As China wields hundreds of land-based missiles and builds two ballistic missile submarines, it is gaining the ability to tackle U.S. forces in combat, an American commission reported to Congress.
"The Commission concluded that China is developing its military in ways that enhance its capacity to confront America," posing a threat to U.S. Navy aircraft carrier groups, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission stated in a 300-page-plus report.
"China is acquiring the ability to overwhelm the defenses of, and successfully attack, U.S. carrier battle groups," the report stated.
China has some 900 short- and medium-range missiles aimed at the Taiwan Strait, toward Taiwan. Threatening to launch combat operations, China has stated that either Taiwan will submit to rule by Beijing, or China will invade the island nation and take it by force.
While the United States is committed to defend Taiwan from attack, it complicates that defense if China is able to sink U.S. aircraft carriers hundreds of miles away, before they steam anywhere near the island.
China also is developing the ability to destroy U.S. military surveillance satellites in orbit, and to wage cyber war that could create chaos and dysfunction in computer systems across the United States, the report added.
The commission scored the Chinese move to "focus on cyber warfare and anti-satellite weapons, its construction of two ballistic missile submarines, and its purchase from Ukraine of a former Soviet aircraft carrier.
"New generations of fighter aircraft, spacecraft, submarines, missiles and other sophisticated weapons are coming off China's production lines, but China has been reluctant to discuss how its military spending fits into its overall foreign policy goals."
And China is highly secretive about why it is in the midst of a vast military buildup, an opaqueness that the commission deplored.
"Without such information, Americans are left with little choice but to draw adverse inferences about China's intentions" after viewing the huge military buildup of the People's Liberation Army, the commission asserted.
The commission also decried the way China has resorted to industrial espionage to gain new U.S. technology that China can use in developing new weapons platforms.
New steps are needed to stop the flow of U.S. weapons technology to China, the commission recommended to Congress.
For example, the panel warned against having defense contractors use Chinese-made components in defense hardware, criticizing outsourcing of U.S. jobs.
Among 43 recommendations to Congress, the commission urged that "Congress require the U.S. Department of Defense to prepare a complete list of the country of origin of each component in every U.S. weapon system to the bottom tier."
As well, the report recommended that Congress review "the outflow of U.S. technologies and manufacturing expertise to China" and if needed increase funding for "U.S. export control enforcement and counterintelligence efforts, specifically those tasked with detecting and preventing illicit technology transfers to China and Chinese state-sponsored industrial espionage operations."
A danger of "substantial security risks" lies in having contractors outsource production of major weapons platform components to China and other -- often unidentified -- foreign suppliers, according to the commission: what would happen if a supply chain is interrupted, and U.S. forces can't obtain replacements for failed components in a major weapons platform?
Too, as defense-production jobs are offshored, the United States loses self-sufficiency in meeting its own defense needs, and supply chains lengthen, the commission warned.
"As the globalization of supply chains continues, elements of the U.S. defense industrial base are being moved overseas, thus lengthening the supply chains of U.S. weapons and defense equipment," the report observed.
The trend is disturbing, the report asserts, stating that "U.S. defense contractors have merged and moved some manufacturing outside the United States."
Because of that, "sources of defense components are becoming scarcer in the United States, and the supply of American workers skilled in manufacturing these components is diminishing."
The report also worries that the United States is losing its research and development capabilities as contractors and others outsource their R&D work to shops in China.
Unfortunately, while the Pentagon spends perhaps $150 billion yearly buying various items including planes, ships, submarines, missiles, tanks and more, that still isn't enough to give the military sufficient clout to stop the offshoring, according to the report.
"The U.S. Department of Defense ... is not a sufficiently large customer to many of its suppliers to be able to influence their supply chain decisions," the report states.
At length, the report spells out the overall problem:
"Some of the items DOD purchases contain foreign-made components, the origin of which, in most cases, is unknown," the report cautioned. "There potentially are substantial security risks to the United States from using foreign-made parts and components in weapon systems or other equipment important to U.S. defense."
Threats abound, including:
- "Tampering with or specially engineering foreign-manufactured parts and components
- "Inadequate quality that leads to failure or substandard performance
- "Interruption of the supply chains, thus depriving U.S. forces of the weapons and equipment on which they depend to defend U.S. interests"
The problem here is more troubling than that the United States is losing its defense industrial manufacturing capability. What is more worrisome, according to the report, is that government and defense policymakers don't know the extent of the problem, because they haven't paid attention to it.
"U.S. officials are neither carefully tracking the persistent attrition of the U.S. defense industrial base as more and more manufacturing is outsourced offshore, nor identifying and justifying on national security grounds an irreducible minimum defense industrial base that the United States should retain regardless of the cost or effort required to do so." That view runs counter to what some military leaders espouse.
Some Pentagon leaders, up to the highest levels, have said they should be free to procure foreign systems, because that introduces competition that helps to cut costs, and permits U.S. armed services to obtain foreign-developed technologies as well.
Focusing on the Pentagon buying weapons systems including hardware made in China, the commission report was critical. U.S. military leaders aren't:
- "Methodically tracking what parts and components are obtained from China that are used in significant and/or unique systems important to the nation's defense
- "Identifying based on specific national security considerations (1) particular parts and components that, if obtained from China, contractors and subcontractors should be prohibited from using in any such systems, and (2) a subset of key defense systems in which contractors and subcontractors are or should be prohibited from using any parts or components from China
- "Developing effective means to implement, monitor adherence to, and enforce such policies and restrictions"
The report also zeroed in on U.S. military research and development being outsourced to China.
"The United States currently is a world leader in R&D, which greatly benefits its defense industrial base," the report observed. "As the quality of R&D in China continues to improve, and China's research capabilities continue to expand, it is becoming an increasingly attractive destination for American companies to outsource their R&D," the report worried.