02 September 2015

China Military Parade—3 September 2015—Your Complete Hardware & Logistics Guide (Updated Version)

UPDATE: DF-21D “assassins mace” anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) debuted. So now its finally official, after all these years… Click here to read the most comprehensive unclassified study to date on this unique Chinese missile, the DF-21D ASBM.

Also displayed publicly for the first time: DF-16, DF-26, and YJ-12 missiles. The DF-26 was described as a new intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) with nuclear, conventional, and anti-ship variants. Im sensing a pattern here… so China has in fact debuted two ASBMs!

UPDATE: By announcing 300,ooo-troop cut in his opening speech, Chairman Xi Jinping initiates a 4th round of PLA downsizing and restructuring (following previous efforts in 1985, 1997, 2002).

Chinas V-Day military parade today has two major audiences: domestic and foreign. With regard to the foreign audience, I believe that an important part of its purpose is to reveal enough about Chinese capabilities to enhance deterrence and persuade potential adversaries toat a minimumtreat Beijing’s concerns with the utmost care. I’ll therefore be watching for new weapon systems that have not been displayed publicly before. Given both the historic weight of the occasion and Chairman Xi Jinping’s need for tangible accomplishments to compensate for recent economic problems and ongoing risks in that regard, I expect China to lean extra-far forward and show us some armaments that we haven’t seen clearly before.

Watch this space!

China doesn’t plan to reveal systematically in advance what it will display in its 3 September 2015 military parade, but that shouldn’t stop you from anticipating what might be included, preparing to recognize it when you see it, and figuring out what it all means!

Below are key links to, and distillations from, the latest relevant unclassified U.S. government reports—the most authoritative, hardware-centric documents available to the public. Some of them (and here the Office of Naval Intelligence/ONI deserves particular credit) come with handy posters and videos capable of piquing almost anyone’s interest. The related links on ONI’s website are currently down, but never fear—I’ve included links to cached copies here.

You’ll notice that People’s Liberation Army (PLA) capabilities overall, and particularly PLA Navy capabilities, are covered relatively thoroughly in unclassified U.S. government reports, whereas coverage of ballistic missiles comes sporadically and with little detail, and coverage devoted to PLA Air Force (PLAAF) aircraft is virtually nonexistent outside of the annual Department of Defense report. The missile-related limitations are particularly regrettable for purposes of watching the China Military Parade, since ballistic and cruise missiles are some of the most interesting systems that may be showcased. I’ve therefore worked to supplement this the missile section with additional analysis. Lack of PLAAF hardware coverage is particularly acute here, but I’m optimistic that the U.S. Air Force’s newly-established China Aerospace Studies Institute (CASI) will help to bring needed focus to open source research and publication on Chinese aerospace issues much in the same way that the U.S. Navy’s China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI) has enhanced coverage and understanding of Chinese maritime developments over the past decade.

Even with these limitations, there’s already considerable information in this guide, which is divided into four main categories: (I) parade logistics information and (II) parade analysis, followed by information on: (III) the PLA Overall, (IV) Missiles and Space Systems, and (V) Naval Systems. To provide a “one-stop-shopping” service, Ill continue to provide updates and analysis here throughout the big event.

If anyone has something Parade-related that theyd like to share, please email via <http://www.andrewerickson.com/contact/>. 

With all this content, allow me to suggest that you search in text for specific terms of greatest interest to you. Happy hunting and watching!


English-Captioned Video: China’s Military Parade in Two Minutes, China Real Time Report (中国实时报), Wall Street Journal, 3 September 2015.

China’s leader, Xi Jinping, on Thursday presided over a military parade involving 12,000 troops, 500 pieces of military hardware and 200 aircraft. Watch the best moments from the big day in the two-minute video above.

Parade (北京大阅兵) started at 1000 (10:00 AM) on THURSDAY 3 September 2015 China time, and lasted for about 70 minutes

  • Washington, DC/U.S. Eastern Central Time:  WEDNESDAY 2 September at 2200 (10:00 PM)
  • Los Angeles, California/Pacific Time:  WEDNESDAY 2 September at 1900 (7:00 PM)
  • Honolulu, Hawaii: WEDNESDAY 2 September at 1600 (4:00 PM)

Continuous broadcast on CCTV-1 (Chinese).  Watch it on YouTube here.  Click here for alternate link.

Further details: New York Times SinoSphere Blog: “Beijing’s World War II Military Parade: What to Expect

Read in Chinese | 点击查看本文中文版 

This year, China declared a new national holiday, Victory Day, on Sept. 3 to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. Beijing will stage a huge military parade through the center of the city, where 12,000 Chinese troops, joined by military units from 17 other countries, will march past leaders assembled at Tiananmen Gate as aircraft fly in formation overhead.

This is the first time that China is holding a military parade to commemorate what it calls the Chinese People’s Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and World Antifascist War since the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949. While the leaders of “all relevant countries” were invited and President Vladimir V. Putin will attend, heads of state of Japan and major Western countries declined and will be represented by lower-level officials. Here is what to expect on Thursday:

When and Where

The parade will proceed from east to west on Changan Avenue past Tiananmen Square, starting at 10 a.m. and lasting about 70 minutes. At noon, there will be a reception for state leaders and foreign guests and in the evening, a gala, both in the Great Hall of the People.

All this comes after a ceremony on Wednesday, at which President Xi Jinping will distribute commemorative medals to veterans of the war and early members of the Communist cause.

Who Will Be in the Parade?

There will be around 12,000 Chinese troops in 50 formations, including 11 infantry phalanxes, 27 vehicle and equipment formations, 10 aviation echelons and two motorized formations of veterans of the war against Japan.

The average age of the veterans is 90. The oldest is 102. Many served in the Eighth Route Army, New Fourth Army, Northeast China Anti-Japanese United Army or the South China Guerrillas.

It will be the first time so many generals have participated, with 50 leading troops on foot. State news media reports that the generals have lost an average of 11 pounds during training.

The parade will also feature a new female honor guard, consisting of 51 women from the army, navy and air force who will march alongside 156 male honor guards. According to state news media, the women are, on average, 20 years old and 5-foot-10.

Seventeen countries are contributing around 1,000 troops.

Of these, 11 have sent formations of about 75 people each: Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico, Mongolia, Pakistan, Serbia, Tajikistan and Russia. Six countries have sent smaller teams of about seven people each: Afghanistan, Cambodia, Fiji, Laos, Vanuatu and Venezuela.

What Weapons Will Be on Display?

The parade will provide a showcase for China’s weaponry, 84 percent of which, organizers say, will be seen in public for the first time.

Foreign military analysts are especially interested in the YJ-18, a long-range supersonic antiship missile. Some American experts say they believe this could quadruple the range of current antiship cruise missiles fired from China’s submarines.

The Chinese have said the DF-16, a medium-range ballistic missile first launched in 2009 but not seen in public, will be in the parade.

Military analysts are watching to see if the DF-41 intercontinental missile, which can carry multiple warheads and was tested this year, makes an appearance.

Seen during a rehearsal for the parade was the DF-21D antiship ballistic missile, the so-called carrier killer that the Chinese have developed to prevent United States carrier groups from participating in a conflict in the Taiwan Strait. …

Nearly 200 aircraft are expected to take part. Rehearsals featured J-15 fighter jets and Z-19 attack helicopters, with aircraft flying in formation to form the number 70. …

How Can I Watch? …

CCTV-1 will broadcast the parade live Thursday morning. At 7:50 p.m. it will broadcast “Victory and Peace,” the evening anniversary gala.

