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To Sequestrate, or Not to Sequestrate: The Impact of Covid-19 on Military Budgets

Ilya Kramnik

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The ongoing coronavirus pandemic combined with the resulting economic crisis is already affecting behaviors of most countries in the world, including leading military powers. Thus, the adjustment of state expenditures, such as military budgets, is almost unavoidable in this situation. At the same time, a number of countries will inevitably try to support their technology leaders, as a rule, major weapons and equipment manufacturers included. This article attempts to forecast possible reactions of the planet’s military leaders with a focus on their priorities in the event of a deepening crisis.

In case of positive developments (i.e. limited damages and the rapid economic recovery), military programs on all sides stay practically intact and more attention is given to the automation of some processes and further “depopulation” of the military sphere.

An interim option suggests that the global restoration will last a few years and only the United States can avoid serious revisions by taking advantage of its position as the issuer of the world currency; however, some plans will likely be revised in favor of more effective employment and development of the national industry.

A negative scenario involves a serious collapse, including a number of global financial corporations becoming bankrupt. Behaviors of the military leaders and countries of the Second or Third Echelon will differ dramatically: the latter will practically stop the procurement of new equipment and in some cases be forced to make substantial reductions in the armed forces; the former will consider the military industry, first of all, in the context of saving their own economies, which implies significant changes in priorities, the preservation of serial productions of equipment, albeit in reduced production volumes, and the slow-down of expensive and promising R&D, which in early stages mainly generates costs.

The USA: More Money for Each and Every One!

The U.S. behavior in financing military programs will generally be determined by its macroeconomic policy, which so far has been within the expected range: the Federal Reserve has already announced extensive new measures to support the economy, including the explicitly stated program of supporting a generous lending to businesses. US President Donald Trump, in turn, decides against the nation-wide quarantine in order to ensure the functioning of economy, though, a final decision on this issue is yet to be made.

Given statements made and the memorandum issued by Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen M. Lord on the need to maintain the production of armaments and military equipment, it can be assumed that the United States, at least in the nearest future, intends not to reduce its military production programs.

Nevertheless, the memorandum outlines some priorities and the following areas were identified in this capacity: aerospace; mechanical and software engineers; manufacturing/production workers; IT support; security staff; intelligence support; aircraft and weapons systems mechanics and maintainers; suppliers of medical supplies and pharmaceuticals; and critical transportation.

Based on these priorities, it can be concluded that, most likely, all programs on upgrading the U.S. Air Force as well as space programs will be preserved. In addition, existing contracts concluded for the production of military equipment for other types of armed forces will be executed in order to provide support for production enterprises. At the same time, it is possible that some R&D expenses will be reduced in early stages of the cycle as they require substantial funds and not give a large number of jobs and man-hours in the short term.

This approach cannot be called new. A support for the economy through government spending, including the military one, was characteristic of the American leadership in the midst of the Great Depression in the early 1930s. The economic crisis did not obstruct financing of the construction of almost two dozen cruisers, four aircraft carriers, and a large number of ships of other classes for the U.S. Navy during this period; at the same time, the polit-military situation at that moment did not necessitate strengthened procurement; however, a few projects in initial stages of development were put on hold, which subsequently led to a shortage of modern equipment in the U.S. Army and military aviation in the first period of World War II.

The key difference with the current situation is the transition of priorities from the fleet to the Air Force and the space group. The fleet can still get its share in the form of increasing the production volume of existing types of ships and vessels. Previously announced plans to increase the number of U.S. Navy ships of main classification types to 355 are likely to remain in the category of intentions, especially taking into account the probable early disposal of various obsolete assets and the ability to order new ones to replace them.

Russia: Revising Priorities

Given the general economic environment, the situation for Russia is different: the ruble is not a world currency or a universal medium of exchange, which limits possibilities of supporting the national economy by emission methods, the way the United States is trying to do. A fall in budget revenues, due both to the collapse of oil prices and the reduction in tax revenues because of the economic downturn aggravated by the current pandemic, will inevitably require a revision of the state armament program priorities, even if nominal costs do not change.

