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Congressional Research Service, "China Naval Modernization -- Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities," updated April 4, 2008

This report was written by Ronald O’Rourke, specialist in naval affairs.
April 8, 2008

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Concern has grown in Congress and elsewhere since the 1990s about China’s military modernization. The topic is an increasing factor in discussions over future required U.S. Navy capabilities. Several of the U.S. Navy’s most expensive acquisition programs, as well as Navy initiatives for homeporting ships and for training sailors, are for developing or maintaining capabilities that could be useful or critical in countering improved Chinese maritime military capabilities in coming years. The issue for Congress addressed in this report is: How should China’s military modernization be factored into decisions about U.S. Navy programs?

Several elements of China’s military modernization have potential implications for future required U.S. Navy capabilities. These include theater-range ballistic missiles (TBMs), land-attack cruise missiles (LACMs), anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs), surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), land-based aircraft, naval mines, submarines, surface combatants, amphibious ships, nuclear weapons, and possibly high-power microwave (HPM) devices. China’s naval limitations or weaknesses include capabilities for operating in waters more distant from China, joint operations, C4ISR (command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance), long-range surveillance and targeting systems, anti-air warfare (AAW), antisubmarine warfare (ASW), mine countermeasures (MCM), and logistics.

Observers believe a near-term focus of China’s military modernization is to field a force that can succeed in a short-duration conflict with Taiwan and act as an antiaccess force to deter U.S. intervention or delay the arrival of U.S. forces, particularly naval and air forces, in such a conflict. Some analysts speculate that China may attain (or believe that it has attained) a capable maritime anti-access force, or elements of it, by about 2010. Other observers believe this will happen later. Potential broader or longer-term goals of China’s naval modernization include asserting China’s regional military leadership and protecting China’s maritime territorial, economic, and energy interests.

China’s naval modernization has potential implications for required U.S. Navy capabilities in terms of preparing for a conflict in the Taiwan Strait area, maintaining U.S. Navy presence and military influence in the Western Pacific, and countering Chinese ballistic missile submarines. Preparing for a conflict in the Taiwan Strait area could place a premium on the following: on-station or early-arriving Navy forces, capabilities for defeating China’s maritime anti-access forces, and capabilities for operating in an environment that could be characterized by information warfare and possibly electromagnetic pulse (EMP) and the use of nuclear weapons.

China’s naval modernization raises potential issues for Congress concerning the role of China in Department of Defense and Navy planning; the size of the Navy; the Pacific Fleet’s share of the Navy; forward homeporting in the Western Pacific; the number of aircraft carriers, submarines, and ASW platforms; Navy missile defense, air-warfare, AAW, ASW, and mine warfare programs; Navy computer network security; and EMP hardening. This report will be updated as events warrant.

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