From Tuesday to Saturday, CCTV and major satellite channels are suspending regularly scheduled entertainment programs such as reality and talk shows. Instead, the channels are airing war-themed features. CCTV-1 is broadcasting the documentary series “The Main Battlefield in the East” on Wednesday and Friday nights. The Hunan satellite channel will broadcast a documentary titled “Flying Tigers: The Unforgettable Memory” and an animation called “Five Cannons: Defending the Yuanzi Cliff.” …


Chun Han Wong, “5 Takeaways from China’s Military Parade,” China Real Time Report (中国实时报), Wall Street Journal, 3 September 2015. 

Andrew S. Erickson, “Missile March: China Parade Projects Patriotism at Home, Aims for Awe Abroad,” China Real Time Report (中国实时报), Wall Street Journal, 3 September 2015.

The greatest military parade in Chinese history sent strong messages to multiple audiences Thursday. Chinese viewers were informed that under the Chinese Communist Party’s irreplaceable leadership, their nation repelled Japanese invasion, has reunified—largely, and is now rightfully reclaiming “great power” status. But amid political pomp and circumstance and patriotic pride as citizens rallied round the red flag was a core external military function: deterring potential foreign adversaries who might otherwise interfere with Beijing’s completion of the latter two missions.

That’s one reason why so much advanced hardware was on display, and why so much of it was missiles—some of China’s most potent weapons, which could pose some of the greatest threats to the U.S. and its allies in the unfortunate event of conflict. Comfortable as he is with wielding political power and military might, Xi doesn’t want a war. Rather, he seeks to awe his potential adversaries into submission—or at least grudging acquiescence—regarding Beijing’s “core” interests and territorial claims. And you can’t deter much without revealing armaments that an opponent would take seriously.

Hence the need to show a big stick—many big sticks, in fact; several newly revealed to the world. Don’t be distracted by the striking marching formations. What matters most: No fewer than seven missiles on parade were from China’s foremost set of major missiles, the Dongfeng (DF) series: the DF-10 anti-ship missile; the DF-15B short-range ballistic missile; DF-16 and DF-21D medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs); the DF-26 intermediate-range ballistic missile missile (IRBM); and the DF-5B and DF-31A intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). …

Perhaps most dramatically, as part of an “Antiship Ballistic Missile Formation,” China displayed its DF-21D ASBM for the first time ever. Announced as an “assassin’s mace” at the parade, if properly targeted, this missile has the potential to disable ships including U.S. carrier strike groups, the centerpiece of American seapower. …

Also paraded for the first time: the DF-26, China’s first missile capable of striking Guam with a conventional warhead from a homeland-based launcher. … The DF-26 as was described at the parade as a new with nuclear, conventional, and anti-ship variants. …

Finally, as China’s commander-in-chief, Xi understands clearly that shiny hardware alone cannot confer military might. A set of well-coordinated military organizations and their effective command and control is likewise essential. That’s likely why Xi appears poised to announce asweeping set of reforms to restructure the PLA. A recent PLA Daily issue contains a particularly pointed article suggesting that the Party’s Army is on the cusp of major change.Xi’s announcement in his pre-parade speech that 300,000 PLA troops would be cut provides reason to believe that these reforms are now officially under way.

Andrew S. Erickson, “Sweeping Change in China’s Military: Xi’s PLA Restructuring,”China Real Time Report (中国实时报), Wall Street Journal, 2 September 2015.

Chinese President Xi Jinping needs some positive achievements, immediately. The year began with his striking consolidation of leadership at home and abroad but has become mired in problems and widely perceived blundering on economic issues. This only strengthens incentive to commemorate the sensitive 70th anniversary of Chinese victory in World War II with history’s most exciting Beijing military parade. Glimpses of new missiles and other armaments will rightly attract widespread attention — so don’t miss the show.

Long after the soldiers and crowds disperse, however, China stands to experience far more lasting impact from a move that may be announced following the pomp and circumstance: major military reforms. Propelled by Xi’s vigorous efforts to realize his dream of a strong country with a strong military, reform plans long underway are finally surfacing. Now reportedly afoot: a sweeping transformation of China’s military, with tremendous implications for its strategy and operations. The parade “will provide Xi a good opportunity to announce his ambitious plans on how to transform the PLA into a real modern army capable of winning wars,” a leading Chinese naval analyst . …

Pamela Kyle Crossley, Richard Bernstein, John Delury, and M. Taylor Fravel, “What Is China’s Big Parade All About?” A ChinaFile Conversation, 2 September 2015.

On September 3, China will mark the 70th anniversary of its World War II victory over Japan with a massive parade involving thousands of Chinese troops and an arsenal of tanks, planes, and missiles in a tightly choreographed march across Tiananmen Square. China’s leaders call this display of power “The Commemoration of the 70th Anniversary of Victory of the Chinese People’s Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and World Anti-Fascist War.” What is the meaning of this event and why have China’s leaders invested so much in executing it? —The Editors

M. Taylor Fravel:

As this thoughtful discussion notes, the upcoming military review is designed to serve several different purposes. The actual military purpose of the parade, however, should not be overlooked.

Put simply, military reviews are one way in which China engages in what authoritative PLA sources describe as “strategic deterrence.” The concept of strategic deterrence does not refer narrowly only to nuclear deterrence, though that is important. Rather, it describes more broadly all the ways that displays of military capabilities can be used to show strength and deter others from challenging China’s interests. In the 1984 parade, for example, the Dongfeng-5 intercontinental ballistic missile was displayed for the first time to show the world that China possessed a nuclear retaliatory capability. …

Steve Tsang, “China’s Military Parade is an Error of Judgement,” China Policy Institute Blog, 2 September 2015.

Whenever the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) departs from routine protocol, it is usually highly significant. Today’s military parade in Beijing, which marks 70 years since the defeat of Japan in the Second World War, is no exception.

It is only China’s fourth military parade since the Mao era; it is the first time it has held a parade that does not commemorate the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949; it is the first such parade where the world’s heads of state are invited.

It is a bold decision. It is also a major error of judgement. To openly show off its military might in this way will harm rather than aid China’s ambitions to rally support around Asia for its claim to undisputed regional leadership and its efforts to marginalise Japan and reduce American influence in the region.

China’s readiness to assert itself militarily is unnerving its neighbours. Such an overt display of military power clashes with the notion of China’s ‘peaceful rise’. It also signals the definitive departure from Deng Xiaoping’s strategy of downplaying its military capabilities – China is set to showcase its most advanced weaponry, something it has refrained from doing in previous parades.

Those outside China will understandably ask the question: what will this military strength be used for? After all, the boy in the playground with the biggest muscles should have no need to flaunt them. As one of the Chinese government’s own favourite sayings goes: “Listen to other’s words; watch their deeds.” The rest of the world is watching China’s deeds. …


Peter Mattis, Analyzing the Chinese Military: A Review Essay and Resource Guide on the People’s Liberation Army (Charleston, SC: Create Space, 2015).

China’s Military Strategy (Beijing: State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China, May 2015).

People’s Liberation Army Air Force 2010 (National Air and Space Intelligence Center: Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, 1 August 2010).

Greg Chaffin, “China’s Navy and Air Force: Advancing Capabilities and Missions—An Interview with Andrew S. Erickson,” Policy Q&A, National Bureau of Asian Research, 27 September 2012.