Taking into account the traditional prioritization of the Russian military development in the post-Soviet period, objects of the defense spending sequestration are totally clear. Most likely programs for the Navy, which is already at the bottom of the military priorities pyramid, will be reviewed, including the development of new projects of capital ships (the new generation of aircraft carriers and Leader-class destroyers) and the reduction in infrastructure renovation costs in several districts, such as the Arctic. The program of modernization of ships and submarines built in 1980–1990s is also at risk, given the previous tendency to exceed funding figures and shift work timeframes. In face of quarantine measures, plans to construct new ships within the framework of the state defense order for 2020 are sure to be tilted.

Land forces are also among the likeliest victims. The high cost of finalizing and launching a series of new models of armored vehicles on promising Armata, Kurganets, and Boomerang platforms has already forced lifting the large-scale production of these vehicles, and they again become the first in line for budget cuts in the current situation. At the same time, artillery weapon modernization programs will most probably be unaffected, given the growing role of long-range artillery systems equipped with the guided ammunition and the target designation from unmanned aerial vehicles, among other things.

The nuclear deterrence and aerospace forces remain as priorities for the Russian military construction, but a revision of expenditures is inevitable here too. In the area of strategic nuclear forces, projects for the revival of railway-based ICBM most likely will be canceled. They are currently represented by Barguzin ICBM, the need and serial prospects of which have repeatedly arose doubts. Developing the Burevestnik nuclear-armed cruise missile with a nuclear propulsion system will be certainly postponed (if not completely canceled). At the same time, serial productions of ballistic missiles Yars and Bulava, as well as Sarmat, all of which are in late stages of development, will continue per program.

As of procurement for the aerospace forces, the first to suffer will be early-stage developments: promising Long-Range Aviation and Transport Aviation branches (PAK DA, PAK TA). A reduction of funding is also possible for a number of other projects, such as the upgrade of Su-30 fighter aircrafts and Su-34 bomber/strike aircrafts, the development of a promising medium military transport aircraft, the new product family of Marine Corps helicopters, etc. At the same time, the military department and the industry leadership will probably strive to maintain the serial production of modern aircrafts, so the termination of the procurement of aircrafts under construction is implausible.

With respect to air defense and missile defense technologies, the S-500 missile system, encountering high expectations as a promising air defense/missile defense weapon in the theater of operations, will certainly go into serial production. A shift to the right is also possible for the large-scale delivery of S-350, a non-critical element in the Russian air defense system production line, as its range of operations is covered by other systems from above and from below.

Space vehicles will inevitably preserve, and possibly improve, their positions in the priority list, given the vital role of space reconnaissance, navigation, and communications in ensuring the country’s defense capabilities, as well as prospects for the deployment of anti-satellite weapons by leading global actors. In this regard, the development of electronic technologies for space military equipment almost unavoidably becomes a top priority, the procurement of imported equipment being even more complicated than ever before.

To the detriment of traditional weapon systems, the share of spending for unmanned vehicles, especially battlefield UAVs, will significantly increase on account of capabilities they have demonstrated in local conflicts, particularly in Syria. The availability of workable reconnaissance-strike systems, including reconnaissance-strike UAVs, space-based systems, long-range artilleries, and the aviation with high-precision weapons, can drastically reduce the number of traditional weapons systems needed to solve most tasks on the battlefield.

Europe: At Whose Expense?

Military budgets of European countries are very difficult to compare, primarily because expenditures of Germany, the top 5 world economy, for instance, and Estonia, one of the world’s smallest economies, are formed on the basis of completely different priorities. European countries in the Second or Third Echelon have already begun to reduce military spending during the ongoing crisis, for example, the Czech Republic envisages postponing the purchase of military equipment worth CZK 2.9 billion (about USD 120 million). Defense budget corrections are expected in other NATO countries as well. At the same time, Secretary General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg encouraged the member states not just to maintain but even increase their military spending.

Potential effects of the current crisis on the stability and prospects of the NATO Alliance as a whole is a separate topic worthy of reflection, but within the framework of this article a primary focus will be given to expected behaviors of European countries and leaders of the Alliance, whose military spending can be a tool to save their own and the pan-European economy.

