Friday 28 August 2009

Peace-Mission 2009: A Military Scenario Beyond Central Asia

Most analyses of the Sino-Russian strategic partnership focus either on Russian arms sales to China or on the joint military exercises conducted by Moscow and Beijing under the auspices of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which limits the scope of the analytical framework to a consideration of Central Asian scenarios. Given the recent outbreak of ethno-sectarian violence in Xinjiang in early July, such a scenario may seem appropriate, but according to the Shenyang Military Area and head of the Center for Commanding and Decision-making for "Peace Mission 2009," Senior Colonel Zhang Xudong, his military command was ordered to prepare for this exercise in February, but "Due to the late decision to hold the drill, we only had three months to prepare for it" (China Daily, July 27). This was at the height of regional tensions over Pyongyang's brinkmanship. Experts debate the strategic implications of this military partnership, which arguably go beyond just Russian arms sales to China, and appears to be clearly tied to an anti-American military scenario, and probably connected to Taiwan or to ousting the United States from Central Asian bases, or to a common opposition to U.S. missile defenses. A less discussed but increasingly plausible scenario includes the possibility of joint military action in response to a regime crisis in the Democratic Republic of North Korea (DPRK). An examination of their most recent military exercise, “Peace Mission-2009," suggests as much, and furthermore is not the first such exercise allegedly conducted under SCO auspices to raise that possibility.

In 2005, the “Peace Mission” exercises featured large-scale combat operations by both forces. Specifically these exercises involved:

A substantial naval contingent from the Russian Pacific Fleet, including a large BDK-11 assault ship; an anti-submarine vessel, the Marshal Shaposhnikov; the destroyer Burny; and diesel submarines. The naval squadron joined with the Chinese forces to simulate a major amphibious landing on a beachhead in the Jiaodong [Shangdong] peninsula. Russian bombers (TU-95S Bear strategic bombers and TU-22M3 Backfire long-range bombers) also staged an air landing near Qingdao City, including air cover by SU-27SM fighters armed with AS-15, 3,00 kilometer cruise missiles against naval targets.

As experts noted, this exercise sent Japan (and by implication the United States) a message regarding Russia and China’s capability to defend their interests in the Korean peninsula against both allies and second, in China’s case its capability to defend itself against Japan in any territorial disputes [2]. While such operations have been conducted against so-called "separatists" in the past, it is likely that the exercises were intended for other audiences as well.

Indeed, both sides had previously considered military intervention in North Korea both individually and jointly. “In conversations with JIR (Jane’s Intelligence Review) in 2003, Russian officials were candid about the scope of a “Ceausescu scenario” if conditions worsened in North Korea and Kim Jong Il lost control over some of the security forces” [3]. Russian officials also showed concern about a North Korean collapse by holding maneuvers with Japan and South Korea on a refugee scenario as far back as 2003 [4], but they also made veiled statements in 2004 indicating their concern for the future of the DPRK’s regime [5]. Similarly, some Western experts claim that China made contingency plans for a possible invasion of North Korea in 2003, when it was alerted by rumors about a U.S. strike against the DPRK’s nuclear facilities, with the aim of installing a pro-Chinese regime that would forsake nuclearization, but he reported that China’s military chiefs said this was not feasible [6].

A noted Japanese military correspondent for the Asahi Shimbun, Shunji Taoka, recently suggested that the recent joint Sino-Russian exercises of 2009 in China’s Jillin province may be intended to intimidate the DPRK. The five-day joint military exercise, dubbed “Peace Mission 2009,” took place from July 22 in the Russian Far East and the Shenyang Military Area Command in northeast China, and were intended “to verify operation plans and capabilities to respond to unexpected incidents under the unstable environment of countries and regions.” The exercise involved paratroops, tanks, self-propelled guns, armored personnel carriers, helicopter gunships, fighter planes, and jet transports, which led Taoka to conclude that the scope of the operations extended beyond an anti-terrorist measure, which are the SCO’s remit. Taoka further asserts that there may be a joint plan of action for “unexpected incidents” in North Korea and that these exercises verify that claim [7].

