Tuesday 24 February 2009

THE IMPACT OF FOREIGN WEAPONS AND TECHNOLOGY :Part 1

THE IMPACT OF FOREIGN WEAPONS AND TECHNOLOGY ON THE MODERIZATION OF CHINA’S PEOPLE’S LIBERATION ARMY

INTRODUCTION

While the most recent phase of the modernization of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has been a vast undertaking spanning two decades, a critical element feeding its success has been consistent access to foreign weapons and military technologies. Successful PLA modernization is also dependent upon ongoing reform of its doctrine, strategies, military-industrial policies, and training and personnel policies. But all of these ongoing reforms would be for naught if the PLA did not have the most modern and capable weapons.

To be sure, a reliance on foreign military technology by the PLA is not an asset, but a recognition on the PLA’s part that its indigenous military-technical sector cannot meet the capability requirements being set by the PRC leadership. Over the 1990s, the PLA defense sector has had mixed to poor results in adopting and absorbing foreign military technologies. Ongoing reforms in the PRC defense industry sector that aim to strengthen market incentives and alliances are having some effect. But the failure of its own defense sector to make new indigenous systems is giving rise to a more popular half-step: importation of specific weapon components to fashion or to help complete new weapon systems of largely PLA design. However, the PLA is now the world’s largest buyer of foreign made arms; it is possible to see that these purchases are having some cumulative effects leading to potential new and threatening military capabilities.

Access to foreign military technology, especially Russian weaponry, has allowed the PLA to begin to fashion capabilities which can wage war in the early 21st Century and create the basis for an ongoing military-technical modernization that will place increasing pressure on the United States to sustain deterrence in Asia. For example, weapon systems the PLA is acquiring will allow it to greatly impede a future U.S. attempt to rescue democratic Taiwan in the event of a PRC attack. Foreign military systems are also propelling what Taiwanese officials predict will be a “crossover” in which the military balance on the Taiwan Strait will start to favor the PLA after 2005. Foreign military technology may also allow the PLA to build new power projection capabilities by the early next decade.

By exploring the ways in which foreign military technology is aiding PLA modernization, and the possible resultant dangers to U.S. national security, this report hopes to highlight the need for greater U.S. policy focus on the need to stem PLA access to more modern and dangerous technologies. While the United States has made clear its desire for peaceful relations with the Chinese people, the government of the PRC is actively preparing for a possible war with democratic Taiwan, as it continues to proliferate dangerous nuclear weapon and missile technologies to rogue regimes. It remains necessary for the U.S. to sustain its embargo of military technologies put in place in response to the 1989 massacre in Tiananmen Square. The U.S. should work with allies in Europe to explain the possible dangers if Europe ends its Tiananmen embargo in 2004. And as the U.S. was able to persuade Israel to end its sale of dangerous military technology to the PLA, it is necessary to make curtailment of Russia’s substantial arms trade a higher bi-lateral issue with Moscow.

Objectives and Sources

It is the objective of this report to list and assess the foreign sources, and the foreign military systems and technologies that are aiding the modernization of the People’s Liberation Army. Broadly, this report seeks to update an earlier attempt to assess the impact of foreign technology on the PLA by including much new information. contain this study, it focuses primarily on the most current period of foreign technology acquisition, the 1990s and beyond. It is divided into two parts: 1) an assessment of the countries selling military technology to the PLA and an assessment of their impact on PLA modernization; and 2) a detailed list of known weapons sold to or acquired by the PLA.

As with the previous attempt, there are two basic impediments to this endeavor. First, the PLA seeks to deny information or transparency regarding its military to both Chinese citizens and to foreigners to a far greater degree than in the West. There is no such thing as a free press for military issues in the PRC. Indeed the PLA has a large press devoted to military and technical publications, but it is heavily censored. Second, those who sell military technologies to the PLA have an interest in concealing their relationship with, and sales to the PLA. The PLA usually demands it.

While it is indeed possible to conduct research about foreign military sales to the PLA, it cannot be done with the degree of detail and rigor possible in democratic societies where far greater degrees of military transparency are required. As a consequence, it is often necessary to convey degrees of suspicion or simply to offer informed speculation. Often one must at least explore logical connections in the absence of hard data. If the PLA buys an aircraft, but little is reported about its weapons package, it is still necessary to explore possibilities for that weapons package. Or if the PLA buys one product from a company that specializes in several cutting edge military technologies, it is logical to assume the PLA has a broader rather than a narrow interest in that company. Nevertheless, open sources do not allow the compilation of a complete list of weapons acquired by the PLA. It is necessary to continue to monitor available sources for past and new developments

Regarding Chinese-origin sources, the PLA itself has produced two White Papers on its military, but these offer only a very broad-brush picture of the PLA, with little to no data on capabilities and foreign purchases. In recent years, however, popular Mainland military publications have proven increasingly useful. And while it has to be balanced against other sources, the Chinese Internet has proved to be an increasingly useful tool for research. Quite often, patriotic Chinese are willing to place useful data on the Chinese-language Internet that makes its way into English-language PLA issue forums. In addition, the PLA has slightly relaxed its approach to visual security. For example, over the Internet, it was possible at the very end of 2003 to view a picture of the first 2-seat version of the Chengdu J-10 fighter, and from mid-2002 to the present, it has been possible to monitor the construction of two new classes of PLA Navy destroyers and one new class of frigates.