From this point of view, one should await a reduction in expenditures for exercises, as not creating additional jobs their costs only bring losses in a crisis situation. The ongoing pandemic has already led to such a reduction by forcing to cancel scheduled series of NATO exercises, and given economic prospects, no one is expecting large-scale exercises the following year.

NATO leaders will also have to solve the complicated issue of supporting their arms and military equipment manufacturers, that is technology leaders of the European industry, and this pie will need to be cut for several eaters at once. The simplest case is Great Britain, which stopped being a EU member this year, as the support of BAE Systems is its, and partly the U.S.’s, national task; however, within the continental Europe the competition among manufacturers for a share in military spending and anti-crisis packages will sharply increase.

A substantial part of the military budgets will certainly be redirected to sustain Airbus. Provided the expected many-fold reduction in Airbus deliveries, the fall of the company, which was very likely to happen, will leave Europe without its own civilian aircraft manufacturer. The rescue of Airbus will require, among other things, the participation of Great Britain, whose industry is equally interested in maintaining the existence of a pan-European manufacturer of civilian aircrafts.

What is anticipated for combat aircrafts is, first, braking the work process on existing European perspective fighters (French-German FCAS, British-Italian Tempest) and second, a possible revision of current procurement plans by a number of countries, especially with regard to the U.S. 5th Generation F-35 fighter, shifting the timeline to the right: Europe’s participation in this program is not so extensive and makes no warranties in the period when belts must be tightened.

The work on the promising Franco-German tank project KANT, which has been underway since 2015, will be postponed as well. The project involves the creation of a single main battle tank for the armies of the two countries. At this stage, the project requires further investment, but hardly creates production orders or jobs, unlike serial armored vehicles.

Still, this is a longer-term prospect; for now the epidemic is slowing down the ongoing working process. Fincantieri (Italy) and Navantia (Spain) shipbuilding groups, for example, have already reduced their activities. Considering serious damages that the epidemic has already caused to both countries, especially in terms of declining tourism revenues in GDP, it can be assumed that further activities of the defense industries in Italy and Spain will be revised based on their states of the economy in the post-epidemic period. French shipbuilders, who have not yet stopped productions but have reduced their activities and changed some work protocols, too will have to revise their plans. The priority task for the Naval Groupi is to maintain the combat effectiveness of French nuclear submarines and the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle. That said, it is thus far difficult to say what kind of impact the crisis will have on the scheduled test program of Suffren submarine, the newest Barracuda class attack submarine.

Nonetheless, according to Petr Topychkanov, Senior Researcher at SIPRI, there is no reason to expect big changes: “The current crisis is another reason for NATO to urge its members to integrate more and increase military capabilities and expenditures. In addition to the traditional threat in the form of the eastern neighbor, whose name was mentioned in connection with the information policy allegedly pursued to spread disinformation and panic over COVID-19, there are now new threats like the virus itself, and the Alliance members were not quite ready for it (but who was ready?). While European countries are only approaching the peak of the epidemic, it is difficult to predict its long-term effect on military spending and the development of the defense industry. So far, we have not heard about the serious need to reduce military spending in favor of restoring the socio-economic sphere. The absence of such rhetoric, together with signals from NATO, suggest that the Alliance members will try to maintain or even increase military spending. Because of the crisis, they will have to adjust priorities, revise schedules, but these changes are unlikely to lead to a long-term decline in military expenditure or the withdrawal of large companies from the arms market”.

A Scenario Check

Any forecast should describe a future scenario that can later be checked for compliance with real events, further assessing the given forecast. The above outlined provisions can briefly be summarized as follows:

In case of positive developments (i.e. limited damages and the rapid economic recovery), military programs on all sides stay practically intact and more attention is given to the automation of some processes and further “depopulation” of the military sphere;

An interim option suggests that the global restoration will last a few years and only the United States can avoid serious revisions by taking advantage of its position as the issuer of the world currency. Some plans, tough, will likely be revised in favor of more effective employment and development of the national industry;

A negative scenario involves a serious collapse, including a number of global financial corporations becoming bankrupt. Behaviors of the military leaders and countries of the Second or Third Echelon will differ dramatically: the latter will practically stop the procurement of new equipment and in some cases be forced to make substantial reductions in the armed forces; the former will consider the military industry, first of all, in the context of saving their own economies, which implies significant changes in priorities, the preservation of serial productions of equipment, albeit in reduced production volumes, and the slow-down of expensive and promising R&D, which in early stages mainly generates costs.

