I. DOD’s China Military Power Report Breakdown
The Pentagon’s 2020 China Military Power report is possibly the longest since the inception of the annual report series in 2000. As Chad Sbragia, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for China in the Indo-Pacific Division claimed, “The report has taken on particular importance as the DOD continues to address the strategic challenge posed by China and continue to implement the National Defense Strategy.”
The 2020 report is important as this year marks the deadline for the PLA to achieve mechanisation, first of the three stated goals- the other two being informatisation and becoming a world-class army by 2049. However, as the report highlights, becoming a world-class army is a means to an undefined goal/goals and not an end in itself. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has not defined what world-class means, but the report interprets it as at some level equal or even better than the US armed forces and other regional powers.
One important disclaimer before we deep-dive in this report is the 2019 cut-off, meaning the insights on the impact of the pandemic on China’s defence modernisation goals, its recent assertion in the east and the Sino-Indian dispute are not included in this report. For this, we would have to wait until 2021.
There are some remarkable observations made in this report, which are concerning for the US, India and other regional and extra-regional countries. First, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has the world’s largest navy. Though this is a known fact, I think, the emphasis should be given to the type of vessels China is manufacturing. Its focus has shifted from corvettes and frigates to destroyers, cruisers and amphibious warfare ships implying a move towards overseas capacity and Taiwan contingency (of course, amphibious capabilities would also be useful in the South China Sea). Two, the PRC has more than 1,250 ground-launched ballistic missiles and ground-launched cruise missiles. Three, it has one of the world’s largest force of advanced surface to air systems. In these three areas, the PRC is already ahead of the US.