MELBOURNE, Australia — China is continuing the rapid development of its military and power-projection capabilities, with Pakistan being touted as the likely location of its second overseas base, according to the Pentagon’s newly released report on trends and developments on China’s military.
This would follow the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, or PLA, setting up its first overseas base at Djibouti on the Horn of Africa, construction of which started in February 2016 and is expected to be completed in 2018. China previously said the base is meant "to help the navy and army further participate in United Nations peacekeeping operations, carry out escort missions in the waters near Somalia and the Gulf of Aden, and provide humanitarian assistance."
Overseas bases will "better position the PLA to expand its participation in non-combatant evacuation operations, search-and-rescue, humanitarian assistance/disaster relief (HA/DR), and SLOC security," the report added. Although it also warned that China’s ability to build overseas bases "may be constrained by the willingness of countries to support a PLA presence in one of their ports."
The report also noted that "China’s leaders remain focused on developing the capabilities to deter or defeat adversary power projection and counter third-party intervention," with the PLA’s modernization program becoming more focused on missions including power projection beyond China’s periphery.
This included complex exercises that saw the People's Liberation Army Air Force deploy "more than 40 aircraft to the East China Sea and through the Miyako Strait into the Philippine Sea in its most complex long-distance strike training to date" in September 2016. The deployment included Xian H-6K cruise missile carriers, which the report notes would put the U.S. base in Guam within range of Chinese air-launched cruise missiles.
The H-6K is a modernized Chinese-built, Soviet-era Tupolev Tu-16 "Badger" subsonic bomber fitted with new engines and avionics, designed primarily as a cruise missile carrier for long-range strike missions. According to the report, China's missile programs, including its ballistic and cruise missile, are comparable to other international top-tier producers with its missile production capabilities "enhanced by upgrades to primary assembly and solid rocket motor production facilities."
This will also presumably include China's ballistic missile defense program, highlighting that in July 2016, Chinese official media confirmed the country's intent to go forward with mid-course missile defense capabilities on both land and sea assets. The interceptor missile has been identified as the HQ-19, which is currently undergoing testing and will be used for mid-course ballistic missile defense intercepts against 3,000-kilometer ranged ballistic missiles.
The report also noted that China remains engaged in a robust surface combatant construction program for the People's Liberation Army Navy, including the continuous churning out of Type 052D fleet defense destroyers, Type 054A frigates and Type 056 corvettes at a rapid pace.
The report also briefly touched on China's latest surface combatants, the Type 055 cruiser of the Renhai class, an estimated 10,000-ton ship that has larger missile capacity and can employ larger cruise missiles. That said, the report failed to state that open-source data has shown China is already building at least four, possibly five such ships at two different shipyards.
Overall, while the report is a useful guide to keep track of Chinese military developments, Defense News has found some notable errors or outdated information. For example, though the report mentioned the development of the Chengdu J-20 fifth-generation fighter, it failed to mention that the type had already entered low-rate production as early as the third quarter of 2016.
A quick scan also showed problems with some of the report's maps and infographics showing the PLA's force dispositions, with two of the Navy's key air bases on the island of Hainan omitted while another Navy air base for special missions aircraft in China's Northern Theater Command was wrongly identified as an Air Force bomber base.
Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News.