From our partner RIAC

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22 Years of Nuclearization of South Asia: Current Doctrinal Postures

Haris Bilal Malik

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May 2020 marks the 22nd anniversary of the overt nuclearization of South Asia. The evolved nuclear doctrinal postures of both India and Pakistan have been a key component of their defence and security policies. During this period; India has undergone gradual shifts in its nuclear doctrinal posture. The Indian posture as set out in the 1999 ‘Draft Nuclear Doctrine‘ (DND) was based on an assertion that India would pursue the ‘No First Use’ (NFU) policy. The first amendment to this posture, which came out in January 2003, was based on a review by the Indian Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) of the nuclear doctrine. It stated that if India’s armed forces or its people were attacked with chemical and biological weapons, India reserves the right to respond with nuclear weapons. This review could, therefore, be considered a contradiction to India’s declared NFU policy at the doctrinal level. On the basis of this notion, it could be assumed that India has had an aspiration to drift away from its NFU policy since 2003.

Subsequently, the notion of a preemptive ‘splendid first strike‘ has been a key part of the discourse surrounding the Indian and international strategic community since the years 2016-2017. According to this, if in India’s assessment, Pakistan was found to be deploying nuclear weapons, in a contingency, India would resort to such a splendid first strike. With such a doctrinal posture, India’s quest for preemption against Pakistan seems to be an attempt to neutralize the deterrent value of Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities. In this regard, India has been constantly advancing its nuclear weapons capabilities based on enhanced missile programs and the development of its land, sea, and air-based nuclear triad thus negating its own NFU policy. This vindicates Pakistan’s already expressed doubts over India’s long-debated NFU policy. Such Indian notion would likely serve as an overt drift towards a more offensive counterforce doctrinal posture aimed at undermining Pakistan’s deterrence posture. This would further affect the strategic stability and deterrence equilibrium in the South Asian region.

India’s rapid augmentation of its offensive doctrinal posture vis-à-vis Pakistan is based on enhancing its strategic nuclear capabilities. Under its massive military up-gradation program, India has developed the latest versions of ballistic and cruise missiles, indigenous ballistic missile defence (BMD) systems in addition to Russian made S-400, nuclear submarines, and enhanced capabilities for space weaponization. In the same vein, India’s aspiration for supersonic and hypersonic weapons is also evidence of its offensive doctrinal posture. Furthermore, India has been carrying out an extensive cruise missile development program having incredible supersonic speed along with its prospective enhanced air defence shield. Through considerable technological advancements India has shifted its approach from a counter-value to a counter-force doctrinal posture, as it demonstrates its ambitions of achieving escalation-dominance throughout the region. These technological advancements are clear indicators that India’s doctrinal posture is aimed at destabilizing the existing nuclear deterrence equilibrium in South Asia.

Pakistan, on the other hand has been threatened by India’s offensive postures and hegemonic aspirations. Consequently it has to maintain a certain balance of power to preserve its security. Pakistan’s doctrinal posture is defensive in nature and has over the years shifted from strategic deterrence to ‘full spectrum deterrence’ (FSD) by adding tactical nuclear weapons which, it claims, falls within the threshold of ‘minimum credible deterrence’. In this regard, Pakistan too has developed its missile technology based on; short, intermediate, and long-range ballistic missiles. Pakistan’s tactical range ‘Nasr’ missile is widely regarded as a ‘weapon of deterrence’ aimed at denying space for a limited war imposed by India. The induction of ‘multiple independent reentry vehicle’ (MIRV), the development of land, air and sea-launched cruise missiles and the provision of a naval-based second-strike capability have all played a significant role in the preservation of minimum credible deterrence and the assurance of full-spectrum deterrence at the strategic, operational and tactical levels.

