Jeffrey LewisChinese Military Power, 2004

The 2004 edition of the Department of Defense/’s Annual Report on the Military Power of the People/’s Republic of China has been released and, well, it is pretty disappointing. The most important sections (according to DOD) are actually shorter than those in the 2003 edition, and the act of condensing some sections has destroyed any meaning or sense to them.

First, the DASD for Asia-Pacific Affairs told Congress earlier this year that “some larger relative portion [of Chinese Military Power] is devoted to the area of space and military use of space.” Hard to figure how DOD accomplished that: I count 198 words on Chinese counterspace capabilities this year, for example, compared to 419 last year-even though the 2004 edition is a couple of pages longer.

The 198 words are not terribly interesting either. Items of note include:

1. The removal of relatively detailed descriptions, based on various intelligence sources, regarding Chinese laser capabilities. These are replaced with references to “press accounts” that DOD calls “unclear.”

2. The repetition of the “parasitic satellite” allegation that appeared in a Hong Kong newspaper, noting that the “claim is being evaluated” by someone (the passive voice obscures the subject of the sentence). Here is the original Hong Kong report (translated by FBIS). You tell me if this is something you would cite in a college essay, let alone a government report.

Last year, DOD claimed that “specific Chinese programs for a laser ASAT system have not been identified.” This year, DOD asserts that “China clearly is working on, and plans to field, ASATs” citing “additional press reports and activities at several laser institutes.” DOD makes no effort to reconcile those statements.

Second, the report advertises an “expanded treatment of the economic context of defense spending, specifically including additional fidelity interpreting the breakout of the budget and how the budget fits within the context of the leadership/’s economic priorities.” I simply don/’t see anything anywhere in the text that resembles the word salad “specifically including additional fidelity interpreting the breakout …” In fact, DOD provides little budget detail (compare with a competent analysis) and, as best I can tell, DOD just cribs the methodology from a RAND study.

Finally, the DOD section on strategic forces has also been shortened. Items of note include:

1. The claim that China is “augmenting the nuclear force/’s operational capabilities for contingencies in East Asia.” This claim leaves the impression that China is preparing to use nuclear weapons in regional contingencies – a violation of their pledge not to use nuclear weapons except in retaliation against a nuclear attack. But I think it refers to the Chinese decision to convert some nuclear capable ballistic missiles to carry conventional warheads – in other words, the sentence implies the opposite of what is actually happening within the Chinese Second Artillery. That was more clear in last year/’s document.

2. The report repeats the claim, first advanced in the Cox Report, that “China is replacing all of its roughly 20 CSS-4 Mod 1 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) with the longer range CSS-4 Mod 2” a modernization program – a program that a former Commander of STRATCOM described as “nothing significant.”

3. Deployment dates for two new Chinese ballistic missiles (DF-31 and JL-2) may have slipped from “mid-to-late-decade” to “by the end of the decade” but that might be splitting hairs given the overall lack of competence displayed in this document.

Ladies and Gentlemen, your tax dollars at work.