In 2015, China unveiled sweeping organizational reforms to overhaul the entire military structure. These reforms aim to strengthen the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) control over the military, enhance the PLA’s ability to conduct joint operations, and improve its ability to fight short-duration, high-intensity regional conflicts at greater distances from the Chinese mainland. China’s leaders seek ways to leverage China’s growing military, diplomatic, and economic clout to advance its ambitions to establish regional preeminence and expand its international influence.
The 2016 report said airstrips are under construction at Mischief and Subi Reefs, where China is in the “final stages of primary infrastructure construction.” That work includes building communication and surveillance systems and logistical support facilities, the report said.
“The airfields, berthing areas, and resupply facilities will allow China to maintain a more flexible and persistent coast guard and military presence in the area,” the report said. “This would improve China’s ability to detect and challenge activities by rival claimants or third parties, widen the range of capabilities available to China, and reduce the time required to deploy them.”
The report said China’s military budget rose again in 2015, up $8 billion to $144 billion. But Abraham Denmark, the Pentagon’s deputy assistant secretary for East Asia, said actual military spending is much higher — $180 billion — because the Chinese budget omits research-and-development spending and some purchases of foreign weapons.
China’s Navy places a high priority on the modernization of its submarine force and currently possesses five SSNs, four nuclear powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBN), and 53 diesel-powered attack submarines (SS/SSP). By 2020, this force will likely grow to between 69 and 78 submarines.
China is improving its airfields in the South China Sea with the availability of Woody Island Airfield in the Paracel Islands and construction of up to three new airfields in the Spratly Islands. All of these airfields could have runways long enough to support any aircraft in China’s inventory. During late October 2015 the PLAN deployed four of its most capable air superiority fighters, the J-11B, to Woody Island.
The PLAAF possesses one of the largest forces of advanced long-range SAM systems in the world, consisting of a combination of Russian-sourced SA-20 (S-300PMU1 / 2) battalions and domestically produced CSA-9 (HQ-9) battalions. In an effort to improve its strategic air defense systems even further, China plans to import Russia’s S-400/Triumf SAM system, as a follow-on to the SA-20, and may simultaneously develop its indigenous CSA-X-19 (HQ-19) to provide the basis for a ballistic missile defense capability.