Indeed, the supposed terrorists that were targeted in the operation possessed combat aircrafts—a very uncommon asset for any terrorist force—and a major electro-magnetic operation took place, signaling a very intricate, large-scale, and even atypical counter-terrorist operation [8]. These large-scale conventional exercises involving combined arms operations against terrorists in an urban setting, while deploying missiles, air assaults, aerial bombings, air defense forces and ground attack all point to the fact that these operations could easily be duplicated to scenarios extending beyond Central Asia [9]. Not surprisingly, a number of commentators on international affairs have argued that the SCO either should or could take the lead in dealing with the North Korean issue [10]. Finally, at the latest SCO summit the six members agreed that Pyongyang’s threats were unacceptable [11]. Certainly venturing into the Korean issue would mark a major step forward for the SCO and by extension China and Russia in terms of their influence in Asia.

The Russo-Chinese interest in linking their relationship to developments in and around North Korea did not end here. The 2009 exercises had overt signs of attempts on both sides to connect those large-scale operations that both sides rehearsed to North Korean scenarios. In kicking off the exercises, Russian General Nikolai Makarov and Chinese General Chen Bigde, the two Chiefs of Staff of their respective armed forces, appeared together to address the press about the aim of the exercise. The Chinese were characteristically vague, but Makarov went further and said that “Russia and China should develop military cooperation in the wake of North Korean missile threats that prompted intensified military preparations in Japan and South Korea.” That cooperation was necessary in addition to the “complicated’ situations in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia as rationales for this cooperation [12]. Makarov went further and highlighted the need for interoperability in command and control of future common groups of Russian and Chinese troops. While Chen Bigde denied that these exercises are targeted at a third party, Colonel Li Jiang, Deputy Chief of the Foreign Affairs Office of China’s Ministry of Defense stated:

“The world order must be multipolar, which would rule out the possibility of any diktat of any country with regards to other members of the international community.” Consequently, it is not ruled out that, as was the case during the Mirnaya Missiya-2005 training exercises, a situation in which the armed forces of the two countries receive the order: “Not to allow the navies of third countries to have access to the place of conducting a peacekeeping operation” will be a scenario of the current peacekeeping exercises [13].

Since there are no navies or third party naval operations possible in Central Asia, the operation can only be applied to a Taiwan or Korea scenario. Further, since it is quite unlikely that Russia would send forces to a PLA operation in Taiwan—and it is currently inconceivable that a “peacekeeping” operation is needed in Taiwan—this most likely applies to Korea and fears of a succession contingency involving violence in North Korea, or a United States and allied operation against it. Since the United States has admitted that it has contingency plans for any crisis that may develop in the wake of a succession to Kim Jong Il (and presumably other threatening events), it is not surprising that both Moscow and Beijing have such plans of their own [14]. Yet, what is noteworthy is the fact that they have been rehearsing quite extensively what appears to be a plan for a joint operation there. In view of this growing body of evidence, U.S. policymakers need to rethink the potential contingencies and purposes to which a Sino-Russian military partnership may be applied. Furthermore, determine whose interests would most be served by a military intervention in Korea? Only after having answered that question could we then ask ourselves—given the answer to the first question—using Bismarck’s analogy of alliance, who then is the rider and who is the horse in this partnership, Russia or China?

Sunday 16 August 2009

Promising Future For Chinas Aerospace Industry

Chinas plans to create a new civil aviation company in the first quarter of 2008 could signify much more than prospective competition in the regional jetliner class. The shift is emblematic of an evolving mindset in Chinas defense industry one with far-reaching consequences.

Huang Qiang, secretary-general of Chinas commission on science, technology and industry for national defense, confirmed rumors in January that the nation would create a new aviation company before March.

In 1999, five bulky state-owned administrative entities of the domestic defense industry were reorganized into 10 major military-industrial groups, two of which have since seen success as Aviation Industry of China (AVIC) I and AVIC II. Working together, the two groups are responsible for the design of the advanced regional jet of the 21st century (ARJ-21), Chinas first indigenously produced civilian jetliner.

With passenger, executive and freight versions, the ARJ-21 was designed from the ground up with the needs of the Chinese regional aviation market in mind. Despite its homegrown design, however, some 50 percent of its components are foreign made. While the ARJ-21 is probably not destined for major sales in the U.S. market, certification will be sought from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, a process that will provide Beijing with much insight into standards and procedures of the U.S. aviation industry.

