(Reuters) - The Pentagon said on Wednesday that China was on track to forge a modern military by 2020, a rapid buildup that could be potentially destabilizing to the Asia-Pacific region.
Its annual assessment to Congress on China flagged all the major concerns over its growing military might, including Beijing’s widening edge over Taiwan. It also noted cyber attacks in 2010 -- including on U.S. government computers -- that appear to have originated in China.
Here are details from the report:
* Says that China-Taiwan balance of military force “continues to shift in Beijing’s favor.”
* Taiwan’s relatively modest defense spending has failed to keep pace with “ambitious military developments” on the mainland.
* “Despite a reduction in tensions following the March 2008 election of Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou, the possibility of a military conflict with Taiwan, including U.S. military intervention, remains a pressing, long-term focus for the PLA.”
* By December 2010, the People’s Liberation Army had deployed between 1,000 and 1,200 short-range ballistic missiles to units opposite Taiwan.
* Report says China’s People’s Liberation Army is likely to steadily expand its military options for Taiwan through 2020, including those to deter, delay or deny “third party” intervention -- a veiled reference to potential U.S. involvement in any conflict.
* The People’s Liberation Army is acquiring large numbers of highly accurate cruise missiles, many of which have ranges in excess of 115 miles/.
* China is developing an anti-ship ballistic missile, the DF-21D, which has a range exceeding 930 miles/ and is armed with a maneuverable warhead.
* China also may be developing a new road-mobile inter-continental ballistic missile.
* China’s program to develop JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missile, which has an estimated range of some 4,600 miles/ has faced repeated delays. The Pentagon had forecast it would achieve initial operating capability by 2010.
* China launched its first carrier for a maiden run earlier this month, a refitted former Soviet craft, but the Pentagon said it still will take several additional years for China to achieve a minimal level of combat capability on an aircraft carrier, given the level of training for carrier pilots.
* The report acknowledged China could begin construction of a fully indigenous carrier in 2011, which could achieve operational capability after 2015. “China likely will build multiple aircraft carriers with support ships over the next decade.”
* Report says the January test flight of China’s stealth fighter jet, the J-20, “highlights Chian’s ambition to produce a fighter aircraft that incorporates stealth attributes, advanced avionics and super-cruise capable engines over the next several years.”
* It says the U.S. Defense Department does not expect the J-20 to achieve an effective operational capability prior to 2018.
* It says the J-20 eventually will give the PLA Air Force a platform capable of long-range, penetrating strikes into complex air defense environments.
* “China’s growing economic, diplomatic and military presence and influence in Asia and globally is raising concern among many countries about China’s ultimate aims -- and the threats this could present to them. These regional concerns could catalyze regional or global balancing efforts.”
* “China is fielding an array of conventionally armed ballistic missiles, modern aircraft, UAVs, ground- and air-launched land-attack cruise missiles, special operations forces and cyber-warfare capabilities to hold targets at risk throughout the region.”
* Says China is unlikely to be able to project and sustain large forces in high-intensity combat operations far from China prior to 2020.
* Still, it says by most accounts China is on track to achieve its goal of building a modern, regionally focused military by 2020.
* China conducted a record 15 space launches in 2010 and expanded its space-based satellite network for intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, communications and meteorological operations.
* The PLA is acquiring technologies to improve China’s space and counterspace capabilities. China’s military strategists “regard the ability to utilize space and deny adversaries access to space as central to enabling modern, informatized warfare.”
* Some major intrusions in 2010 that targeted U.S. and other computer systems appeared to originate in China and aimed at pilfering information. Those same hacking skills are similar to those needed to conduct cyber attacks.
* Cyberwarfare capabilities would help China’s military gather information, slow down an adversary’s response time by crippling networks and serve as a force multiplier to kinetic attacks during a conflict.
* The PLA has set up “information warfare units” to attack enemy computer systems and protect Chinese networks.
* China’s territorial claim to virtually the entire South China Sea “remains a source of regional contention” and is contested by Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei. In the East China Sea, China also claims the Senkaku islands, which are controlled by Japan, in a long-standing dispute that caused tensions to flare in 2010.
* Next to Taiwan, “these disputes play a central role in PLA planning.”
Reporting by Paul Eckert and Phil Stewart in Washington; Editing by Bill Trott