Photo – Ariel Leshinsky
The Growing Threat from China’s Air Force
China watchers have been fixated on the maiden voyage of Beijing’s first aircraft carrier this month. However, U.S. and Asian defense planners should take care not to ignore another aspect of China’s growing military might. The Chinese Air Force may one day play the most significant role in challenging America’s military presence in the Asia-Pacific. At the same time, looming cuts to the U.S. Air Force may wind up reducing its ability to protect American interests.
As the U.S. Air Force’s National Air and Space Intelligence Center put it in a report last year, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force, or PLAAF, has been “transforming itself from a poorly equipped and trained organization into an increasingly capable fighting force. Dramatic changes have occurred, and continue to occur, in the areas of mission, organizational structure, personnel, education, training, and equipment.”
Today, the PLAAF remains years behind the U.S. Air Force in experience, training and operational planning. But it is emphasizing those areas in an attempt to catch up.
Analysts of China’s Air Force warn against focusing solely on the planes it has, or “tail counting.” An appreciation of its capabilities instead begins with what it can fly. The leading edge of its air power is the advanced Russian Su-27/30 fighter, of which it has 150 planes, followed by more than 100 indigenously produced J-11s, based on the Su-27 model, and nearly 200 multirole J-10s, which have both air-combat and ground-attack capabilities.
The Su-27/30 compares with any U.S. fighter, save the stealthy F-22, and China plans on adding nearly 100 more related J-11s. Overall, the Plaaf has more than 1,600 combat aircraft, which does not count the nearly 300 combat aircraft of the separate PLA Navy air forces. China’s Navy, with its own combat air arm, is also flying advanced fighters and has been training its pilots to get ready for carrier operations.
The Plaaf is also looking to the next generation of weapons. Earlier this year, it flew the first prototype of a fifth-generation stealth fighter, the J-20, ostentatiously doing so while then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was on a visit to China to repair military relations.
While the J-20 is at least a decade away from being operational, even Mr. Gates was forced to shorten his predictions of when American pilots would face Chinese stealth fighters. As Chinese pilots begin to engage in joint operations, night exercises and longer-range missions from its dozens of bases in coastal regions, the specter of a Chinese air umbrella over eastern Asia begins to look less far-fetched.
China has moved beyond simply buying more planes and improving its training. In 2004, it came up with its first specific Plaaf strategy, focusing on “integrated air and space operations, both defensive and offensive.” Using cyberwarfare, space assets and quick offensive strikes, the Plaaf is trying to become a high-tech, high-tempo aerospace force.
TV Video shows Chinese military developing cyberwarfare tool
A Chinese military television program has hinted at cyberwarfare against China’s “enemies,” as it included footage of what appears to be software meant to target specific IP addresses, a news site reported.
The Epoch Times article by Matthew Robertson and Helena Zhu called the video footage, where the software asked the user to “Select Attack Target” a “slip-up.”
It said the standard Chinese military propaganda screened in mid-July showed shots from a computer screen showing a Chinese military university engaged in cyberwarfare against entities in the United States.
“The CCP has leaked its top secret here,” says Jason Ma, a commentator for New Tang Dynasty Television. “This is the first time we see clearly that one of the top Chinese military universities is doing this research and developing software for cyber-attacks. There’s solid proof of it in this video,” he said.
While the Chinese Communist Party has denied that it is involved in cyber-attacks, experts have suspected that the Chinese military engages in them.
“Now we’ve got proof. They’re also extending their persecution of Falun Gong overseas, attacking a civil website in the U.S. These are the clear messages revealed in these six seconds of video,” Ma said.
Also, the Epoch Times said the documentary is available on China’s CCTV website.
The screenshots for six seconds, between 11:04 and 11:10, showing “custom-built Chinese software apparently launching a cyber-attack against the main website of the Falun Gong spiritual practice.”
According to the article, the attack used a compromised IP address belonging to a United States university.
People’s Liberation Army
The Epoch Times report said the screenshots showed the name of the software and the Chinese university that created it – the Electrical Engineering University of China’s People’s Liberation Army.
It said this was direct evidence that the PLA is involved in coding cyber-attack software directed against a Chinese dissident group.
In the video, the software window said “Choose Attack Target,” after which the computer operator selects an IP address from a list.
Pentagon: China military growing rapidly
WASHINGTON (AP) — Bolstered by the development of a new stealth fighter, an aircraft carrier and a record number of space launches over the past year, China is on pace to achieve its goal of building a modern, regionally focused military by 2020, according to the Pentagon.
In a report released Wednesday, the Pentagon said Beijing has closed critical technological gaps and is rapidly modernizing its military equipment, all with an eye toward preventing possible U.S. and allied intervention in a conflict with Taiwan. It also warns that the military expansion could increasingly stretch to the western Pacific in a move to deny U.S. and allies’ access or movement there.
“The pace and scope of China’s sustained military investments have allowed China to pursue capabilities that we believe are potentially destabilizing to regional military balances, increase the risk of misunderstanding and miscalculation and may contribute to regional tensions and anxieties,” said Michael Schiffer, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia.
The report comes as the U.S. and Beijing struggle to restore their strained and volatile relations amid ongoing concerns about the largely unexplained military build-up, America’s continuing support for Taiwan and persistent fractures over what are believed to be China-based cyber intrusions into American government and defense-related networks.
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