Greg Chaffin, Building an Active, Layered Defense: Chinese Naval and Air Force Advancement—An Interview with Andrew S. Erickson,” Policy Q&A, National Bureau of Asian Research, 10 September 2012.

Andrew S. Erickson, “China’s Modernization of Its Naval and Air Power Capabilities,” in Ashley J. Tellis and Travis Tanner, eds., Strategic Asia 2012-13: China’s Military Challenge (Seattle, WA: National Bureau of Asian Research, 2012), 60-125.

Office of the Secretary of Defense, Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2015 (Arlington, VA: Department of Defense, 8 May 2015).

Andrew S. Erickson, “What Does the Pentagon Think about China’s Rising Military Might?The National Interest, 11 May 2015.

Originally published as: Andrew S. Erickson, “China’s Emerging Competitive Edge: Pentagon Report Reveals Regionally-Potent Military with Growing Reach Beyond,” China Analysis from Original Sources 以第一手资料研究中国, 9 May 2015.

It’s that time of year again. The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has just released its annual report on Chinese military and security issues. It documents important trends in this area using information often publicly available nowhere else. Amid the usual dump of fascinating data, several broad themes stand out:

  • The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) continues brisk, broad-based modernization.
  • It has already achieved progress that the vast majority of militaries could only envy.
  • In recent years, it has consolidated core capabilities.
  • The PLA’s central focus remains two-fold:
    • Safeguarding the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s ruling position by guaranteeing domestic stability in conjunction with internal security forces as necessary
    • Increasing ability to exert leverage over disputed border areas, Taiwan, and unresolved island and maritime claims in the “Near Seas” (Yellow, East, and South China Seas).
  • But is also developing a new outer layer of power projection and influencing capability, becoming far broader-ranging in operational scope.
  • Efforts are underway to make the PLA a great power military with global reach, even if it will not be globally present or capable to U.S. standards.

In what follows, I survey the report’s key findings before assessing its limitations, and its contributions writ large.

Geographic Dynamics

In the Near Seas, China is using low-intensity coercion to further its position in maritime and territorial disputes. Overall, DoD assesses, “PLA ground, air, naval, and missile forces are increasingly able to project power to assert regional dominance during peacetime and contest U.S. military superiority during a regional conflict.” Among the most sobering shifts is the erosion of many of Taiwan’s traditional defense factors by concerted PLA development and anofficial defense budget alone that is ten times greater than Taiwan’s. In a likely testament to identity factors that render cross-Strait issues complex, Taipei now spends only ~2% of GDP on defense, a target level for European members of NATO who face no such existential threat.

In peacetime, Beijing uses incremental salami-slicing tactics to assert effective control over contested areas and features. In this regard, DoD highlights Chinese efforts to prevent Philippine resupply of Second Thomas Shoal, and mentions Luconia Shoals and Reed Bank as potential future flash points. To facilitate such gains while avoiding escalation to military conflict and direct U.S. intervention, ships from the consolidating China Coast Guard (CCG) man the front line. The PLA Navy (PLAN) remains ready back stage in a monitoring and deterrent capacity. Rapid South China Sea island reclamation stands to facilitate even more continuous presence for all such forces.

China’s “whole-of-government” approach to sovereignty assertion, and the escalatory dangers therein, were underscored in 2014 when China National Offshore Oil Company began drilling with its HYSY-981 oil rig roughly 12 nautical miles (nm) from an island disputed with Vietnam and only 120 nm from Vietnam’s coast. There China announced a security radius six-times the 500 m safety zone allowed by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. It used “paramilitary ships” (CCG and fishing boats) to fend off Vietnamese vessels with water cannons and ramming, while PLAN ships conducted “overwatch” and PLA fighter and reconnaissance aircraft and helicopters patrolled above.

In the Far Seas, Beijing is gradually extending its reach and influence with growing power projection capabilities and soft power influence. “The PLA’s growing ability to project power,” DoD judges, “augments China’s globally-oriented objectives to be viewed as a stakeholder in ensuring stability.” In 2013-14, China sent its “first” submarines to the Indian Ocean. A Shang-class (Type 093) nuclear-powered attack submarine conducted a two-month deployment. ASong-class diesel-electric submarine made the first foreign port visit by a PLAN submarine, calling twice on Colombo, Sri Lanka. Far more than their ostensible contribution to PLAN counter-piracy escorts, these new steps offered valuable area familiarization and operational experiences to Chinese undersea forces, while producing a new symbol of Chinese power projection in service of sea lane security. Meanwhile, the PLA is increasing its soft power by training foreign military officers, including those from “virtually every Latin American and Caribbean country” at its Defense Studies Institute.

Sectoral Hierarchy

China’s defense industry has improved remarkably overall. “Over the past decade,” DoD judges, “China has made dramatic improvements in all defense industrial production sectors and is comparable to other major weapon system producers like Russia and the European Union in some areas.” Still, its capabilities remain uneven and patterns of disparity prevail.

The High Ground: Space, Missile, and Cyber Systems

Following a decades-long pattern, China’s space and ballistic and cruise missile sector remains firmly in the lead. There are many concrete manifestations of its superiority. China has deployed 1,200+ short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) opposite Taiwan. The CSS-5 Mod 5 (DF-21D) anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) it has “fielded” in small numbers “gives the PLA the capability to attack ships in the western Pacific Ocean” “within 900 nm of the Chinese coastline.” Its ICBM units are benefitting from improved communications links. The DF-5 ICBM is equipped with multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRVs), and the new-generation DF-41 under development is “possibly capable of carrying” them as well. China is also developing hypersonic glide vehicles, and tested one in 2014. It boasts the JF12 Mach 5-9 hypersonic wind tunnel, reportedly the world’s largest.

To support what has been “extraordinarily rapid” development of conventionally armed missiles and other long-range precision strike (LRPS) capabilities, as part of the “world’s most rapidly maturing space program” China is lofting surveillance satellites in rapid succession.Gaofen-2, launched in August 2014, became “China’s first satellite capable of sub-meter resolution imaging.” It plans to launch successively improved variants of this satellite in coming years. China gained the ability to send even greater payloads to even higher orbits with the completion of a fourth satellite launch facility, Wenchang on Hainan Island, in 2014. Launches of the Long March-5 and -7 heavy lift boosters are scheduled to commence there by 2016.

Even as it increases its own use of space assets for military purposes, China is strengthening its ability to hold those of potential opponents such as the United States at risk. It is developing a range of counter-space weapons. Unusual launch patterns and activities in space suggest efforts to test such capabilities. When queried by Washington about these actions, Beijing declines to disclose details. Meanwhile, the PLA emphasizes electronic warfare capabilities, and is deploying “jamming equipment against multiple communication and radar systems and GPS satellite systems” on sea- and air-based platforms.

Chinese cyber capabilities have recently joined the top tier as well, with DoD long subjected to numerous intrusions. Beijing is also attempting to use its position in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and other international fora to promote conditions whereby sovereign states can wield greater control over cyberspace governance, both within their borders and even beyond.

