Chinese Strategy and Military Modernization in 2015: A Comparative Analysis

China’s emergence as a global economic superpower and as a major regional military power in Asia and the Pacific, has had a major impact on its relations with the United States and its neighbors. China was the driving factor in the new strategy the United States announced in 2012 that called for the U.S. to “rebalance” its forces to Asia-Pacific region. At the same time, China’s actions on its borders, in the East China Sea, and in the South China Sea have shown that China is steadily expanding its geopolitical role in the Pacific, and having a steadily increasing impact on the strategy and military developments in other Asian powers.

As a result, the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the United States, and China’s neighbors face a critical need to improve their understanding of how each state in the region is developing its military power, and find ways to avoid the kind of military competition that could lead to rising tension or conflict.

The final review draft of a new study by the Burke Chair examines China military forces and modernization from this perspective. It is entitled Chinese Strategy and Military Power: A Comparative Analysis, and is available on the CSIS web by clicking on the above pdf, or at

This study is intended to support such a dialogue between China, the United States, and other key Asian powers. It focuses on the current developments in China’s military strategy, forces, and modernization, but does in the context of how they are influencing U.S. strategy and force development, the reactions of Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. It also focuses on how Chinese military developments affect the rising tensions in areas like the East China Sea, South China Sea, and Taiwan.

The study is not meant to provide a given view of Chinese strategy, Chinese forces, or the trends in the regional military balance. It is rather intended to provide analysts with a better basis for understanding the different official estimates of the changes in Chinese force strength and force quality. Accordingly, it makes extensive comparisons of the assessments of Chinese military developments in official reporting by the US, China, and other Asian governments.

In doing so, it relies heavily on Chinese white papers and the US Department of Defense (DoD) Report to Congress on Military and Security, as well as the military white papers of Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. Key portions compare these different perspectives to work done by outside scholars and the information in databases like those developed by the IISS and IHS Jane’s.

This draft is being circulated for final comment before publication as a CSIS be book, and any suggested changes and additions will be most welcome. Please send them to Anthony, Cordesman at


Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Evolving Strategies In The China-U.S. Military Balance

Chinese Strategy

Key Trends in Chinese Military Modernization

China’s View of Its Strategic Position Relative to the United States

Putting China in Perspective: America’s Developing Strategy in Asia

The U.S. Shift to “Rebalancing” to Asia in 2012

Secretary of Defense Panetta’s Summary of U.S. Views of China at the Shangri-La Dialogue in 2012

Secretary of Defense Hagel’s Summary at Shangri-La Dialogue in 2013

The 2014 U.S. Quadrennial Defense Review

Secretary Ashton Carter’s Speech in May 2015

The 2015 Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy

The Chinese Response

Competition and Cooperation

Chapter 2: Assessing China’s Armed Forces

China’s Defense White Papers

The 2010 White Paper

The 2013 White Paper

The 2015 White Paper

US Defense White Papers on China’s Strategy and Forces

The U.S. View of Chinese Strategy

Strategy, Modernization, and Shifts that Affect the U.S. Role in Asia

Disputes Over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands and South China Sea

Relations Between China and India

Counter-Space Strategies

Building an “Informationized” Military

The Strategic Forces Driving Chinese Military Modernization

“Defensive” Force Modernization and Transformation versus “Offensive” Force Modernization and Transformation

Chapter 3: Underlying Resources for China’s Security Capabilities

Is Becoming an Economic Superpower a Prelude to Becoming a Military Superpower?