Contrary to India’s declared NFU policy, Pakistan has never made such an assertion and has deliberately maintained a policy of ambiguity concerning a nuclear first strike against India. This has been carried out to assure its security and to preserve its sovereignty by deterring India with the employment of Full Spectrum Deterrence (FSD) within the ambit of Credible Minimum Deterrence. This posture asserts that since Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are for defensive purposes in principle, they are aimed at deterring India from any and all kinds of aggression. This has been evident from recent crisis situations as well during which Pakistan’s deterrent posture has prevented further escalation. Therefore, even now Pakistan is likely to keep its options open and still leave room for the possibility of carrying out a ‘first strike’ as a viable potential deterrent against India if any of its stated red lines are crossed.

Hence, the security dynamics of the South Asian region have changed significantly since its nuclearization in 1998. The impact of this has been substantial and irreversible on regional and extra-regional politics, the security architecture of South Asia, and the international nuclear order. As has been long evident India has held long term inspiration to become a great power. There have been continuous insinuations about the transformations in India’s nuclear doctrinal posture from ‘No First Use’ to counterforce offensive posture. The current security architecture of South Asia revolves around this Indian behavior as a nuclear state. In contrast, Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine is based solely on assuring its security, preserving its sovereignty, and deterring India by maintaining a credible deterrence posture.  Based on the undeniable threats from India to its existence, Pakistan needs to further expand its doctrinal posture vis-à-vis India. This would preserve the pre-existing nuclear deterrence equilibrium and the ‘balance of power’in the South Asian region.

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Israel Shines in the Gulf Where Big Powers Falter, but That Could Prove Tricky

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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The Firefly, an Israeli-built loitering kamikaze drone, part of the Spike family of missiles that the Jewish state has sold to various European nations, may be one reason why Gulf states, and particularly Saudi Arabia, have cozied up to Israel in a seeming reversal of their past support of Palestinian rights.

If there is one lesson that Gulf states have learned from the United States’ reduced commitment to the region and the strains in US-Saudi relations, it is that putting one’s eggs in one basket is risky business.

That has not prevented the United States from continuing to secure its place as the region’s foremost arms supplier as this month’s arms and related commercial deals prove.

The US Defense Department announced a $2.6 billion USD Saudi deal to acquire 1,000 air-to-surface and anti-ship missiles from Boeing. Within days, Saudi Arabia’s Al Tadrea Manufacturing Company tweeted that it had reached agreement with Oshkosh Defense to establish a joint venture to manufacture armed vehicles in the kingdom.

The Public Investment Fund, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, disclosed separately that it had recently taken a $ 713.7 million USD stake in Boeing at a time when the company, already suffering major setbacks because of its 737-Max fiasco, took a significant hit as a result of a collapse of the civilian aviation industry.

The continued Saudi arms focus on the United States has not deprived China of opportunities. China has stepped in to help Saudi Arabia produce unmanned military vehicles after the United States refused to sell its MQ-9 Reaper killer drone to the kingdom. Saudi Arabia expects production to start next year.

Like China, Russia has been urging Saudi Arabia to purchase its acclaimed S-400 anti-missile defense system. So far, the kingdom, having watched the United States cancel NATO-member Turkey’s purchase of US F-35 fighter jets and its co-production agreement of some of the plane’s components after it acquired the Russian system, has been reticent to take the Russians up on their offer.

The limitations of Saudi-Russian cooperation have since become obvious with April’s price war between the two major oil producers that sent oil markets into a tailspin from which they are unlikely to recover any time soon.

Israel, like China and Russia and unlike the United States, puts no problematic restrictions such as adherence to human rights and use of weaponry in accordance with international law on its arms sales.

But Israel has one leg up on its Chinese and Russian competitors who maintain close ties to Iran. Israel shares with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) a perception of Iran as an existential threat and a destabilizing force in the Middle East that at the very least needs to be contained.

To be sure, that is a perception that Saudi Arabia and the UAE see reflected in the United States’ maximum pressure policy towards Iran which aims to force the Islamic Republic to “change its behavior,” if not change its regime.

The problem is that maximum pressure two years into the imposition of harsh US economic sanctions has produced little result.

Add to that the fact that the United States has proven to be an unreliable ally when the chips are down, persuading the UAE and other smaller Gulf states to reach out to Iran to ensure that their critical national infrastructure does not become a target in any future major US-Iranian military conflagration.

