* China raises missile lethality opposite Taiwan -report
* Beijing said gearing up to operate “far from its shores”
* Pentagon warns of “misunderstanding and miscalculation”
WASHINGTON, Aug 16 (Reuters) - China is expanding its military edge over Taiwan, increasing the lethality of its short-range ballistic missiles while raising the risk of “misunderstanding and miscalculation,” the Pentagon said on Monday.
“Many uncertainties remain regarding how China will use its expanding military capabilities,” according to the annual U.S. Defense Department report to Congress on China’s military.
The report also said that China, a growing world economic and military power, was unlikely to be able to deploy large-scale military forces in high-intensity combat operations far from China until well into the next decade.
China has considered Taiwan -- the self-ruled island across the Taiwan Strait -- as a renegade province since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949 and insists on unification, by force if necessary.
Since opening diplomatic relations with Beijing in 1979, the United States has been obligated by law to provide Taiwan with arms for its self-defense.
The report, which covered Chinese military activities in 2009, said that China’s buildup opposite Taiwan has continued unabated, adding: “The balance of cross-Strait military forces continues to shift in the mainland’s favor.”
“The limited transparency in China’s military and security affairs enhances uncertainty and increases the potential for misunderstanding and miscalculation,” the report stated.
The report said China had deployed 1,050 to 1,150 short-range ballistic missiles across the Taiwan Strait by last December, a number unchanged from the total reported in the Pentagon’s report to Congress last year.
But China’s People’s Liberation Army, or PLA, is upgrading this force’s lethality, “including by introducing variants of these missiles with improved ranges, accuracies and payloads,” the report said.
FAR FROM CHINA’S SHORES
By the latter half of this decade, it is likely China will be able to project and sustain a modest-sized force such as several battalions of ground forces or a naval flotilla of up to a dozen ships in low-intensity conflict far from China, the Pentagon said.
“It is unlikely, however, that China will be able to project and sustain large forces in high-intensity combat operations far from China until well into the following decade,” the report said.
China is developing and fielding large numbers of advanced medium-range ballistic and cruise missiles, new attack submarines, increasingly capable long-range air defense systems, electronic warfare and computer network attack capabilities, advanced fighter aircraft, and counter-space systems, it said.
The report said the PLA was acquiring medium-range ballistic missiles to boost the range at which it can conduct precision strikes against land targets and ships, including aircraft carriers, operating far from China’s shores.
The United States has a regular carrier presence in the Pacific.
China also may be developing a new road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile, possibly capable of carrying a clutch of independently targetable nuclear-capable warheads that can strike several targets, the report said.
In space, China is working to boost its capabilities to curb or prevent the use of space-based assets by potential foes during times of crisis or conflict, it said.
In cyberspace, numerous computer systems worldwide, including U.S. government networks, were a target of penetrations in 2009 that appeared to originate in China, the report said.
The report said it is unclear if these actions were conducted by, or with the endorsement, of the PLA or elements of China’s government.
China announced in January it was suspending military exchanges with the United States after President Barack Obama notified Congress of a possible $6.4 billion arms deal with Taiwan. In June, Beijing turned down a proposed fence-mending visit to China by Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
In March, Beijing announced a 7.5 percent increase in its military budget to about $78.6 billion. A senior U.S. defense official, outlining the report, estimated that military-related spending by China amounted to about $150 billion in 2009.
By contrast, Obama’s fiscal 2011 budget request, released in February, totaled $733 billion for national defense, including $159 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Editing by Will Dunham
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