The Economic Trends Shaping Military Spending

Downward Economic Growth Trends but Stable Forecast

Economic Uncertainties and Risks

Shorter Term Risks

Longer-Term Risks

Chinese Economic Growth Relative to Increases in Military Spending

Factors that May Impact China’s Military Spending, Strategy and Modernization


FDI and Current Account Balance

Demographic Trends

Societal Trends and Economic Transformation

Chapter 4: Estimates of Chinese Military Spending

Chinese Statements on Military Spending

US Analyses of Chinese Defense Budgets

Other Outside Assessments of Chinese Military Spending

Limited Transparency and Problems in Estimating Chinese Military Expenditures

The Chinese Response

Chapter 5: Chinese Strategy and PLA Military Doctrine

Chinese Strategic Doctrine

Active Defense

Local War under Conditions of Informatization

People’s War

Chinese Campaign Doctrine

Integrated Joint Operations

Information Warfare

US Views on Chinese Cyber Activities

Integrated Firepower Operations

Mobility and Comprehensive Support

Service Strategy

The Nine-Dash Line

Chinese Actions to Establish Control within the First Island Chain

The US View

Japanese and South Korean Perspectives on the Balance

Putting China’s Strategy and Actions in Perspective

Chapter 6: Chinese Military Organization

PLA Military Organization

Organization of the PLA

Operational Command Levels



PLA Air Force (PLAAF)

PLA Second Artillery Force (SAF)

The Organization of the Chinese Security and Paramilitary Forces

Ministry of State Security (MSS)

Ministry of Public Security (MPS)

People’s Armed Police Force (PAPF)

PLA Organizational Reforms

Reforming Military Regions and Force Groupings for Joint Operations

Continued Importance of Improving Training and Education

The 5 New Leading Small Groups Spearhead Reform

The Broader anti-Corruption Campaign

The Chinese View on the Current State of the PLA in Relation to Local Wars and Joint Operations

Chapter 7: Force Changes and Trends in Total Personnel

Shifts in Total Personnel

Personnel Share by Service and Force Element

Shifts in the PLA’s Personnel System

Rebalancing the Personnel System

Recruiting High-Level Human Capital into the PLA

Creating Opportunities for Increased Qualification

Greater Compensation for PLA Personnel

Shifts in Reserve and Militia Force Structure

PLA Reserve Forces

PLA Militia Forces

Shifts in the Personnel of the Chinese Security and Paramilitary Forces

Ministry of State Security (MSS)

Ministry of Public Security (MPS)

People’s Armed Police Force (PAPF)

Chapter 8: Broad Patterns in PLA Modernization and the Role of Arms and Technology Imports and Exports

The US Intelligence Community’s Assessment

Uncertain Patterns of Change

PLA Training Practices: A Critical Aspect of Modernization

Joint Operations

Focus on C4ISR and Information Technology

Amphibious Operations

Arms Trade and Technology Transfer: The Role of Imports

Arms Trade and Technology Transfer: The Role of Exports

Putting China’s Arms Exports in Context

Tracking the Trends in Chinese Arms Transfers

Arms Trade and Technology Transfer: The Role of Espionage

Chapter 9: The PLA Army

Shifts in Force Structure

Shifts in Personnel

Trends in Equipment

Trends in MBTs, AIFV/APCs, Artillery, and Multiple Rocket Launchers (MRLs)

Equipment Modernization

The US Official View of PLAA Modernization

The Japanese Official View of PLAA Modernization

Shifts in Training, Readiness, and the Capability to “Fight Local Wars”

The PLAA and Power Projection

The PLAA in Comparison to Regional Militaries and the US

Chapter 10: The PLA Navy

PLAN Strategy and Developments

The US Official View of PLAN Developments

The Japanese Official View of PLAN Developments

Shifts in Force Structure, Equipment Composition, and Personnel

Shifts in Force Structure, Personnel, and Force Size

PLAN Modernization

China’s Submarine Modernization

China’s Surface Vessels and “Blue Water” Modernization

China’s Other Maritime Forces

Major Combatant Holdings

Shifts in Personnel

The PLAN and Power Projection

The Chinese View

The US Reaction and the Air Sea Battle

Chapter 11: PLA Air Force

PLAAF Strategy and Developments

Shift in Force Structure

The Pace of Modernization

Key Aspects of Equipment Modernization

Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD)


Other Advanced Fighters and Carrier Aircraft

UAVs, Drones, and Other Advanced ISR

Shifts in Personnel

Chapter 12: The PLA Second Artillery Force and Developing Space Capabilities

SAF Strategy and Developments

The US Official View and the Growth of China’s Precision Strike Capability

Shifts in Force Structure, Equipment Composition, and Personnel

Shifts in Equipment Composition


Cruise Missiles



Chinese Missile Defense Capabilities

Improved Personnel

Chinese Space Strategy and Developments

Other Military Developments

Chinese Counterspace and ASAT Capabilities

Anti-Access/Area Denial Sea-based Space Programs

Anti-Access/Area Denial Land-based Space Programs

Chapter 13: China’s Nuclear Forces and Weapons of Mass Destruction

Chinese Military Nuclear Strategy

Change and Missile Defense

Multiple Independently-Targetable Re-entry Vehicles (MIRV)

