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China, A New Space Power, Developing Laser Weapons To Destroy Spacecraft

By | June 26, 2006

      China is developing weapons to destroy satellites in orbit, a senior Department of Defense leader said.

      Peter W. Rodman, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, reported the Chinese move before the House Armed Services Committee.

      “China has at least one research and development program in ground-based anti-satellite lasers, which suggests it is developing the ability to deny others access to space,” according to Rodman.

      He also noted that China took a significant step forward when it sent a manned mission into space in October, and recovered the crew successfully, a feat that “demonstrates the extraordinary advances China is making.”

      Such developments, he said, mean that “we are seeing China emerge as a growing international space power.”

      He and other witnesses, and HASC lawmakers as well, provided a somber assessment of the growing military might of China as it acquires a vast array of sophisticated weapons systems.

      North Korea ICBM

      Lawmakers also asked Rodman and others about moves by North Korea, which has readied a long-range Taepo Dong-2 missile on a launch pad and appears poised to fire it. The missile is thought to have a range capable of threatening U.S. cities.

      However, Rodman said he couldn’t say with certainty whether North Korea will launch the missile in the face of opposition by Washington and leaders of other nations.

      On the issue of a rising China that several lawmakers said threatens the United States militarily, Rodman laid out basic facts about the bulging military muscle of the Asian giant, beginning with its new missiles.

      “We see in China at least 10 varieties of ballistic missiles deployed or in development,” Rodman said. China is modernizing its older intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Newer ICBMs such as the DF-31 and DF-31A, and the JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missile, “bring greater range, mobility, accuracy and survivability to China’s missile forces,” he said.

      Further, he said, longer-range Chinese missiles “can reach many areas of the world beyond the Pacific, including virtually the entire continental United States.”

      Chinese naval forces also are acquiring five types of submarines, such as the SONG diesel-electric subs in serial production, new classes of nuclear attack and nuclear ballistic missile subs, a YUAN type of sub, and delivery of Russian KILO boats.

      Other missiles include at least two types of land-attack cruise missiles, and at least 12 separate types of advanced anti-ship cruise missiles, including the supersonic SS-N- 22/SUNBURN and SS-N-27B/SIZZLER from Russia, Rodman said.

      To counter radar-guided missiles, the United States, meanwhile, has developed radar-evading platforms such as the F-22A Raptor supersonic stealth fighter and the DD(X), or DDG 1000, destroyer. However, the Raptor buy from Lockheed Martin [LMT] was chopped back by a third, and some lawmakers want to fund purchase of just two DD(X) destroyers, not the seven the Navy seeks to buy from General Dynamics [GD] unit Bath Iron Works shipbuilding and/or Northrop Grumman [NOC] unit Ship Systems.

      Expeditionary warfare capabilities are bolstered by added air and amphibious lift, upgraded army aviation, and new amphibious armor platforms that China has amassed “within its ground forces based opposite Taiwan,” Rodman observed.

      Some lawmakers asked why China needs such weapons, if it only wishes to project power in its region, noting that a Chinese submarine wielding nuclear-tipped long-range missiles could slip into the littoral, or near-shore, waters just off U.S. coasts.

      Rep. Rob Simmons of Connecticut, a leading Republican on the HASC projection forces subcommittee, said that even as Chinese submarines “can target the United States from the littorals, meanwhile we continue to limp along with only one a year.”

      That referred to the U.S. Navy buying only one Virginia Class submarines annually from General Dynamics unit Electric Boat and Northrop Grumman unit Newport News shipbuilding. Each firm builds half of each sub, and then the halves are joined.

      The Navy doesn’t plan to start building two subs or more annually until 2012, meaning that the number of attack subs will tumble to 40 in some years, far short of the 48 the Navy shipbuilding plan says is required.

      Simmons said that while the U.S. Navy has ruled the waves around the globe for decades, including in submarines power, “I see that dominance disappearing” at current U.S. submarine construction rates.

      Mark Cozad, China forces senior intelligence officer with the Defense Intelligence Agency, offered Simmons little comfort.

      “We do expect the Chinese to continue developing their capabilities,” Cozad testified, “both indigenous” subs built in China and in purchases of Russian-built boats, as well as involving China building a fleet boasting both diesel and nuclear-powered undersea craft.

      Simmons responded that with such weapons platforms, Chinese military units “don’t just threaten Taiwan and our allies” along the Pacific Rim, “but also affect us.”

      One point made repeatedly by lawmakers was that the people funding the Chinese military buildup are the same people funding the U.S. military buildup: American citizens.

      China is producing its own cutting-edge weapons systems–missiles, nuclear-powered submarines, advanced aircraft and more–using money that comes from American consumers buying Chinese goods, said Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC).

      While at one time China used IOUs to pay for the hardware, something Russia disliked, “today China pays in cash–American cash,” Hunter said. The U.S. trade deficit with China alone is running at more than $200 billion a year, meaning U.S. companies and consumers are sending China a sum at least twice its estimated true military budget.

      The most populous nation on the planet has been increasing defense spending at double-digit rates every year for many years, according to lawmakers on the HASC, and to military and government witnesses before the panel.

      That’s according to the numbers that China admits to, which is roughly $35 billion annually now. But Rodman, the assistant secretary of defense for international affairs, told the lawmakers that the true Chinese military expansion outlay could be two to three times as much this year, or $70 billion to $105 billion.

      Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.), chairman of the HASC projection forces panel that oversees U.S. procurement programs for hardware such as submarines and ships, said Chinese outlays really may be far higher than even that $105 billion estimate, in terms of purchasing power. Because China produces goods at far lower prices than the United States, the amount of weapons platforms that China can purchase may be multiple times what the $105 billion estimate would indicate, Bartlett said.

      Rodman noted that the CIA estimated Chinese military spending to be $81.5 billion, and the International Institute for Strategic Studies pegged it at $99.5 billion.

      In other words, no one outside of China knows for sure how much it’s spending, except that clearly the People’s Liberation Army land, sea and air forces are outspending any other nation in Asia..

      And that isn’t the only mystery area.

      Lawmakers told the witnesses that the germane question here is this: Why is China spending all this money and acquiring all these advanced platforms, and who might be the enemy that China would attack with them?

      While Rodman provided diplomatic words, saying that the “U.S.-China relationship … is improving,” adding that President Bush “is pleased we have a good, constructive relationship with China,” some lawmakers rebuked him for that tone, saying that China seems to be a potential enemy.

      For example, Rep. Joel Hefley (R-Colo.), a high-ranking majority member on the HASC, reprimanded Rodman.

      “I was a little bit disappointed in the testimony” by the Pentagon leader, Hefley said. “I wanted to see why the tremendous buildup” is occurring in Chinese capability. He asked what sort of enemy Chinese leaders have in mind when they buy or produce such advanced weapons systems. “Who’s their enemy? It only could be us,” the United States, Hefley reasoned.

      While Rodman said it is difficult to divine the true intentions of Chinese leaders, given that the Asian power is such an opaque regime, Hefley had no problem reaching a conclusion that Chinese weapons systems are procured to challenge U.S. forces.

      Rodman defended himself by saying that his full prepared remarks did list the major weapons systems that China is acquiring.

      His bottom line on the immense Chinese military buildup is this: The United States continues to see “China’s military advances–particularly its continued deployments opposite Taiwan–as tilting the military balance in the mainland’s favor.”

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