Pentagon view of China’s military, South China Sea Situation and Possibilities

A Department of Defense report to Congress looks at Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2014. It is 96 pages and looks at China’s military capability and what if China decided to retake the island of Taiwan by force?

A chinese invasion of Taiwan is unlikely at the moment. The election of a less hardline-nationalist government in Taipei has smoothed over cross-Strait relations. Overall, “China appears prepared to defer the use of force as long as it believes that unification over the long term remains possible and the costs of conflict outweigh the benefits.”

China’s military engagement with other countries seeks to enhance China’s international presence and influence by improving relationships with foreign militaries, bolstering China’s international and regional image, and assuaging other countries’ concerns about China’s rise. The PLA’s engagement activities assist its modernization through the acquisition of advanced weapon systems and technologies, increased operational experience, and access to foreign military practices, doctrine, and training methods.

From 2008 to 2012, China signed about $10 billion in agreements for conventional arms sales worldwide.

China continues to support counterpiracy efforts in the Gulf of Aden, a commitment that began in December 2008.

Senior Chinese officials have identified protecting China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity as a “core interest,” and PRC officials repeatedly state China’s opposition to actions they perceive as a challenge to this core interest. In the South China Sea, Chinese maritime law enforcement vessels maintained a presence at Scarborough Reef throughout 2013, following the 2012 standoff with the Philippine coast guard. In May 2013, China sent maritime law enforcement ships to the waters near Second Thomas Shoal in the disputed Spratly Islands. Philippine military personnel are stationed on Second Thomas Shoal aboard a former U.S. tank-landing ship that was deliberately grounded there in 1999. Both sides claim sovereignty over Scarborough Reef and Second Thomas Shoal, and China maintains a continuous civilian maritime law enforcement presence at both locations

Current Capabilies of China’s Military
Second Artillery Force.
The Second Artillery controls most of China’s nuclear and conventional ballistic missiles. It is developing and testing several new classes and variants of offensive missiles, forming additional missile units, upgrading older missile systems, and developing methods to counter ballistic missile defenses. By November 2013, the Second Artillery possessed
more than 1,000 short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) in its inventory. China is increasing the lethality of
this missile force by fielding new conventional medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs) to improve its ability to strike not only Taiwan but other regional targets.

China is fielding a limited but growing number of conventionally armed medium-range ballistic missiles, including the CSS-5 Mod 5 (DF-21D) anti -ship ballistic missile (ASBM). The CSS-5 Mod 5 gives the PLA the capability to attack large ships, including aircraft carriers, in the western Pacific Ocean. The CSS-5 Mod 5 has a range exceeding 1,500km and is armed with a maneuverable warhead.

The PLA Navy has the largest force of major combatants, submarines, and amphibious warfare ships in Asia. China’s
naval forces include some 77 principal surface combatants, more than 60 submarines, 55 medium and large amphibious ships, and roughly 85 missile-equipped small combatants.

PLA Air Force (PLAAF). The PLAAF is the largest air force in Asia and the third-largest air force in the world, with approximately 330,000 personnel and more than 2,800 total aircraft, not including unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). Of these PLAAF aircraft, approximately 1,900 are combat aircraft (includes fighters, bombers, fighter-attack and attack aircraft), 600 of which are modern.

Here’s what might happen if China were to try to attack Taiwan.

The blockade option- China today probably could not enforce a full military blockade” against Taiwan, the report states. “However, its ability to do so will improve significantly over the next five to ten years.

Asymmetric warfare. China could opt for a campaign of small-scale military strikes, intelligence operations, and cyber attacks designed to undermine the fabric of Taiwanese society. “Such a campaign could include computer network or limited kinetic attacks against Taiwan’s political, military, and economic infrastructure to induce fear in Taiwan and degrade the populace’s confidence in the Taiwan leadership,” the report states.

War from the air. The entire island sits within range of Chinese surface to air and short-range ballistic missile systems.

The report doesn’t think that a full scale invasion of Taiwan is necessarily within China’s current capabilities, and notes that China is mindful of the international scorn that such aggression would invite. But China could seize smaller inhabited Islands that Taiwan claims.

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