Factbox: China’s military modernization

Reuters – January 13, 2011

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned on Friday that advances by China’s military in cyber and anti-satellite warfare technology could challenge the ability of U.S. forces to operate in the Pacific.

The comments follow his visit to China, during which the government confirmed the test flight of a new stealth fighter.

China has alarmed the region and Washington with its ambitious military modernization program. China says it needs to upgrade its outmoded forces and that its plans are not a threat to any country.

Here are some facts about China’s military modernization and some of the weapons systems that have attracted attention:

AIR FORCE:

- Along with the development of its aeronautics industry, China has developed a more formidable design capacity. Its most advanced aircraft in service, and for the United States the potentially most threatening, are Russian Su-30 and Su-27 fighters. China is developing its fourth-generation J-11.

- China confirmed this week that it had held its first test-flight of the J-20 stealth fighter jet, a show of muscle during a visit by Gates aimed at defusing military tensions between the two powers.

- Some analysts have said that the development of the J-20 indicates that China is making faster-than-expected progress in developing a rival to Lockheed Martin’s F-22 Raptor, the world’s only operational stealth fighter designed to evade detection by enemy radar.

- However, deployment is likely to be years away and Gates said ahead of his visit to China that he thought there was some question as to “just how stealthy” it really was.

- Modernization has also included developing an inflight refueling capacity, to give its fighters a greater reach, and early warning aircraft.

CYBER WARFARE

- Analysts have said that China possibly has tens of thousands of people working as or training to become military hackers, who would target an enemy’s computers in time of war.

- There are also tens of thousands of civilian hackers who have been accused of hacking into websites of foreign governments or companies, sometimes simply to vandalize home pages with pro-China messages.

- Many are motivated by patriotism, though it is more difficult to establish their relationship with the Chinese government or military. China has consistently denied supporting hacking, saying that it too is a victim.

MISSILES:

- The successful missile “kill” of an old satellite in early 2007 represented a new level of ability for the Chinese military, and last January China successfully tested emerging technology aimed at destroying missiles in mid-air.

- The Pentagon has said China has developed weapons and jammers to prevent an enemy using space-based systems such as satellites. It has also said China was looking at satellite jammers, kinetic energy weapons, high-powered lasers, high-powered microwave weapons, particle beam weapons, and electromagnetic pulse weapons for use in space.

- U.S. officials have noted disclosures in recent weeks of advances in China’s capabilities, including in its anti-ship ballistic missile program, which could challenge U.S. aircraft carriers in the Pacific.

NAVY:

- President Hu Jintao has made the navy’s modernization a priority. It is upgrading its destroyers and frigates to range further and strike harder.

- China could launch its first aircraft carrier this year, according to Chinese military and political sources, a year earlier than U.S. military analysts had expected, underscoring its growing maritime power and assertiveness.

- The cost of building a medium-sized conventionally powered, 60,000-tonne carrier similar to the Russian Kuznetsov class is likely to be more than $2 billion. China is likely to acquire at least two.

- China is building new “Jin-class” ballistic missile submarines, capable of launching nuclear warheads while at sea. It has built a naval base on Hainan, the island-province in the south, that can serve submarines.

ARMY:

- China is trying to transform the 2.3 million-strong People’s Liberation Army into a smaller, sleeker modern force capable of short, high-intensity conflicts against high-tech adversaries.

(Sources: Reuters, Chinese state media, International Institute for Strategic Studies, globalsecurity.org, U.S. Department of Defense)

(Writing by Ben Blanchard, editing by Jonathan Thatcher)

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