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September 7, 2018 | International, Aerospace, Naval, Land, C4ISR

Pentagon Report Shows China’s Continually Modernizing and Growing Military Capabilities

By Dean Cheng

The Department of Defense has released the latest edition of its report on Chinese military and security developments.

Mandated in the fiscal 2000 National Defense Authorization Act, the annual report is an important source of regular updates regarding China's growing military capabilities and its expanding range of security-related activities.

Since the People's Republic of China halted the publication of its biennial defense white papers in 2015, there are few other good sources of information on one of the world's largest militaries.

An important element of this year's report is the expanded discussion of China's security-related activities, providing a broader, fuller assessment. There is an extensive discussion of China's Belt and Road Initiative, its array of investment projects previously known as the “One Belt, One Road Initiative,” stretching from China to Europe, into the Indian Ocean to Africa, and even across the Pacific to South America.

The report discusses the security implications of the Belt and Road Initiative, even though it is primarily a set of economic and political initiatives with limited direct military impact.

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This more comprehensive analysis is important, as it captures the Chinese whole-of-society approach to national security. To understand Beijing's challenge to the U.S., it is vital to incorporate not only concerns about the People's Liberation Army and the Chinese government, but also consideration of its diplomatic and economic engagement globally.

This year's report also exemplifies why issuing an annual report is important. It highlights the various changes that have been undertaken since the announcement in December 2015 of a series of fundamental overhauls and reforms of the People's Liberation Army. It thus provides a new snapshot of the various improvements and changes in the Chinese military as it continues to modernize all of its services.

Much discussed, for example, has been the steady extension of the People's Liberation Army's reach. News reports emphasized that it is acquiring systems that will allow it to strike the United States.

The report also notes that “one of the most significant [Navy] structural changes in 2017” has been the tripling of the size of the Chinese marine corps. Coupled with China's first official overseas military base (in Djibouti), it is clear that China is expanding its force-projection capacity.

As important, however, have been the changes in the People's Liberation Army's organization and doctrine. This year's report devotes substantial discussion to the evolving organization of PLA Army forces, as well as changes in the Central Military Commission, which manages the overall military.

These changes are fundamental, but have taken the past two years to become much more visible. The shift from divisions as the cornerstone of China's ground forces to brigades had long been discussed, but only now is there sufficient evidence to gauge Beijing's progress.

The changes in the Central Military Commission structure have been even more complex. When the changes were first announced, the commission initially appeared to be expanding from four general departments to 15 departments, commissions, and offices.

It is now clear, however, that in fact the commission has shrunk, with only seven members, rather than the pre-reform 10. Of particular note is the removal of the Logistics Work and Equipment Development departments from the main Central Military Commission structure.

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  • US Air Force delays timeline for testing a laser on a fighter jet

    July 6, 2020 | International, Aerospace

    US Air Force delays timeline for testing a laser on a fighter jet

    By: Valerie Insinna WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force's long-planned test of an airborne laser weapon aboard a fighter jet has been delayed until 2023 due to technical challenges and complications spurred by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, its program head said. The Air Force's Self-Protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator program, or SHiELD, had originally planned to conduct its first flight demonstration in 2021, but the test has been pushed two years back, said Jeff Heggemeier, SHiELD program manager for the Air Force Research Laboratory. “This is a really complex technology to try to integrate into that flight environment, and that's ultimately what we're trying to do with this program, is demonstrate that laser technology is mature enough to be able to integrate onto that airborne platform,” he told Defense News in a June 10 interview. “But even things like COVID, and COVID shutting down the economy. 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In FY20, the service received $14.8 million for basic research and $48.2 million for applied research for laser technologies. SHiELD is comprised of three elements: the laser itself, which is being developed by Lockheed Martin; the beam control system made by Northrop Grumman; and the pod that encases the weapons system, from Boeing. Heggemeier said the pod is under construction, with integration of the laser and beam control system planned to start next year. “A lot of the challenge is trying to get all of this stuff into this small pod. If you look at other lasers that are fairly mature, we have other laser systems that some other contractors have built that are ready to be deployed. But these are ground-based systems, and they are much, much more mature,” he said. In April 2019, the Air Force Research Lab conducted a ground test with a surrogate laser system — the Demonstrator Laser Weapon System, or DLWS, now in use by the Army. The demonstration involved the successful downing of several air-to-air missiles. “It turns out the DLWS system, when you take everything into account, is a really good surrogate for the laser power on SHiELD,” Heggemeier said. Because both SHiELD and DLWS generate similar amounts of energy on target — in SHiELD's case, Heggemeier would only say that it amounts to “tens of kilowatts” — the surrogate test gave the lab a good idea how the laser physically affects a target. In 2019, the team conducted a flight test of a pod with the same outer mold line as the one under development by Boeing. The pod was mounted to an aircraft — Heggemeier declined to specify the model — and flown around Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, to help measure how vibrations, the force of gravity and other environmental factors might influence the performance of the weapon. Air Force Magazine reported in 2019 that aerial demonstrations of SHiELD would occur onboard an F-15 fighter jet.

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  • DoD SBIR/STTR Component BAA Open: Army SBIR BAA 21.4, Topic A214-001

    December 8, 2020 | International, Land

    DoD SBIR/STTR Component BAA Open: Army SBIR BAA 21.4, Topic A214-001

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