Steaming Smartly Ahead: Maritime Systems

Maritime hardware comes next. Warship quantity is impressive: “The PLA Navy now possesses the largest number of vessels in Asia.” But quality is emphasized even more; China is replacing older platforms with newer, more capable ones. China’s shipbuilding industry has finally begun series production of multiple vessel classes. The Luyang-III-class (Type 052D) destroyer, which first entered service in 2014, has a vertical launch system capable of firing anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs), land-attack cruise missiles (LACMs), surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), and “antisubmarine missiles.” The Type 055 guided-missile cruiser slated to begin construction in 2015 will wield similar armaments. These include the submarine- and ship-launched YJ-18 ASCM, which DoD terms a “dramatic improvement” over the already-potent SS-N-27 that China previously purchased from Russia with eight of twelve Kilo-class submarines. This will greatly strengthen area air defense capabilities: Chinese naval task forces will increasingly be able to take a protective “umbrella” with them to distant seas far removed from the 300 nm-from-shore envelope of China’s extensive land-based Integrated Air Defense System (IADS). In addition, DoD judges that such warships may be close to fielding LACMs, which would give the PLAN its first capability to strike shore targets Tomahawk missile-style.

While civil maritime vessels are far less sophisticated than their naval counterparts, and typically lack major armaments, within this lower-intensity context the CCG is enjoying a buildup far more quantitatively impressive than that of the PLAN. It is already the world’s largest blue-water coast guard fleet, with more hulls than all its neighboring counterparts combined—and that includes the rightly-respected Japan Coast Guard. From 2004-08, it added nearly twenty ocean-going patrol ships; by the end of 2015, it is projected to have added another 30+ new vessels of this type. Together with the construction of “more than 100 new patrol craft and smaller units,” this will produce a total force level increase of 25%—growth simply unparalleled anywhere else on the world’s oceans. And that is even as many older platforms are replaced by new, improved ones; with many more having helicopter embarking capability than previously.

Gaining Altitude: Aviation Systems

Lower in achievement thus far but improving rapidly is Chinese military aviation. Quantitatively, the PLA Air Force (PLAAF) is Asia’s largest, and the world’s third largest. The PLAN has an aviation force of its own, which is growing to provide air wings for the “multiple” carriers DoD believes China may build over the next fifteen years. Limitations persist: Beijing’s first carrier,Liaoning, is not expected to embark an air wing “until 2015 or later.” China remains weak in aeroengines, and may soon import perhaps two dozen Russian Su-35S fighters in part for their advanced engines and radars. Yet the PLAAF “is rapidly closing the gap with western air forces across a broad spectrum of capabilities.”

China “is the only country in the world other than the United States to have two concurrent stealth fighter programs.” DoD anticipates the maiden flight of the fifth J-20 low-observable fighter prototype in 2015, while the J-31 fighter may be offered for export. Variants of the Y-20 transport—which may be commissioned in 2016—could provide badly needed troop movement, refueling, and airborne early warning and control (AWACs) capabilities. New variants of the venerable H-6 bomber have been exquisitely retrofitted to serve as tankers and to carry significant weapons load outs, including the YJ-12 supersonic ASCM and the CJ-20 LACM.

Meanwhile, China is placing major emphasis on UAVs. DoD cites a 2013 report by the Defense Science Board, which judges that “China’s move into unmanned systems is ‘alarming’ and combines unlimited resources with technological awareness that might allow China to match or even outpace U.S. spending on unmanned systems in the future.” No fewer than three long-range precision-strike variants under development. The BZK-005 UAV has already been observed conducting intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) over the East China Sea. Without elaboration, DoD notes: “Some estimates indicate China plans to produce upwards of 41,800 land- and sea-based unmanned systems, worth about $10.5 billion, between 2014 and 2023.”

Finally, as part of China’s IADS, the PLAAF also maintains one of the world’s largest forces of advanced long-range SAMs. China is not as strong in SAMs as it is in other ballistic (and cruise) missiles, but is acquiring the long-range S-400 system from Russia, even as it continues to develop long-range indigenous systems such as the CSA-9 for IAD and ballistic missile defense (BMD).

Ground force materiel is typically last in sophistication, although the report offers few specifics. It does draw attention to China’s prioritization and rapid deployment of internal security forces. This pattern has only intensified in response to dozens of deaths from domestic unrest and terrorism in recent years, particularly in conjunction with Xinjiang.

Weaknesses and Attempts to Rectify Them

On the hardware side, China is still missing some critical technologies, industrial processes, and related knowhow. It “continues to lack either a robust coastal or deep water anti-submarine warfare capability,” and its ability to collect and disseminate targeting information in real time under wartime conditions remains uncertain.

Through determined multi-pronged effort, however, Beijing is progressively closing many of the remaining gaps. It continues to obtain significant technologies, components, and systems from abroad. As in the 1990s (albeit to a less extreme degree today), Russian and Ukrainian economic woes facilitate Chinese access to advanced expertise and systems (including S-400 SAMs, Su-35 fighters, and the Petersburg/Lada-class submarine production program from the former; assault hovercraft and aeroengines from the latter). Much technology acquired for commercial aircraft and other civilian programs has military applications. Along the way, DoD documents multiple cases of Chinese nationals seeking to transfer foreign technology illegally. Finally, China is consolidating its own state S&T research funding. Having bet big on nanotechnology, for instance, it now trails only the United States in research funding for that field.

Amelioration of software weaknesses requires laborious human capital investment and wrenching organizational reforms, but the PLA and its civilian masters are clearly determined to prevail even here. As part of enhancement of training realism emphasized by Xi, the PLA is increasing “joint” pan-Military Region exercises. Further reforms likely under consideration include reducing non-combat forces and the relative proportion of ground forces; elevating the proportion and roles of enlisted personnel and non-commissioned officers vis-à-vis commissioned officers; bolstering “new-type combat forces” for naval aviation, cyber, and special operations; establishing a theater joint command system; and reducing China’s current seven Military Regions by as many as two.

Finally, if Beijing is to secure the overseas influence and reach it increasingly desires, foreign policy adjustments will be required. Logistics and intelligence support remain key constraints on Chinese operations in the Indian Ocean and beyond. To remedy this, DoD assesses, Beijing “will likely establish several access points in this area in the next 10 years. These arrangements likely will take the form of agreements for refueling, replenishment, crew rest, and low-level maintenance. The services provided likely will fall short of permitting the full spectrum of support from repair to re-armament.”

Positive Chinese Contributions and Bilateral Military Relations

Despite the above concerns, DoD also takes pains to recognize positive, growing Chinese contributions to international security and military-to-military relations with the U.S. It documents in exhaustive detail the frequent exchanges and discussions between the two militaries, as well as bilateral and multilateral military exercises dating to 2008. It clearly strives for a balanced approach: “As the United States builds a stronger foundation for a military-to-military relationship with China, it must also continue to monitor China’s evolving military strategy, doctrine, and force development, and encourage China to be more transparent about its military modernization program. In concert with its allies and partners, the United States will continue adapting its forces, posture, and operational concepts to maintain a stable and secure Asia-Pacific security environment.”

Limitations of the Report Itself

Like many products of complex bureaucratic exercises amid far greater competing priorities, this report suffers slightly from omissions, small weaknesses, and inconsistencies. The Maritime Militia, an important component of China’s Cabbage Strategy of enveloping disputed features in layers of non-military forces that opponents might hesitate to use force against, is not mentioned once. With regard to shipbuilding, DoD’s broad brushstrokes obscure lingering unevenness. It names China “the top ship-producing nation in the world,” but omits the critical qualifier that this is in terms of gross commercial tonnage; not sophistication, systems, technology, or quality. Ranges quoted for anti-ship cruise missiles are not explained; some may be debatable in practice depending on the assumptions used to calculate them. Likewise unexplained is DoD’s methodology for calculating China’s total 2014 military spending at $165 billion (against the official figure of $136.3 billion for that year).