Focusing on larger civilian aircraft, the new Chinese company to be named AVIC III will represent the next milestone in the shaping of Chinas aircraft manufacturing sector, even as it results in infighting for resources among the three groups. Ultimately, AVIC-produced civilian aircraft and military variants could well find a market among countries that cannot afford state-of-the-art Western technology.

Reform in Chinas aircraft manufacturing sector is part of a larger shift in mindset from Soviet defense industrial thinking to more Western models in which the crossover between military and civilian technological applications is recognized and exploited. In April 2005, testifying before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a senior fellow in trade and productivity at Manufacturers Alliance/MAPI Inc. said the Chinese defense industry went through a fundamental restructuring from 1997 to 1999 that shifted control of defense enterprises from the military to the civilian government.

The move integrated their operations with commercial advanced technology enterprises, including competitive bidding for defense contracts, said Ernest H. Preeg, who had been executive director of the Economic Policy Group at the White House before his MAPI fellowship. In effect, China shifted from the discredited Soviet model toward the U.S. model for weapons development and production.

The full course of this transition by no means a simple one remains to be seen. Nevertheless, recent developments with the ARJ-21 and AVIC III are starting to show the potential for more significant progress and the maturation of organizational changes begun in the late 1990s.

Production of the ARJ-21 regional jet and an agreement with Airbus to produce similarly sized A319/320 airframes in China are two ways Beijing is trying to address the massive expansion of domestic air travel and leverage that expansion for high-end domestic production. In line with that expansion, Chinas civilian radars and air-traffic-control systems will have to keep up.

The countrys airspace traditionally has been shaped by military demands, with civilian access and routes a secondary priority. Civil aviation currently has access to less than a third of all Chinese airspace. The Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) is reportedly the ultimate decision-maker regarding domestic air routes, an issue that still must play itself out.

But while the pace of Chinas domestic aviation expansion might make for a steep learning curve and some points of friction with the PLA, the management of heavier and heavier volumes of air traffic will also begin to inform and alter Chinas management of military air operations. Meanwhile, the Chinese radar industry is proceeding apace, and the avionics industry appears to have avoided some of the more counterproductive pitfalls of Soviet-style industry that have ensnared other sectors of Chinese industry.

The problem with the Soviet model was that military developments were closely guarded and, for the most part, segregated from civilian production, which was a secondary priority for the Soviet economy. Indeed, the entire economy was structured so that the Red Army was the primary privileged beneficiary. Efficiencies were not always encouraged, and the benefits of research and development, hindered by Stalinist classified systems, could not be applied to civilian projects.

Not only did the rollover ideas go unrecognized but they were rarely strong enough in the first place to overcome the Soviet culture of secrecy. The 1950s and 60s in the United States, on the other hand, were rife with the benefits of pooling civilian and military research and development in the aerospace sector. It was that very crossover that eventually made not only world-class airliners possible but also things like Iridium phones and satellite television.

Understanding how the lessons of one realm can be applicable to another offers Beijing a valuable avenue to further both civilian and military aerospace development. While managing crowded airspace over Beijing is certainly different from military command, communication and coordination in combat operations, such experience could be an important stepping stone for a China that is now talking extensively about informationalization (its word for network-centric warfare) in its national defense strategy documents.

The PLA has certainly studied the military developments of the last two decades. Seminal moments like the coordination of the U.S. air campaign during Desert Storm were wake-up calls for Beijing to modernize its military. At the same time, the increasingly global lines of communication that sustain the Chinese economy concurrently began to extend beyond the PLAs ability to project force. As China moved into the 21st century, its military was intent upon following and integrating the teachings of Western military powers.

From developing the FC-1/JF-17 fighter jet, which is equipped with a Russian engine, to bringing the new J-10 fighter on line, equipped with a domestic engine, China has already refined its domestic military aviation industry. Reduced engine noise levels and increased fuel efficiency are necessary to compete with Western airframes such as Bombardier, Boeing and Airbus. But these issues are not always among the top priorities in military designs. However, the ability to design and produce indigenously two fighter aircraft possibly equivalent to early F-16s is noteworthy.

