and the United States. The final section addresses the implications of China’s growing aerospace power for regional strategic stability. …

 Sources cited here include:

Andrew Erickson and Gabe Collins, “China Deploys World’s First Long-Range, Land-Based ‘Carrier Killer’: DF-21D Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM) Reaches ‘Initial Operational Capability’ (IOC),” China SignPost™ (洞察中国), No. 14 (26 December 2010).

Andrew S. Erickson and David Yang, “On the Verge of a Game-Changer,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, 135.3 (May 2009): 26-32.

Andrew S. Erickson, “Chinese ASBM Development: Knowns and Unknowns,” Jamestown China Brief, 9.13 (24 June 2009): 4-8.

Andrew S. Erickson and David D. Yang, “Using the Land to Control the Sea? Chinese Analysts Consider the Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile,” Naval War College Review, 62.4 (Autumn 2009): 53-86.

Andrew S. Erickson, “Eyes in the Sky,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, 136.4 (April 2010): 36-41.