Moreover, Pentagon reports are typically stronger in analyzing hardware than software, and this one is no exception. The disparity manifests most prominently in two instances. First, DoD offers incomplete, seemingly uncritical analysis of the “new type of major power relations” advocated by Xi Jinping and other Chinese officials. This may be part of a larger pattern in which the Obama Administration has fallen into the trap of appearing to embrace this loaded meme, which carries Chinese expectations of Washington accommodating China’s “core” sovereignty interests without reciprocal concessions from Beijing. It is arguably somewhat disjointed for DoD to express such significant concerns about Chinese weapons systems, while avoiding critical analysis of some of the very policy approaches that inform their threatened worst-case use. Second, the report misses a chance to put in full context the important keynote address that Xi delivered at the CCP Central Foreign Affairs Work Conference in 2014. While the full text remains unavailable in public, subsequent bureaucratic activities and official statements suggest that it may represent a watershed in Xi’s exhorting officials to propose more considerably more assertive external policies. Given the clarity it brings to details of Chinese security hardware, it is unfortunate that DoD could not shed more light on the high-level policies that inform its development and employment.

Undeniable Contribution

All told, however, DoD’s 2015 report continues its useful contribution to vital public knowledge of China’s military-security development. It is far more substantive than any public Chinese documents, including the much-touted Defense White Papers. Such knowledge remains far more limited than the vast sea of information available to anyone interested in the U.S. military, a great proportion of which is translated into Chinese on a regular basis.

Chinese government spokespeople will now predictably denounce DoD’s publication self-righteously in official media, but their talking points will appear generic, as if merely dusted off from years past. Behind this querulous façade, and unwillingness to engage the report’s specifics, likely lies an inability to disprove anything more than a few technicalities. What apparently bothers Beijing far more than any facts revealed is the very notion that Washington would have the temerity to bring transparency and open discussion to the state and trajectory of what is now the world’s second military by many measures. All the more reason why DoD’s slightly imperfect yet irreplaceable contribution is invaluable yet again.


National Air and Space Intelligence Center, Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat (Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH, 2013).


Andrew S. EricksonHow China Got There First: Beijing’s Unique Path to ASBM Development and Deployment,” Jamestown Foundation China Brief 13.12 (7 June 2013).

Andrew S. Erickson, Chinese Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile Development: Drivers, Trajectories, and Strategic Implications, Jamestown Occasional Paper (Washington, DC: Jamestown Foundation, May 2013).

Andrew S. Erickson, “China Channels Billy Mitchell: Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile Alters Region’s Military Geography,” Jamestown Foundation China Brief 13.5 (4 March 2013).

Andrew S. Erickson and Gabriel B. 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, “Take China’s ASBM Potential Seriously,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, Vol. 136, No. 2 (February 2010), p. 8.

Andrew S. Erickson, “Ballistic Trajectory—China Develops New Anti-Ship Missile,” China Watch, Jane’s Intelligence Review 22 (4 January 2010): 2-4.

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

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

Andrew S. Erickson, “China’s Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM) Reaches Equivalent of ‘Initial Operational Capability’ (IOC)—Where It’s Going and What it Means,” China Analysis from Original Sources 以第一手资料研究中国, 12 July 2011.

Andrew S. Erickson, “China Testing Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM); U.S. Preparing Accordingly–Now Updated With Additional Sources,” China Analysis from Original Sources 以第一手资料研究中国, 25 December 2010. 

Andrew S. Erickson, A Statement Before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, “PLA Modernization in Traditional Warfare Capabilities” panel, “China’s Military Modernization and its Impact on the United States and the Asia-Pacific” hearing, Washington, DC, 29 March 2007, 72-78; published in 2007 Report to Congress of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, 110th Congress, 1stSession, November 2007, 91.


Andrew S. Erickson and Michael S. Chase, “China’s Strategic Rocket Force: Upgrading Hardware and Software (Part 2 of 2),” Jamestown China Brief 14.14 (17 July 2014).

Andrew S. Erickson and Michael S. Chase, “China’s Strategic Rocket Force: Sharpening the Sword (Part 1 of 2),” Jamestown China Brief 14.13 (3 July 2014).

Andrew S. Erickson and Michael S. Chase, “China Goes Ballistic,” The National Interest131 (May-June 2014): 58-64.

Michael S. Chase and Andrew S. Erickson, “A Competitive Strategy with Chinese Characteristics? The Second Artillery’s Growing Conventional Forces and Missions,” in Thomas Mahnken, ed., Competitive Strategies for the 21st Century: Theory, History, and Practice (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2012), 206-18.

Andrew Erickson and Gabriel B. Collins, “China’s Ballistic Missiles: A Force to be Reckoned With,” China Real Time Report (中国事实报), Wall Street Journal, 24 August 2012.

Michael S. Chase and Andrew S. Erickson, “The Conventional Missile Capabilities of China’s Second Artillery Force: Cornerstone of Deterrence and Warfighting,” Asian Security, 8.2 (Summer 2012): 115-37.

Christopher T. Yeaw, Andrew S. Erickson, and Michael S. Chase, “The Future of Chinese Nuclear Policy and Strategy,” in Toshi Yoshihara and James Holmes, eds.,Strategy in the Second Nuclear Age: Power, Ambition, and the Ultimate Weapon(Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2012), 53-80.

Andrew S. Erickson and Michael S. Chase, “China’s SSBN Force: Transitioning to the Next Generation,” Jamestown China Brief, Vol. 9, No. 12 (10 June 2009).

Andrew S. Erickson and Michael S. Chase, “An Undersea Deterrent? China’s Emerging SSBN Force,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, Vol. 135, No. 4 (June 2009), pp. 36-41.

Michael S. Chase, Andrew S. Erickson, and Christopher T. Yeaw, “The Future of Chinese Deterrence Strategy,” Jamestown China Brief, Vol. 9, No. 5 (4 March 2009), pp. 6-9.

Michael S. Chase, Andrew S. Erickson, and Christopher T. Yeaw, “Chinese Theater and Strategic Missile Force Modernization and its Implications for the United States,” Journal of Strategic Studies 32.1 (February 2009): 67-114.


Dennis M. Gormley, Andrew S. Erickson, and Jingdong Yuan, “A Potent Vector: Assessing Chinese Cruise Missile Developments,” Joint Force Quarterly 75 (4thQuarter/30 September 2014): 98-105.

Dennis GormleyAndrew S. Erickson, and Jingdong Yuan, “China’s Cruise Missiles: Flying Fast Under the Public’s Radar,” The National Interest (12 May 2014).

Dennis M. Gormley, Andrew S. Erickson, and Jingdong Yuan, A Low-Visibility Force Multiplier: Assessing China’s Cruise Missile Ambitions (Washington, D.C.: National Defense University Press, 2014).

Christopher P. Carlson, “China’s Eagle Strike-Eight Anti-Ship Cruise Missiles (Part 3 of 3): The YJ-83, C803, and the Family Tree,” Defense Media Network, 8 February 2013.

Christopher P. Carlson, “China’s Eagle Strike-Eight Anti-Ship Cruise Missiles (Part 2 of 3): YJ-81, YJ-82, and C802,” Defense Media Network, 6 February 2013.