The watershed moment for the Gulf states was when the United States failed to respond forcefully last spring and summer to alleged Iranian attacks on key Saudi oil facilities as well as oil tankers off the coast of the UAE.

The Trump administration, in a bid to reassure Gulf states, weeks later sent troops and Patriot anti-missile defense systems to Saudi Arabia to help it protect its oil installations, although the United States withdrew two of those systems earlier this month.

It took the killing of a US military contractor in December 2019 for the United States to respond to tens of Iranian-backed attacks on American targets in Iraq. And when it did, with the killing in January of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, Gulf states privately celebrated the demise of their nemesis, but also feared that it was overkill, bringing the Middle East to the brink of an all-out war.

Gulf states are likely to find that cooperation with Israel has its limits too. Israel may be eager to sell weaponry and have the capability to push back at Iran in Syria. If need be, Israel can also severely damage, if not take out, Iranian nuclear and missile facilities in military strikes that Gulf states would be unable to carry out.

But ties to Israel remain a sensitive issue in the Gulf and elsewhere in the Arab and Muslim world. And Israel has so far restricted sales to non-lethal equipment and technology. That could change with a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the establishment of formal diplomatic relations.

Public opinion, however, may be one reason Gulf states have refused to turn unofficial relations into diplomatic recognition, suggesting that there may be greater public empathy for Palestinians than Gulf rulers wish to admit.

That could count for more with Gulf rulers finding it increasingly difficult to provide public goods and services, among which first and foremost jobs, as a result of the global economic crisis and the collapse of oil prices.

Author’s note: This story was first published in Inside Arabia

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China’s Revolution in Military Affairs with Chinese Characteristics

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China’s political leadership had ascribed the first two decades of the 21st century as a “period of strategic opportunity.” After considerable and due evaluation of the prevailing international conditions, China’s politburo determined that the weather was conducive to conduct domestic development and expand Beijing’s “comprehensive national power,” a term that embodies all components of state power in addition to economic capacity, military prowess, and diplomacy. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP), had engineered a successful model to utilise the paradigm of national power to cater to Beijing’s overarching strategic aspirations, as well as to guarantee the protection of the CCP’s control in the state while ensuring domestic political stability.

Besides, the CCP also envisaged a positive sustainable trajectory for its economic development and postulated a comprehensive plan for the defence of its national security, with the purpose of expanding globally its national status as a great power. In contrast, there was considerable reservation regarding the success of this ambitious drive within the academic community in China, questioning Beijing’s capabilities to sustain the “period of strategic opportunity” during the two decades. However, the Chinese authorities in their defence pointed out the urgent need for achieving the strategic objectives, to claim the global hegemonic status. The call for an immediate rehaul of its National Defence edifice, is also the result of the constant dynamic changes in the international security structure. Rising hegemonism, power politics, and regular regional conflicts and wars have also undermined the global security order. In view of the growing global strategic competition, China is attempting to expedite its modernisation drive to achieve its twenty-year plan, with utmost focus on innovation, science & technology.

Beijing’s politico-strategic community has often reiterated the importance of achieving two critical goals of economic and military landmarks by the year 2020. The first goal is meant to oversee the inclusion of a successful model of an economic structure to help sustain the growth and improve the quality of life of its people while ensuring a socio-economic stability in the state, while the second goal is intended to rehaul the national defence and armed forces through the process of mechanisation and the inclusion of “informatisation” warfare in view of enhancing its “overall strategic capabilities”. These military initiatives are intended to spur the Chinese military in acquiring the capacity and strength to win potential regional conflicts, to safeguard the Sea Lines of Communication (SLOCs), to defend territorial claims in the East China Sea and the South China Sea and to protect its territorial sovereignty on the western borders.

