U.S. intelligence officials visiting Capitol Hill today reported to the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission on the steady progress made by the People’s Liberation Army Air Force and the implications of that development to the United States.
Donald L. Fuell, National Air and Space Intelligence Center force modernization and employment technical director at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, warned against taking a “symmetric” view of PLAAF with a direct comparison to U.S. missile modernization.
“We believe the Chinese are not trying to match the U.S. system versus system,” Fuell said, “but are pursuing more of a system-of-systems approach that exploits what they perceive to be adversary weaknesses or exploitable vulnerabilities.”
Regarding potential U.S. intervention in cases of conflicts involving Taiwan or in regions of the South China Sea, recent Chinese operational literature suggests the People’s Republic of China may be developing a more mature viewpoint on the broad application of military operations against the United States than in year’s past.
“This newer literature reflects a departure from past PLA writings that heavily focused on the need for pre-emptive operations against U.S. intervention, and we feel that this demonstrates, at least to a degree, a growing confidence within the PLA that they can more readily withstand U.S. involvement,” Fuell said.
As such, should the PRC decide intervention significantly impacts the success of their campaign, the PLAAF and Second Artillery would be tasked with strikes against U.S. forces and facilities, Fuell reported.
“Chinese writings, although not specifically directed at the U.S., discuss the importance of attacks on logistics, supply depots, air bases, and ports by air, ballistic and or cruise missiles, special forces and other means,” he said. “Chinese analysts note the importance of military on Okinawa and Guam, and these assets and their supporting infrastructure are likely high-priority targets of the PLAAF and Second Artillery.
Given the advancements in command and control infrastructure and the emphasis on joint training events, Fuell explained, PLAAF has attained a moderate level of capability to conduct pre-planned joint fires against fixed targets in the Pacific theater.
“In 2009, the PLAAF and Second Artillery conducted one of the first large-scale joint live-fire exercises involving elements from four missile brigades and two PLAAF air divisions,” he reported.
Still, Fuell said, analysts assessed that true joint interoperability remains largely a work in progress for the PLA.
“Jointness will largely be executed via well-deconflicted, time-phased operations of high precision,” Fuell said. “However, due to lack of practiced interoperability, their efficiency will decline as they have to react to a dynamic environment and rapidly changing battlespace conditions.”
In addition to its missile and munitions assets, China also has an increasing number of aircraft capable of operating over water at ranges from 300-500 nautical miles from its coast without refueling, Fuell said.
“New precision guided munitions and conventional missiles continue to emerge and will continue for the foreseeable future as Chinese investment in these technologies remains high,” Fuell said. “Nevertheless, the pace of development of individual systems has not accelerated.”