Christopher P. Carlson, “China’s Eagle Strike-Eight Anti-Ship Cruise Missiles (Part 1 of 3): Designation Confusion and the Family Members from YJ-8 to YJ-8A,” Defense Media Network, 4 February 2013.


Ronald O’Rourke, China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities—Background and Issues for Congress (Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, 28 July 2015), RL33153.

Andrew S. Erickson, “Rising Tide, Dispersing Waves: Opportunities and Challenges for Chinese Seapower Development,” Journal of Strategic Studies 37.3 (summer 2014): 1-31.

Capt. Christopher P. Carlson, USN (Retired), “Essay: Inside the Design of China’s Yuan-class Submarine,” U.S. Naval Institute News, 31 August 2015.

The PLA Navy: New Capabilities and Missions for the 21st Century (Suitland, MD: Office of Naval Intelligence, 9 April 2015). [report, videos, graphics]

If you’re having trouble downloading the report directly from the ONI website, click on this alternate link.

Vivid posters detailing Chinese ships and aircraft, equipment, and leadership structure are a force multiplier for ONI’s report. Perhaps most exciting, for the first time ever, ONI is making authoritative, carefully-labeled silhouettes and photos of PLAN and maritime law enforcement (MLE) ships and aircraft available publicly, together with names, pennant numbers, and hull numbers. This is almost like upgrading from bird watchers’ photos on Pinterest—pretty though they may be—to the systematic, comprehensive Peterson Field Guide to Birds. A detailed leadership organization chart completes the highly-informative set. A most welcome contribution to open source studies of China’s security forces in general and Navy and Coast Guard specifically!

Here is a cached copy of what many will find to be the most important appendix poster, the PLAN and Maritime Law Enforcement Recognition Guide.

Cached copies are available here of accompanying videos on Chinas Defensive Layers and South China Sea Maritime Claims.

Click here for cached copies of the China Equipment Guide and Leadership Structure Guide in PDF format and JPEG format (smaller file, lo-res).

Detailed analysis of ONI’s report offered below:

Andrew S. Erickson, “Revelations on China’s Maritime Modernization: The U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence Offers a Wealth of New Information on the PLA Navy,” The Diplomat, 16 April 2015.

To its first unclassified report on China’s navy in six years, the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) has just added sophisticated posters detailing Chinese ships and aircraft, equipment, and leadership structure. ONI’s main document, “The PLA Navy: New Capabilities and Missions for the 21st Century,” already offers a cornucopia of new insights and highly vetted data points. But it is with the supplementary reference materials that the Suitland, MD-based agency is going where no publicly released U.S. government report has ever gone before. This article reviews key findings from ONI’s latest set of publications and assesses their significance.

Unprecedented Offerings

Perhaps most exciting, for the first time ever, ONI is making available publicly 148 carefully labeled silhouettes and 89 photos of China’s myriad People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) and maritime law enforcement ships and aircraft. This enables systematic open source analysis to a degree simply impossible before.

leadership structure chart with details on the top thirty-one individuals in the PLAN’s chain of command completes the highly informative set. It offers both grades and ranks, highlights leaders’ distinguishing characteristics, acknowledges frankly where key data remain ambiguous or unavailable, and even offers projections concerning future career progression (or lack thereof). It describes such vital bodies as the all-important Navy Party Standing Committee, or “Navy Politburo,” the PLAN’s senior-most decision-making organ. …

Andrew Erickson, “How U.S. Navy Intel Sees China’s Maritime Forces,” War on the Rocks, 10 April 2015.

In its first unclassified report on the subject in six years, the Office of Naval Intelligence depicts a powerful trajectory for China’s maritime forces. Titled “The PLA Navy: New Capabilities and Missions for the 21st Century,” the document and accompanying videos also cover the China Coast Guard—precisely the right approach, since the world’s largest blue water civil maritime fleet serves as “China’s Second Navy” and is on the front lines of island and maritime “rights protection” in the East and South China Seas. This focus on both the PLA Navy (PLAN) and the China Coast Guard is also especially appropriate given their role as the principal institutions charged with furthering regional sovereignty claims. The PLAN is also responsible for safeguarding Chinese interests much farther afield, and is gradually developing power projection capabilities to do so.

In the most groundbreaking single piece of information in the report, a U.S. government source has confirmed for the first time that Chinese ships and submarines have deployed the potent new-generation supersonic YJ-18 anti-ship cruise missile. Previously designated the CH-SS-NX-13 by the Department of Defense, it is apparently a copy of the 3M54E Klub (SS-N-27B export variant), with which Russian Kilo-class 636M subs are equipped. Like the Klub, the sea-skimming YJ-18’s high speed and terminal trajectory make it extremely difficult for ships’ air defense to thwart.

Andrew S. Erickson, “U.S. Exposes China’s Growing Maritime Power,” The National Interest, 10 April 2015.

Originally published as: Andrew S. Erickson, “Navy Intel Charts Chinese Sea Change: Office of Naval Intelligence Releases First Unclassified PLAN Report in Six Years,” China Analysis from Original Sources 以第一手资料研究中国, 9 April 2015.

What a difference six years makes! Since the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) last issued an unclassified report on China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) in 2009, the Middle Kingdom has greatly strengthened and expanded its “Great Wall at Sea” and even built the world’s largest “Great Wall of Sand” in contested waters. Yet even as Internet speculation proliferates spectacularly, highly reliable analysis remains chronically scarce. Even factoring out obvious fallacies and ‘fanboy art’ that clearly violates known facts and laws of physics, this disparity produces what Rear Admiral Paul Becker, Director of Intelligence for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, terms a “data glut but an information deficit” on China.

Yesterday, April 9, ONI helped reduce that gap. It released a report documenting the PLAN’s rapid progress, while carefully assessing its remaining weaknesses. Entitled “The PLA Navy: New Capabilities and Missions for the 21st Century,” the document (interactive version downloadable here) (hi-res version downloadable here) has accompanying videos on “China’s Defensive Layers” and “South China Seas Maritime Claims.” Collectively, these represent an extremely valuable contribution to public understanding of China’s maritime development, both in terms of new details offered and the authoritative assessment that backs them. In what follows, I offer highlights from the report and explain their significance.

Major Revelations

1. Rapid shipbuilding allows the PLAN and China Coast Guard (CCG) to replace old ships with new, greatly improved ones. While the PLAN is only growing numerically in selected areas, by the end of 2015 the CCG will be 25% larger than it was at the beginning of 2012.

2. China has far more Coast Guard ships than Japan, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines—combined.

3. China has deployed the YJ-18, a potent new-generation supersonic anti-ship cruise missile (ASCM) that could pose unprecedented challenges to the air defenses of U.S. and allied ships. Everyone serious about understanding Chinese military capabilities must familiarize themselves with this missile.

Structure and Contents

The report’s 49 pages are divided into five chapters:

  • Chapter 1 covers “Naval Strategy and Missions.”
  • Chapter 2, “PLAN Equipment—Building a Modern Navy,” offers order of battle information in unprecedented detail, with naval assets divided among all three fleets for the first time that I have seen in a public U.S. government document since 2009—annual Department of Defense (DoD) reports lump East and South China Sea assets together.
  • Chapter 3 details “Training, Exercises, and Joint Operations.”
  • Chapter 4, “PLAN Structure and Leadership,” offers an unparalleled ‘who’s who’ of PLAN organization. In a move that boosts analytical credibility and will warm the heart oflegendary PLA analyst and former attaché Kenneth Allen (who has made educating U.S. government and other analysts about the subject a personal mission), this section lists admirals’ all-important grades in addition to their ranks.
  • Chapter 5 returns us to a primary mission for the PLAN, CCG, and other Chinese maritime forces: “Maritime Claims—Securing China’s ‘Blue Territory.’”
  • A brief “Outlook” section concludes.