The ARJ-21, a regional-scale stepping stone to larger aircraft, is not confined to the civilian sector. Both the regional jet and a potential wide-body airliner could one day offer great potential for the Peoples Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF). This will be the case for at least a decade, even though Boeing and Airbus have yet to acknowledge the trajectory of the Chinese aerospace industry and where it might be by 2020.

Most modern air forces are made up of big and slow transport aircraft, rather than sleek fighter planes. Should a wide-body design pan out in a decade, China could start replacing its old Soviet transports with modified civilian airframes optimized for everything from airborne command-and-control and early warning to aerial refueling and palletized cargo transport. It has already begun doing this with smaller prop-driven aircraft.

The development of new transports would allow the PLAAF to become less dependent on foreign suppliers, and would also speed up its modernization.

Combine these trends with the mass-production experience and capacity of China and it becomes clear that the country will be playing a prominent role in the world arms market with larger and more complex weapons systems. In this regard, China will likely follow South Korea, which is perhaps the next burgeoning military-industrial powerhouse. South Koreas combination of industrial capacity, research and development and technological innovation have already positioned Seoul to take a leading position in the worlds arms market over the next decade.

Chinese quality is unlikely to capture the top end of the market. An affordable Chinese airborne early warning platform might sell well in the mid-range markets that could not otherwise afford one. A low-cost Chinese tanker could make that capability accessible to militaries that cannot afford to buy from Boeing or Airbus.

Chinese anti-ship missiles have already found their way via Iran to Hezbollah. Play that trend through and the strategic and industrial implications of the PLAs continued modernization are certainly worthy of note. Indeed, the military utility and export potential of domestically produced regional and longer-range civilian jets are only the beginning. It remains to be seen whether China can adopt a more open and innovative approach to military research and development.

China's defense budget to grow 14.9% in 2009

China's defense budget to grow 14.9% in 2009
China plans to increase its defense budget by 14.9 percent in 2009, a parliament spokesman said in Beijing on Wednesday.

The planned defense budget is 480.686 billion yuan ($70 billion), a rise of 62.482 billion yuan from last year, Li Zhaoxing, spokesman for the second session of the 11th National People's Congress (NPC), told a press conference.

Defense spending accounts for 6.3 percent of the country's total fiscal expenditure in 2009, slightly down from the level of previous years, Li said.

The budget rise follows a 17.6 percent increase in 2008 compared with the previous year.

Li said the increased spending is mainly for better treatment of servicemen, adding that more money would be used to adjust the subsidies and salaries to lift their living standards.
The increased budget will also be spent on the purchase of equipment and construction of facilities to enhance the ability of the military force to defend the country in the age of information, Li said.

The capacity of the armed forces for disaster relief and anti-terror operations shall also be enhanced. Spending on the reconstruction of military facilities damaged in the 8.0-magnitude earthquake that stroke southwest China's Sichuan province on May 12 last year was also listed in this year's defense budget, he said.

Li described the defense budget growth as "modest", saying that China's defense expenditure was fairly low compared with other countries, considering the size of China's population and territory.

"China's defense expenditure accounted for 1.4 percent of it's GDP in 2008. The ratio was 4 percent for the United States, and more than 2 percent for the United Kingdom, France and other countries.

"China's limited military force is mainly for safeguarding our sovereignty and territory and forms no threat to any other country," he said.

This year's draft national budget would be deliberated at the NPC annual session due to open in Beijing on Wednesday.

Li said the Chinese government began to submit an annual report on military expenditure to the United Nations from 2007.

"So the country has no so-called 'hidden military expenditure', " Li said.

In a white paper on China's national defense in 2008, issued in January this year, China said its defense expenditure had always been kept at a reasonable and appropriate level.

In the past three decades of reform and opening up, China has insisted that defense development should be both subordinated to and in the service of the country's overall economic development, according to the white paper.

"Although the share of China's defense expenditure in its GDP increased, that in the state financial expenditure continued to drop on the whole," says the paper.

In the past two years, the increased part of China's defense expenditure was primarily used to increase the salaries and benefits of servicemen, compensate for price rises and push forward the revolution in military affairs, according to the paper.