The Strategic Nuclear Balance

Assessments of China’s Nuclear Forces

The Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) Estimate

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Estimate

The Global Security Estimate

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) Estimate

The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) Estimate

The United States Nuclear Posture

The U.S. Force on Russia at a Time of Rising Chinese Capability

North and South Korea

India and Pakistan

Chinese Biological and Chemical Weapons

Chapter 14: Chinese Military Modernization and the Taiwan Strait Military Balance

The Historical Context

Taiwan and Other Flashpoints

Chinese Military Strategy in the Taiwan Strait

Taiwanese Military Strategy

The US Perspective on the China-Taiwan Balance

The Japanese Perspective of the China-Taiwan Balance

U.S. Data on the Historical Trends in the Taiwan Strait Military Balance

The Naval Balance

The Air and Missile Balance

The Ground Force Balance

Chapter 15: US and China: Strategic Competition or Cooperation in the Pacific, IOR, and South China Sea

The Broader Context of China’s Security and Strategic Interests

Strategic Rivalry versus Grand Strategy

Rivalry in Southeast Asia: A Case Study

China’s Declared Strategy and Competition with the U.S. Affecting the Pacific and the IOR

Chinese Defense White Paper Views of the Challenges from the U.S.

The Chinese Defense White Paper View of the Challenges in Asia

The Strategic Impact of China’s Dependence on Energy Imports

Gulf Energy Exports are China’s Main Strategic Interest

China’s Real World Strategic Interests in the East China Sea

China’s Real World Strategic Interests in the East China Sea

Chokepoints and Shipments from the Gulf are the Key Strategic Issue

The Expanding Role of Chinese Forces

The Impact of China’s Shift to a “Blue Water” Navy

Chinese Naval Modernization and its Impact on Nearby Waters, the Pacific and the IOR

Chinese Naval Forces in the IOR

The Expanding Role of Chinese Air Forces

Expanding PLAFF Strike and Power Projection Capabilities

A2/AD and Stealth Capabilities

Expanding Chinese Naval, Air, and Land-based Missile Forces

Chinese Claims to the South China Sea

Defining the Nine Dash Line and China’s Claims

2015 Land Reclamation Operations and Increasing Tensions in the South China Sea

Chinese Actions to Establish Control within the First Island Chain

The Successor to the Nine Dash Line?

Chapter 16: US and China: U.S. “Rebalancing” and THE CHINESE REACTION

U.S. “Rebalancing” to Asia

“Rebalancing” in 2012

“Rebalancing” in 2013

Secretary Hagel’s Summary in April 2014

“Rebalancing” in 2015

The FY2016 Shift to Global Rebalancing and a Focus on Force Cuts

Shifts from FY2013 to FY2016

US Force Strength in the Pacific: The US Pacific Command (PACOM)

The 2015 PACOM Posture Statement

U.S. Force Strength in the Gulf: The US Central Command

Shifts in U.S. Power Projection The US Air Sea Battle or JAM-GC

Defining the Air-Sea Battle in 2013

Tensions and the Potential for Conflict in the Pacific and IOR

Tensions between China and Asia States

Timelines and Incidents

China’s View of Disputes with Japan Involving the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands

China’s View of Disputes with Japan Involving the East China Sea

US and Chinese “Incidents”

The Japanese Response and the ADIZ Debate

The Japanese Reinterpretation of the Its Constitution and Collective Self Defense

The Impact of Shifts in US and Chinese Strategy and Forces in the Pacific and IOR

The Asian States

The Broader Strategic Impact of Chinese Military Modernization

Cooperation, Competition, or Conflict

Anthony H. Cordesman

Anthony H. Cordesman

Former Emeritus Chair in Strategy

Michael Wang

Steven Colley