Major bonus (referenced explicitly in Table of Contents, but unfortunately not yet downloadable): posters of Chinese equipment and leadership structure as well as a PLAN and maritime law enforcement platforms recognition guide. This suggests that ONI is making authoritative, carefully-labeled silhouettes of PLAN and CCG ships available publicly for the first time ever. This would be almost like upgrading from bird watchers’ photos on Pinterest—pretty though they may be—to the systematic, comprehensive Peterson Field Guide to Birds.

While the report focuses most extensively on the PLAN, it also devotes important coverage to the consolidating CCGthe world’s largest blue water coast guard fleet. Like the PLAN, the CCG is active near such disputed features as Scarborough Reef, Second Thomas Shoal, and the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands—and may yet (it is to be worried) play even more important roles there. In a typical pattern, “When deployed, the CCG sometimes coordinates with the PLAN, which, when necessary, will deploy destroyers and frigates several dozen miles from the incident to provide a nearby, but indirect presence.” This was precisely China’s division of labor for the March 2009 Impeccable Incident. U.S. policymakers must be wise to a growing Chinese approach in which playing ‘good cop’ allows China’s navy to cultivate closer relations with, and learn from, its American counterpart; while smaller, harder-to-monitor paranaval ‘bad cops’ do the day-to-day ‘dirty work’ of advancing China’s claims.

Home to all China’s unresolved island and maritime claims, the Near Seas (Yellow, East China, and South China Seas) contain numerous flashpoints. Disturbingly, ONI confirms that during the May 2014 crisis surrounding China’s unilateral deployment of oil rig HYSY-981 in waters disputed with Vietnam, both nations sent “dozens” “of coast guard ships, fishing vessels, and some naval combatants….” Ships “frequently and deliberately collid[ed] with one another.” CCG ships “deployed water cannons.” These aggressive activities “creat[ed] the conditions for a rapid escalation.” “The tense situation could easily have escalated into a military conflict.”

Hardware and Software Modernization

Accelerated modernization since roughly 2000 has put the PLAN “on track to dramatically increase its combat capability by 2020 through rapid acquisition and improved operational proficiency.” On the hardware side, it has done so in part by rapidly replacing older ships with larger, multi-mission, blue-water-capable variants with much-improved air defense. Last year alone, China’s navy laid, launched, or commissioned more than 60 vessels; ONI expects similar achievement for 2015. This volume is unmatched: “In 2013 and 2014, China launched more naval ships than any other country and is expected to continue this trend through 2015-16.”

The CCG enjoys a proportionally-even-greater building boom. Even as ship sizes and capabilities increase through replacement, CCG forces are growing at an unparalleled rate. Over the last decade, predecessor organizations (the CCG was not officially established as a unified civil maritime force until 2013) have received roughly 100 new large patrol ships, patrol combatants/craft, and auxiliary/support ships—not to mention additional small harbor and riverine patrol boats. From 2012-15, ONI projects that >30 large patrol ships and >20 patrol combatants will be added, boosting overall CCG force levels by 25%.

Increasingly efficient and capable of supplying China’s maritime forces through series production, Chinese shipbuilding now looms sufficiently large that the Naval War College has made it the topic of its annual China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI) conference.

The PLAN is building capacity to use advanced new hardware by training with unprecedented volume, sophistication, and realism, directed in part by Chinese paramount leader Xi Jinping. Reflecting consensus among his peers, Xi views maritime power as vital for China’s comprehensive national development and great power status, and calls for Beijing to “strategically manage the sea.” The PLAN is strengthening guidelines; increasing use of training centers and simulators; improving its training cycle and scope; bolstering opposing force, electronic warfare, and logistics drills; and developing a noncommissioned officer corpsto manage important technical tasks. ONI anticipates that 2015 will witness “improved multi-service training,” including through “large-scale transregional exercises” to increase “joint service integration”—one of the PLA’s greatest remaining shortcomings.

Adding Mission Layers

Traditional capabilities to uphold Taiwan and Near Seas sovereignty claims with “the expectation of U.S. military intervention” remain “the PLAN’s primary focus.” ONI foresees increasing likelihood of friction between China and its neighbors “as Beijing seeks to deter rival activities and assert its own claimed rights and interests.” These claims are sweeping: the “three million-square kilometers of blue territory” invoked frequently by Chinese officials and civilians alike “would incorporate nearly 90 percent of the area within the major bodies of water within the First Island Chain,” namely the Near Seas. In the South China Sea, China has moved from occupying only small outposts with a land area of less than five acres” to adding “hundreds of acres of land” constructed by dredging and filling to support new military and paramilitary facilities, activity “unprecedented” in its “sheer scale.” Even within the Near Seas, there are new outer layers to PLAN capability, with the new Jiangdao-class corvette adding Near Seas patrol capabilities beyond the range of the 60 Houbei missile catamarans built in the mid-2000s. Houbeis remain “valuable for reacting to specific threats in China’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and slightly beyond.”

China’s navy remains very different from that of the U.S., but is relatively well-suited for its far more limited focus. For instance, China already has more attack submarines than the U.S., focused on a much smaller area. Chinese submarines “are optimized for regional missions that concentrate on ASuW [anti-surface warfare] near major sea lines of communication (SLOCs).” Also supporting high-end Near Seas operations is China’s “robust mining capability.” It can lay its >50,000 naval mines using submarines, surface ships, aircraft, and “fishing and merchant vessels.” As with other armaments, China is expected to develop still-more advanced variants in the future, including “extended-range propelled-warhead mines, antihelicopter mines, and bottom influence mines more able to counter minesweeping efforts.” As for its own mine countermeasures efforts, China can deploy heretofore simply un-Googleable “remote-controllable WONANG-class inshore minesweepers.”

PLAN capabilities in the “Far Seas” beyond the “Near Seas” are growing too, albeit more slowly and modestly. Already increasing Chinese influence overseas, they ultimately portend more robust protection of resource and trade flows (the latter involve more than 90% by volume and 65% by value transiting major SLOCs). Most new PLAN vessels are suited for both Near and Far Seas. ONI judges that “in the next decade, China will complete its transition…toa navy capable of multiple missions around the world.”

Quality over Quantity… But Some Numbers Increasing, Too

Today, the PLAN has 26 destroyers, 52 frigates, 20 new corvettes, 85 modern missile-armed patrol craft, 56 amphibious ships, 42 mine warfare ships, >50 major auxiliary ships, and >400 minor auxiliary ships and service/support craft. An already high, still-growing majority of these are advanced “modern” systems.

It’s must be emphasized that China’s Navy has an air force of its own, and its portfolio is diversifying rapidly even before a carrier air wing is operational. “An array of relatively high-quality aircraft,” outfitted with increasingly-sophisticated sensors and weapons, pursue “an expanded array of missions, particularly maritime strike, but also including maritime patrols, ASW, airborne early warning, and logistics.”

