China is developing a new long-range intercontinental ballistic missile with multiple nuclear warheads as part of a large-scale strategic and conventional forces buildup, the Pentagon confirmed Thursday in its annual report to Congress.
“China also is developing a new road-mobile ICBM known as the Dong Feng-41 (DF-41), possibly capable of carrying multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRV),” the report says.
It was the first time since 2007 that the Pentagon acknowledged the development of the road-mobile DF-41, which U.S. officials said was test launched twice since 2012, most recently in December.
The Washington Free Beacon first disclosed details of the DF-41 last year. The missile is part of China’s large-scale strategic nuclear missile buildup, that includes three other ICBMs, the DF-31, DF-31A road-mobile missiles, and the JL-2 submarine-launched missiles.
The DF-41 is assessed by U.S. intelligence agencies of being capable of carrying up to 10 MIRVs.
“We have been seeing pictures of [the DF-41] since 2007, but now we know that the Pentagon knows that [People’s Liberation Army] PLA nuclear warheads will be increasing faster with the introduction of this ICBM,” said Rick Fisher, a China military analyst with the International Assessment and Strategy Center.
“The Second Artillery continues to modernize its nuclear forces by enhancing its silo-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and adding more survivable mobile delivery systems,” the Pentagon report said, referring to China’s Second Artillery Corps, as the strategic nuclear missile forces service is known.
The report also said China has deployed three Jin-class ballistic missile submarines and that up to five of the submarines will be built before a newer generation missile submarine comes online.
“China is likely to conduct its first nuclear deterrence patrols with the JIN-class SSBN in 2014,” the report said.
The Pentagon said that China’s new generation of mobile missiles with multiple warheads and penetration aids designed to defeat U.S. missile defenses “are intended to ensure the viability of China’s strategic deterrent in the face of continued advances in U.S. and, to a lesser extent, Russian strategic [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance], precision strike, and missile defense capabilities.”
In addition to new missiles, the Chinese military is deploying new command, control, and communications for its nuclear forces, an enhancement the Pentagon assessed is making its strategic forces more lethal.
“Through the use of improved communications links, China’s ICBM units now have better access to battlefield information and uninterrupted communications connecting all command echelons, and unit commanders are able to issue orders to multiple subordinates at once, instead of serially, via voice commands,” the report said.
On cyber warfare, the report said China, along with Russia, is seeking to promote intergovernmental control over the Internet. China has been a major promoter of seeking to remove control of the Internet from the United States.
Once focused mainly on developing weapons and tactics for a conflict over Taiwan, the Pentagon now regards China’s military buildup as expanding beyond a Taiwan contingency.
“China is investing in military programs and weapons designed to improve extended-range power projection and operations in emerging domains such as cyberspace, space, and electronic warfare,” the report said.
The Chinese military is developing high-technology forces as part of what Beijing calls “informationization” capabilities.
In addition to kinetic, battlefield weapons such as its large-scale missile and naval forces, China also is working on a military capability to launch an “information blockade” during a conflict. China “envisions the use of military and non- instruments of state power across the battlespace, including in cyberspace and outer space to deny information superiority to its adversaries,” the report said.
“China’s investments in advanced electronic warfare systems, counterspace weapons, and computer network operations —combined with propaganda and denial through opacity—reflect the emphasis and priority China’s leaders place on building capability for information advantage,” the Pentagon said.
Chinese military and government hackers also are continuing cyber attacks against the Pentagon the report said.
“In 2013, numerous computer systems around the world, including those owned by the U.S. government, continued to be targeted for intrusions, some of which appear to be attributable directly to the Chinese government and military,” the report said.
“These intrusions were focused on exfiltrating information,” the report said. “China is using its computer network exploitation capability to support intelligence collection against the U.S. diplomatic, economic, and defense industrial base sectors that support U.S. national defense programs.”
The report for the first time said China’s buildup of air forces is significant, and includes two new radar-evading warplanes and several armed drones.
China’s air force “is pursuing modernization on a scale unprecedented in its history and is rapidly closing the gap with Western air forces across a broad spectrum of capabilities including aircraft, command and control, jammers, electronic warfare, and data links,” the report said.
Most of its jet fighters will be advanced, fourth-generation fighters within the next several years, including two new stealth fighters, the J-20 and the J-31.
The J-31 “is similar in size to a U.S. F-35 fighter and appears to incorporate design characteristics similar to the J-20,” the report said.
The H-6 bomber fleet has been upgraded to increase its lethality by deploying new standoff weapons on the aircraft, such as anti-ship cruise missiles and land attack cruise missiles.
“Modernizing the H-6 into a cruise missile carrier has given the PLA Air Force a long-range stand-off offensive capability with precision-guided munitions,” the report said.
China also is modernizing its ground forces with rapid deployment capabilities over long distances, along with advanced special operations forces.
Strategically, the Pentagon report states that the Chinese military has adopted what is being called “new historic missions” that seek to bolster the power of the ruling Communist Party of China.
The report highlights China’s ongoing territorial disputes, mainly in the South China Sea against Vietnam and Philippines and in the East China Sea against Japan.
In the South China Sea, the Pentagon criticized China for not observing international maritime laws during a dangerous encounter in December involving the USS Cowpens, a guided missile cruiser.
The Cowpens was sailing in international waters 32 miles south of China’s Hainan Island when it was harassed by two Chinese naval vessels.
“Two PLA Navy vessels approached USS Cowpens,” the report said. “During this interaction, one of the PLA Navy vessels altered course and crossed directly in front of the bow of USS Cowpens. This maneuver by the PLA Navy vessel forced USS Cowpens to come to full stop to avoid collision, while the PLA Navy vessel passed less than 100 yards ahead.”
The action was “inconsistent with internationally recognized rules concerning professional maritime behavior,” the report said.
The Free Beacon first disclosed the dangerous encounter involving the Cowpens in December.
Fisher, the China military affairs expert, said the latest report, which omitted all photos of Chinese military hardware, appeared to be part of the Obama administration’s policy of not portraying the PLA as a Cold War enemy.
Still, “the 2014 Pentagon PLA report has come a long way to presenting a more useful listing of China's military direction,” Fisher said.
“But it is now time for this report to take the next step,” he said. “It needs to become an illustrated book translated into multiple languages. This document defines the Chinese military’s trajectory more than any other statement by any other country—which is why the Chinese government hates it and wants to shut it down.”
The Pentagon for the first time in its annual report also discloses brief details of China’s development of missile defenses.
China’s government has denounced U.S. and allied missile defenses as destabilizing Asia.
However, China has been secretly developing anti-missile capabilities at the same time.
“While specialists have been watching this since the 1990s, it is time to assess that the U.S. deterrent posture must now factor in a future Chinese national missile defense capability,” Fisher said.