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Pentagon Surprised, Concerned as China Debuts High-Tech Weapons

4 years ago
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David Wood
Chief Military Correspondent
The Chinese military is making significant advances in sophisticated weapons at a pace that has caught the Pentagon off guard, a senior U.S. intelligence official acknowledged.

The new weapons, coming as China's navy becomes more assertive in the western Pacific and South China Sea, include an advanced long-range ballistic missile, the Dong Feng 21D, said to be able to hit U.S. aircraft carriers before they are in striking range of the Chinese coast, and a new stealth fighter that could challenge the best new American fighter, the F-22.

"Across a broad array of weapons systems, they are making progress,'' U.S. Navy Vice Adm. David Dorsett told reporters Wednesday. While the development of the new stealth fighter was anticipated, he said that "the speed at which they are making progress . . . we underestimated.''

But Dorsett emphasized that while China is making worrisome advances in sophisticated conventional weapons like missiles and jet fighters, the larger concern is China's intent and capability to wield "non-kinetic'' power in the form of cyber warfare and offensive and defensive information warfare.

"I don't think we are behind'' in these new forms of warfare," Dorsett said, "Are we where we want to be in the future? No, but we are building the foundations.''

Revelations about the new weapons -- the first video of the Chinese stealth fighter just became available on the Internet -- come just in advance of a new series of U.S.-China diplomatic engagements. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is preparing to leave for a long-delayed visit to China this week, where he will hold a series of meetings with military officials. And on Jan. 19, President Obama will host China's president, Hu Jintao, at the White House.

Both overtures are intended to repair relations with the Asian superpower that have been strained over differences on dealing with North Korea and Iran, and over trade, financial and currency issues.

But China's fast-growing military capabilities, and its recent muscle-flexing in the south China and Yellow Seas, clearly have caught the Pentagon's attention and concern. The United States in past months has quietly beefed up its military forces in the Far East, stationing F-22 fighters on Guam and rotating aircraft carriers and nuclear attack submarines through the region. And this fall, Gates agreed to join Japan in opposing China's claims to the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

Dorsett said China has clearly developed a capability to field the anti-ship ballistic missile and to strike a "maneuvering target,'' such as an aircraft carrier. China also has acquired an old and decrepit Russian aircraft carrier that it will take to sea for testing this year, a step toward building its own carriers by 2020, Dorsett said.

Senior U.S. strategists worry that China's long-term goal is to hold at risk U.S. ships and military facilities in the Far East and beyond, an "anti-access'' strategy that would restrict the United States' military and diplomatic clout in the region. Threatening the regional operations of U.S. aircraft carriers -- the iconic symbols of American power -- is a key objective, they said.

Asked directly whether the Dong Feng 21D missile is an immediate threat to American aircraft carriers, Dorsett replied: "That's something I'd prefer not to talk about.''

The stealthy Chinese fighter appeared to have been rolled out for a runway test; in one frame of the video its front wheel seems to lift off the ground as it speeds down the tarmac.

Dorsett characterized the aircraft's status as "the front end of a capability'' China is trying to develop. He said he did not know when China might begin actual flight testing, but he asserted that an operational capability for the fighter is "years'' away.

To illustrate the accelerating speed at which China is developing sophisticated military capabilities, Dorsett said a decade ago it had no integrated "ISR'' system, referring to an integrated intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance capability to seek out, identify and fix distant and scattered targets. Today, China has such a system, he said. Within the past 10 years China also has developed and deployed an over-the-horizon radar. Both capabilities significantly threaten U.S. naval freedom of action in the western Pacific.

But he questioned China's ability to become "operationally proficient'' at fusing the capabilities of its individual weapons systems into a coordinated, networked war-fighting capability that can be effectively wielded by highly trained personnel. "I don't see that now,'' he said. "I don't see them as 10 feet tall. . . . I am not worried. I am very focused. . . . But we need to look to the future.''

Dorsett said he is "more concerned about the non-kinetic'' capabilities being developed by China, including cyber warfare and systems that combine intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems where the United States has long held a global lead.

"We are still trying to develop, to get our heads around a paradigm shift from the industrial warfare age to the information age,'' Dorsett said. He cited the progress the Navy and the Defense Department have made in developing cyber-war capabilities, and stressed that this work must continue to stay ahead of other powers.

"This is one where we don't want to shoot behind the target,'' he said.