Chinese undersea warfare ability is being strengthened with 3 cutting-edge Dalao-class submarine rescue ships. Numbers of amphibious vessels remain relatively constant, but China’s four (and counting) Yuzhao landing platform docks offer new capabilities, both for South China Sea island seizure campaigns and potentially even for overseas expeditionary warfare. “Increased intelligence collection deployments in the western Pacific” are being facilitated by a total of four Dongdiao-class intelligence collection vessels (one of which spied on the RIMPAC 2014 exercise off Hawaii, even as four other PLAN vessels participated in it) and the addition of five Kanhai-class survey ships.

Numbers are rising significantly in selected areas. While “at least 20” Jiangdao-class corvettes “are already in operation…30 to 60 total units may be built.” Twelve Yuan-class air independent power (AIP) submarines are in service, “with as many as eight more slated for production.” Rotary wing aircraft numbers will grow, in part to outfit PLAN surface ships, as “every major PLAN surface combatant under construction is capable of embarking a helicopter.” Because the PLAN requires more and better “eyes and ears” to support operations farther from shore, numbers of maritime patrol, airborne early warning, and surveillance aircraft are also growing. The PLAN is now introducing UAVs, with the Camcopter S-100 UAV already deployed and various indigenous systems likely to follow soon.

Finally, with respect to paranaval forces, China already enjoys what can only be described as a staggering numerical advantage in the region, and will soon be second to none in quality. It has many more Coast Guard ships (205) than Japan, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines combined (147). Consider how the CCG compares with neighboring counterparts in hull numbers:

  • China: 205  (95 large [>1,000 tons], 110 small [500-1,000 tons])
  • Japan: 78  (53 large, 25 small)
  • Vietnam: 55  (5 large, 50 small)
  • Indonesia: 8  (3 large, 5 small)
  • Malaysia: 2  (2 large, 0 small)
  • Philippines: 4  (0 large, 4 small) 

No parallel.

Laser Focus: Anti-Surface Strike

Surveying Chinese hardware development reveals an extreme ASuW focus, not only in the submarine force, but also with ship-, aircraft-, and land-based missiles. Even China’s Z-9D helicopter “has been observed carrying ASCMs.” This anti-navy approach is rightly of growing concern to U.S. and allied navies, as it is designed specifically to target their ships precisely from great distances, often from beyond the reach of the ships’ defenses. ONI anticipates continuation of this ASuW trend: “A new cruiser to be built in China in the latter half of the decade will carry a variety of antisurface weapons, some of which will be newly developed.”

YJ-18 ASCM Confirmed on Ships and Subs

While Chinese ballistic missiles—including the DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM)mentioned multiple times in ONI’s report—have received considerable coverage,China’s numerous, increasingly potent cruise missiles have not received the attention that they deserve. Here ONI makes a contribution that bears tremendous emphasis. In a major data point never previously reported publicly by the U.S. government, ONI reveals that China’s newest destroyer class, Luyang III, “is fitted with the new vertically-launched YJ-18 ASCM.” It is also apparently deployed on China’sSong-, Yuan-, and Shang-class submarines (exact wording: “China’s newest indigenous submarine-launched ASCM, the YJ-18, extends a similar capability [as the SS-N-27/3M54E Klub ASCM] to the SONG, YUAN, and SHANG classes.”) Such ship and submarine deployment was long discussed inChinese Internet posts, and video of an apparent YJ-18 test launch appeared in November 2014. Previously termed “CH-SS-NX-13” by DoD, the YJ-18 is China’s new-generation indigenous supersonic ASCM. Apparently a Chinese copy of the 3M54E Klub (the SS-N-27B export variant) supplied with the eight Kilo-class 636M submarines China imported from Russia (ONI credits it with “similar capability”), the YJ-18 reportedly has a cruise range of as much as 180 km at Mach 0.8 and a terminal sprint range of 40 km at Mach 2.5-3.0. These high-speed, long-range capabilities (not specified directly in ONI’s report, but infer-able from the comparison to the YJ-18’s extremely close Russian equivalent), together with a sea-skimming flight profile and likely possession of a command data link based on Internet photos, could make the YJ-18 extremely difficult to defend against.

China has thus acquired many advanced pieces of hardware, but their integration and effective employment remains a far greater challenge. For instance, weapons of increasing range need over-the-horizon-targeting to strike their targets effectively. Areas that China wants to cover for this purpose are immense. “Just to characterize activities in the ‘near seas,’” for instance, “China must build a picture covering nearly 875,000 square nautical miles (sqnm) of water- and air-space.” The strategically-situated Philippine Sea “expands the battlespace by another 1.5 million sqnm.” Recognizing these challenges, China “has invested in maritime reconnaissance systems at the national and tactical levels, as well as communications systems such as datalinks, to provide targeting information to launch platforms.” In addition to land-based radars, “China operates a growing array of reconnaissance satellites, which allow it to observe maritime activity anywhere on earth.”

Remaining Weaknesses

For all the progress that ONI documents, it also correctly emphasizes that the PLAN still has considerable work to do to become the world-class blue water navy that its civilian masters desire. In addition to the reconnaissance requirements detailed above, major Far Seas capacity will require substantially more, better nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) than China’s current limited inventory. Since a submarine is useful only to the extent that it can attack undetected, China likely faces an incremental slog: “Following the completion of the improved SHANG SSN, the PLAN will progress to the Type 095 SSN, which may provide a generational improvement in many areas such as quieting and weapon capacity.”

A major blue water navy also requires robust deck aviation. While China has started down the “long and dangerous path” of aircraft carrier development, “it will take several years before Chinese carrier-based air regiments are operational.” China has lagged in open-ocean anti-submarine warfare—essential to protecting high-value surface vessels far from home—but new ships boast “a variety of new sonar systems, including towed arrays and variable-depth sonars, as well as hangars to support embarked helicopters.”

Robust nuclear deterrence is important to any great power, but developing an effective sea leg is most technically challenging in key respects. The U.S. government has long anticipated engagement of the Type 094 nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine in deterrence patrols with its JL-2 nuclear ballistic missiles, and ONI believes that this could finally be the year.

Finally, the ground forces remain dominant, and jointness elusive. While the ONI report fails to mention it, the ambitious Xi may seek to tackle these problems with sweeping reforms that ultimately render the “Army” merely one of several services and reduce the number of China’s military regions while making two of the coastal ones more maritime and power-projection focused.

Transformative Trajectory

While U.S. government reports typically contain valuable data often unavailable elsewhere, their textual presentation sometimes leaves something to be desired. Ambiguous wording and conflicting verb tenses provoke endless speculation—likely wholly unintended—e.g., as to whether a particular system is actually deployed yet or not. Correcting a puzzling multi-year discrepancy in DoD reports, for instance, ONI correctly lists the East Sea Fleet as being headquartered in Ningbo (vice nearby Dinghai).

ONI’s PLAN reports benefit from interpretation, but are sufficiently well-written that they can speak for themselves. The final paragraph of the 2015 edition summarizes China’s sea state and trajectory well:

“…it is evident that the PLAN is a navy in transition. …China is only in the middle of its military modernization, with continued improvements planned over the following decades. As we view the past 20 years of PLAN modernization, the results have been impressive, but at its core the force has remained essentially the same—a force built around destroyers, frigates and conventional submarines. As we look ahead to the coming decade, the introduction of aircraft carriers, ballistic missile submarines, and potentially a large-deck amphibious ship will fundamentally alter how the PLAN operates and its viewed by the world.”

Clearly, further ONI reports are warranted. Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait six years for the next one. China will certainly have reached many important new maritime milestones before then, requiring intense discussion in Washington about how to respond.