Through multiple official press statements, prominent Chinese leaders have accentuated the imperative for a military modernisation in the 21st century, presuming Beijing aspires to gain the great power status. These statements also endorse Beijing’s view that a modern military is an imperative form of deterrence against enemies and prevailing threats to Chinese interests, globally. The Chinese leadership has further articulated and justified the ongoing military modernisation programme in the Chinese defence white paper of 2019, by stating that China’s strong military is a force for ensuring “world peace and stability,” while assuring a “comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security by upholding justice while pursuing shared interests” with its various stakeholders. To commensurate with what was earlier said, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang stated, “We will stick to Chinese path in strengthening our armed forces, advance all aspects of military training, war preparedness and firmly and resolvedly safeguard national sovereignty, security and development interests.” In the background of all the rhetoric concerning the modernisation, one thing is certain, Beijing has systematically induced and justified the obligation for the military modernisation not only to its people but also to the global audience, by depicting a political idealist narrative.

Elements of the Modernisation Program

In the last 20 years, Beijing, in a comprehensive effort to bolster its military power, has undertaken the modernisation and upgradation programme of its services. The rationale for such an initiative accounts for achieving multiple objectives in a single stroke, such as, attaining the status of a world power, accruing of “hard” power through military reformation, harnessing and protecting the state’s interests of  “soft” power components of a growing economy, and enhancing diplomatic and cultural ties. Time and again, Beijing has preferred the use of hard power to protect and project its regional interests, settle its territorial claims in the South China Sea and its border disputes along the North East border with India, and also to safeguard the SLOCs which are instrumental for its energy supplies and maritime commerce.

Since the currency of military power has been identified as the primary instrument to protect, project and resolve its national interests, the Chinese leadership has initiated the revamping of its military structure by transforming it into a leaner, robust, technologically advanced force, while increasing its naval capabilities in order to serve its core national strategy. As part of this initiative, China had retired 300,000 troops in a single year in 2018, to improve the quality of recruitment by inducting elite technocrats in the ranks. Parallelly, China wants to upscale its capacities for the Military Operations Other Than War (MOOTW), with the aim of maintaining its growing global interests, by engaging and participating actively in activities such as peacekeeping missions, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations, anti-piracy operations and play the constabulary role of securing and maintaining the global passages. The agenda behind China’s modernisation programme is the creation of a war machine that not only challenges the presence of the American might in the Indo-Pacific region, but which also establishes itself as the sole hegemon in the region.

Additionally, China’s defence programme is aimed at constructing a technologically advanced force, adequately capable of engaging and winning “limited local wars under conditions of ‘informatisation’.”

In such a scenario, the nature of battle would be short, intense and decisive, complimented by elements of speed, agility and precision of long-range assaults, a synchronized deployment of joint operations by air, land, sea, space, and electromagnetic space (a five-dimensional warfare) which will be assisted by the state-of-art munition systems. To achieve victory in the shortest span of time without any attrition to the troops, the doctrine underscores the importance of three tactical elements of pre-emption, surprise, and shock value, since these elements are critical in defining the outcome of any conflict at its earliest stage. As a result, the Chinese modernisation programme is restructuring and adapting itself on the basis of agility, flexibility, power projection, accuracy of precision-strikes. Furthermore, it is striving towards achieving a smooth functioning of joint operations to ensure effectiveness on the battlefield which in turn will result in a comprehensive victory in the shortest time with minimum casualty.

Beijing has initiated the march to transform the PLA into a lean and mean technologically oriented force while paving way for “informatisation” warfare. This domain of warfare consists of capabilities that are tantamount to C4ISR and are considered quintessential for operational effectiveness on battlefields. In order to build this  kind of techno-electronic warfare system, it is a prerequisite to integrate multiple high-end electronic and technological compounds such as the control of the electromagnetic spectrum through an integrated network electronic warfare grid while also, utilising technological advances in the field of microelectronics, sensors, propulsion, stealth technology, and other special materials. The integration of all these various components have helped arm the PLA with nuclear weapons and facilities, precision-strike weapons, including ballistic, anti-ship and cruise missiles, stealth technology and an “integrated network centric warfare” system.

With the advent of the concept of “informatisation” warfare, the Chinese military has moved from being a platform-centric to a network-centric force, where the PLA is principally dependent on the coordination of network linkages between platforms, which stands in dire contrast to the mandates of individual platforms themselves. Observing a quantum leap in the sphere of warfare strategy and in its military arsenal, the PLA has similarly witnessed a revolution at the operational level, switching from simple joint operations to a more dynamic and complex form of an Integrated Joint Operations (IJO). Formerly, joint operations were when two services operated together in any given environment, while one typically played the supporting role for the other, leading to very little coordination and integration in the command and control structure between the two services. However, with the inception of “informatisation” warfare and the induction of the IJO, the PLA has been provided with more flexibility and mobility pertaining to multi-service operations, which include non-PLA forces such as the reserved forces of the paramilitary and the local police force in certain measures.