Regarding Western sources, since 1998, the U.S. Congress has required that the Department of Defense produce an annual report on PLA modernization. breadth of detail serves to define the PLA for the world far more than any PRC publication. Additionally, there are authoritative consensus documents produced by the U.S. Intelligence Community. Though the State Department seeks to “water down” these documents, since 2002, they have been a useful source of data on broad and specific PLA modernization trends. These reports, however, do not provide the same level of visual and descriptive detail provided by the Soviet Military Power reports of the Reagan Administration. This perhaps reflects a desire not to depict the PRC as a systemic threat on the same level as the former Soviet Union; the Pentagon’s 2003 edition omitted the few useful pictures provided by the 2002 edition and did not repeat or update a very useful examination of Russian-PLA relationship. While guided by the Pentagon reports, this report seeks to provide far more descriptive detail about foreign weapons and systems contributing to PLA modernization.

In addition, there is a vigorous interest in the PLA in major military trade publications and in the Russian media. Information from these sources provides the balance of data for this report. An increasingly useful source of data on PLA modernization has been trade shows, both in the PRC and other countries. When the PLA wishes to sell a weapon system, it is far more ready to provide useful detailed information than otherwise. This holds true for the Russians, who have provided the bulk of the PLA’s new military technology over the last decade. It is possible on occasion to get both PRC and Russian military industry officials to answer questions that would never be offered as open information in their respective countries. As such, military-commercial shows have proved useful to this analyst and to many other journalists who follow PLA modernization trends. The drawbacks to this kind of research are common to those faced by journalists. For example, it is often not possible to name a source of information in order to protect that source.

PLA NOW THE WORLD’S LARGEST ARMS IMPORTER

The impact of foreign technology on PLA modernization has been examined repeatedly during the 1990s and beyond. In the mid-1990s, one well-regarded study concluded that “…China can only expect limited success in its efforts to improve its military capabilities through the acquisition of foreign military weapons and technologies….Quick breakthroughs in military capabilities are more likely to come about as a result of direct foreign purchases…but these are likely to be modest in quantity and quality…” And during the mid-1990s, such a conclusion was warranted given that the PLA was experiencing some difficulty in absorbing new foreign weapons. At that time, the PLA was in the midst of enormous turmoil as it sought to undertake personnel reform, downsizing, comprehend new military trends and begin to create appropriate doctrine, tactics and training to properly utilize weapons that it had yet to acquire. In addition, the PLA defense industry sector, striving to sustain a goal of self-reliance, was unable to absorb new technologies and production methods needed to produce increasingly high-technology weapons. The purchase of foreign weapons was promoted by the PLA leadership but opposed by domestic defense industries that wanted that money for their programs.

Nearly a decade later, however, it is possible to begin to consider a different set of conclusions due primarily to the fact that the PRC has sustained and increased its foreign arms imports. Estimating the amounts of PRC arms imports is at best an imprecise task. PRC sources offer almost no accounting for foreign arms purchases, indeed, it is thought that most foreign arms purchases are paid for by government budgets not part of the PLA’s publicly stated budget figures. However, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) notes that, since 2000, the PRC has been the world’s largest importer of weapons. 2001, its imports were calculated to exceed $3 billion, while in 2002, arms imports exceeded $2.3 billion. Total arms imports were calculated to exceed $11.8 billion from 1993 through 2002. For illustration purposes, SIPRI’s figures are included in a chart below. SIPRI is the first to caution that its figures do represent actual totals. The U.S. Congressional Research Institute estimated that PRC arm imports were $3.6 billion in 2002 and “signed deals” to import $17.8 billion worth of weapons from 1995 to 2002.

PRC ARMS IMPORTS, 1993-2002*

1993

1994

1995

1996

1997

1998

1999

2000

2001

2002

Totals

%

Russia

772

79

376

945

430

111

1334

1642

2948

2185

10822

92

Ukraine

55

22

73

73

73

73

78

73

113

633

6

Israel

18

18

18

18

18

18

18

18

18

162

1

France

5

19

14

21

15

7

18

7

7

9

122

1

Italy

5

11

5

3

11

3

38

0

USA

1

31

32

0

UK

16

10

26

0

Year

Totals

851

143

419

1062

539

225

1495

1745

3049

2307

11835

* $ millions; Source: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, February 26, 2003

Instead of seeking marginal gains from foreign weapons purchases, it is now possible to conclude that the PLA is relying on very large foreign weapons purchases to achieve near-term growth in capabilities that it may determine are necessary, especially in relation to military-political requirements pertaining to Taiwan. The 2002 order of eight new Russian KILO submarines is a case in point. With this order, the PLA sought to exceed the 2001 U.S. intention to sell Taiwan eight new submarines by actually making sure Russia delivered, whereas the U.S. prospects for delivery were and remain unclear. But this purchase increased by 200 percent the number of KILOs slated for the PLA Navy. Wholesale purchases that are being used to seek major advances in capability are listed in the following chart.

MAJOR ONGOING PLA WEAPONS PURCHASE PACKAGES

400 Sukhoi fighters by 2006, many upgraded for multi-role missions

Thousands of Russian anti-air and precision ground-attack weapons for aircraft

Many hundreds of Russian S-300 SAMs

12 Russian KILO submarines, 8 with CLUB long-range anti-ship missiles

4 Russian SOVREMENNIY class missile destroyers

Russian weapons and electronics packages for three new classes of stealthy warships

Russian 1-meter electro-optical and radar satellites

Assuring access to Navsat signals by buying a partnership in the European GALILEO

Second batch of 20 Russian Il-76 heavy transport aircraft


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