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The US deployed such A/C in the mid 80's-more than 25 years ago. It's ability to hit anything over the horizon at sea with a "ballistic missile" is highly questionable and technically far fetched. CTOL at sea as well as projection of forces is decades away. But hey is's great for the DOD budget!

January 07 2011 at 11:26 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

One cannot help but be surprised by how surprised our government is every time China or some other nuclear nation comes out with bigger and better weapons while we cut our own arsenals. I for one am not at all surprised, ever.

January 06 2011 at 5:41 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

Why should we be suprised, Clinton gave our technology to them.

January 06 2011 at 11:57 AM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply

You want manufacturing to return to the U.S, we ALL DO!!
But this starts with COOPERATION with the government.
Punishing taxes, overreaching EPA rules and regs and the Union's ,"my way or the highway" mentality has ALL conspired to drive manufacturing out of the U.S.
The idea that China has slave labor is a falsehood. What they have is cooperation with the government and NOT an adversarial attitude like we are faced with here.
None of this can happen with out a sensible approach to a return of manufacturing as a example of what NOT to do, where did all the defense contractors in California go? answer: anywhere but California. Until the tree hugging leftist understand what harm THEY are doing in the big picture ,WE ARE DOOMED TO BE SECOND CLASS.
Conservation is fine....but not when it puts the WHOLE COUNTRY AT RISK!
It is way past the time that the America public pushes back at government interference in manufacturing and productive if we want to live like Americans and not a third world country. This does not mean a return to careless and reckless pollution ,just common sense.

January 06 2011 at 8:23 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to sysaphus71's comment

Yeah like the "poor" corporations who outsource jobs to .10 cents an hour Chinese slave labor is a falsehood? . Manufacturing was shipped overseas to take advantage of the slave labor wages. Yet the price of goods has increased. Where is the extra money going? To the tree huggers? If it wasn't for Unions most of us would still be working in the coal mines for low wages. I can't understand how Americans can attack the very things that built this country to number 1 living standard in the HISTORY OF THE WORLD. Our ancestors didn't achieve the American dream by being timid or mis-informed. Everything the older timers achieved sold to the lowest bidder. Then excused with mis-information and corporate sponsered propaganda. Tree huggers? Since when can a tree hugger tell a corporation what to do?

January 23 2011 at 2:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This is what happens when you give all your hard earned money to buy all the products which are "Made In China". What you did not think this would happen??? They are and will be the next Supper Power and we can't stop them. With nothing being made in America anymore, we are Screwed! America does NOT have enough money to even begin to compeat with China. It makes me sick to think our Goverment let this Happen!! You can all Thank them for this. Bring back all manufacturing and jobs to America and we might have a chance. I feel sorry for my five children I brought into this world.

January 06 2011 at 7:12 AM Report abuse +7 rate up rate down Reply

If this plane works like everything else from that dung heap China then were in luck... the little zips will be falling out of the skies shortly after take off...
no doubt it's painted with lead based paint besides anyone ever hear of PRE-EMPTIVE STRIKE...

January 06 2011 at 7:11 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Ken Siemers Sr.

And our brilliant president Obama continues to reduce our military strength, bring don't ask, don't tell to the top of the agenda and think he can negotiate with terrorists. If he isn't kicked out of office soon, we're doomed as a nation.

January 06 2011 at 7:11 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

And just think, these are only the weapons that they are showing off, what other weapons have been developed that are still being hid in the closet? I am sure there are weapons of such mass distruction that all it would take is the touch of a button and this star we live on would no longer exist. All it takes in one person who has risen to power who's mind is evil and who doesn't care about life or death and that will be the end of the human race as the universe knows it. Let us hope that person never gets the opportunity to be alone with that one button.

January 06 2011 at 3:35 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Whats the big surprise - they have our jobs and money and we handed it over to them.
We are too busy worried about being politically correct and wasting tax payer money.

January 06 2011 at 2:14 AM Report abuse +7 rate up rate down Reply

Our military spending budget has always been at LEAST 50x larger than China's military spending budget at any time of history, even today we are, this is public information easily found on the internet. We've been developing modern weapons since the early 1900's. China only started modernizing it's forces in the late 1980's. How did they catch up so fast, how the hell did they even catch up, with MUCH LESS time and MUCH MUCH MUCH LESS money?! Is the US really this incompetent. With all the money/time spent, we should be EONS ahead of them and should continue to do so without feeling them being a threat! Where did all our spent money go?!

January 06 2011 at 12:41 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

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