In order to successfully operationalise the IJO system, the PLA is been tasked with the challenge of formulating a new kind of command and  control structure that  enables a seamless exchange of information between the three services and aids in multilevel synchronization in the decision-making process on real-time basis, during live operations. Lack of coordination between the military services has stymied the successful implementation of the IJO.

Other dimensions of technological warfare in the modernisation programme include the development of cyber and outer-space security. In the era of science and technology, cyberspace is an essential domain that needs to be controlled. It is not only a repository of data and information but also plays a vital role in building national security, economic and social growth, and development. The Chinese military has focussed its attention on its cyber security cell and has built cyber defence capabilities to rival other technologically superior countries, aiming to establish itself as the fore runner. A cyber division has been operationalised to detect and counter all foreign network intruders. The role of this organisation is to guarantee the safety of cyber data and information and asseverate sovereignty in the cyber realm.

The other key focus is on the development of the outer-space programme which Beijing perceives as a crucial domain of strategic international competition. Beijing has undertaken several international space cooperation and programmes and has initiated the development of space specific technologies and capabilities with the interest of providing strategic assistance for national and social development. It is also engaged in rendering advanced integrated space-based information resources, enhancing space situation awareness, protecting space assets, while also working to ensure free movement in the outer space.

China’s military is gearing towards the optimisation of its arsenal composition, by inducting the state of art machinery. Obsolete hardware and equipment are being decommissioned paving way for high- tech weaponry.  At the same time, it is fiercely working towards the successful formation of a network centric warfare system, where it can shape an efficient battle environment for smoother interoperability between different services. Complying with the era of information, science and technology, China is working unceasingly to build a military that is harnessed and powered by information and technology, in order to create a military unlike any other in the world.

Conclusion

China’s fundamental perception of modern warfare transmuted after the debacle of the first Gulf War in 1992, where America displayed conspicuous military superiority and operational efficiency over their adversary through the use of technology, to conduct clinical strikes on the battle-field with minimum loss of life. Having witnessed a phenomenal exhibition of the use of military technology in a theatre of war, China recognised the significance and the indispensability of the use of technology in modern warfare and thus initiated the modernisation programme of its armed forces. Instead of engaging in protracted wars, local wars were preferred wherein, “quick battles to force quick resolution”.

Taking queue from “informatisation” warfare as the kernel of the modernisation programme, the PLA has  pressed  for a “Revolution in Military  Affairs” with  typical  “Chinese characteristics”.  It  has scientifically and systematically formulated the strategic plans for its national defence and armed forces and put it into motion in 2010, while also framing a comprehensive strategy to help develop its logistics support for the development of its arms and services corps. According to its twenty-year plan, China has sought to complete the mechanisation process of its forces and has desired to make significant progress in innovation and technology to strengthen its information and communication command structure by 2020.

However, regarding the mechanisation process, the PLA “has yet to complete the task of mechanisation and is in urgent need of improving its informatisation.” Since it is unable to keep abreast with the rate of technological development, it is falling behind schedule. China’s latest defence white paper 2019, clearly  outlines  certain  key elements  of the modernisation  programme  which  require immediate attention and application in the military domain, and those include, artificial intelligence, quantum information, cloud computing and the operationalisation of cutting edge-technologies. Driven by the need to “develop an intelligent military”, the PLA has transformed its “quantity-and-scale model military into a quality and efficient one” that is “science and technologically-intense”.

Furthermore, the PLA regards the use of innovation and information as key ingredients to the success of future combats, while assuring an asymmetric engagement. As China’s rivalry with America and its neighbouring countries keeps intensifying, it will be interesting to observe the manner in which China will tackle its modernisation challenges and technological shortcomings in the coming decades, in order to challenge the American military might and to displace their global hegemonic status.

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