PLA 1,000km range for air ops

Minnie Chan
05 June 2010

The People’s Liberation Army has set a goal of being able to conduct air campaigns within 1,000 kilometres of China’s borders by the end of the year and extending the range to 3,000km by 2030, a US think tank says.

The Project 2049 Institute – headed by Randall Schriver, a former deputy assistant secretary of state under former president George Bush – said, however, that according to one detailed Taiwanese assessment, the 1,000km target had not yet been reached.

The institute said it planned to study the PLA’s development to 2049, the centenary of the founding of the People’s Republic. It also said Beijing was rapidly developing aerospace power to defend itself against perceived threats to national sovereignty and territorial integrity.

It called the PLA’s Second Artillery Corps, which is under the air force and consists of conventional ballistic and ground-launched cruise missiles, the centrepiece of Beijing’s political and military strategy.

The increasing accuracy and lethality of conventional ballistic and land-attack cruise missiles had rapidly emerged as a cornerstone of the army’s war-fighting capability, the report said.

It stressed that in the next five to 10 years, the corps’ most powerful weapon would be the DF-21 medium-range ballistic missiles.

“Capable of both conventional and nuclear missions, the DF-21C can deliver a 2,000 kilogram warhead to a range of at least 1,750km with a circular error probability of less than 50 metres,” it said.

“The system could be used for conventional strikes against targets throughout Japan from east and northeast China, New Delhi if based in Xinjiang , and western India if based in Yunnan .”

It said that another powerful aerospace weapon for the PLA would be anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBM), which have been under development for more than 20 years and all their related technologies have become more mature and accurate.

“Barring deployment of effective defences, an ASBM will give the PLA a precision strike capability against aircraft carriers and other US and allied ships operating 1,500 to 2,000km from the eastern coast of China,” the report said.

The report also highlighted China’s plan to develop one of the world’s most advanced telecommunications infrastructures, but did not identify whether that referred to “Beidou”, or “Big Dipper”, a global positioning system to be completed by 2020.

“Over the next 15 years, the PRC may be increasingly confident of its ability to dominate the skies around its periphery in a region with limited persistent surveillance architecture,” it said.

“A strategic shift in regional aerospace balance also may increasingly unravel the fabric of US alliances and prompt allies and friends to consider weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery as insurance against an unfavourable imbalance.” It said maintaining or developing the means to undercut the political and military utility of China’s theatre missile-centric strategy and striving for a balance was needed, but “alternative approaches could offer initiatives for moderating PLA force postures and address underlying security dilemmas through co-operative threat reduction programmes”.

A Beijing-based retired PLA major general said the report was essentially correct about the PLA’s future development in some areas.

“But the PLA’s development has matched our country’s development, as we are a big power and a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council,” said the general, who requested to remain anonymous.

“The US and other Western countries always seem surprised about our rise because they are still living in the days when China was labelled as ‘the sick man of Asia’, which is out of touch with reality.”

However, he welcomed the report’s call for increasing the PLA’s transparency through co-operative threat-reduction programmes with other countries.


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