US Report Identifies Emerging Military Threats From China

By Frank Fang
Frank Fang
Frank Fang
Frank Fang is a Taiwan-based journalist. He covers US, China, and Taiwan news. He holds a master's degree in materials science from Tsinghua University in Taiwan.
December 20, 2018 Updated: December 20, 2018

The United States currently has no answer to advanced missiles being developed by Russia and China, according to a recent U.S. government report.

The report, titled “Long-Range Emerging Threats Facing the United States As Identified by Federal Agencies,” was put together by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), an auditing agency of the federal government.

It surveyed 45 government organizations about their takes on emerging threats.

The government organizations included the Department of Defense, State Department, Department of Homeland Security, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

The report concluded that there were 26 emerging threats to the United States or its national security interests that may occur in about five or more years.

While the report specifically named one or more countries in connection with some of the 26 threats—as in the case of naming Russia and China for the threat of hypersonic missiles—other threats could simply be carried out by any American adversary, such as weapons of mass destruction.

Hypersonic Weapons

In the area of hypersonic weapons, “China and Russia are pursuing hypersonic weapons because their speed, altitude, and maneuverability may defeat most missile defense systems, and they may be used to improve long-range conventional and nuclear strike capabilities. There are no existing countermeasures,” the report said.

Hypersonic missiles can travel at Mach 5 or higher—about one mile per second, or at least five times faster than the speed of sound. Traveling at such high speeds, they are designed to avoid getting intercepted by missiles.

This is not the first time that a U.S. government official or agency has raised concerns about the U.S. military lacking in the ability to counter hypersonic weapons.

Pentagon Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, Mike Griffin, while speaking at a recent discussion in Arlington, Virginia hosted by the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA), said that China has tested more hypersonic weapons in the past year than the United States had conducted over the past decade.

In addition, the Pentagon, in its 2017 annual report to U.S. Congress on China’s military developments, had identified that Beijing devoted significant research and development resources into the development of hypersonic technology, with hypersonic weapons designed to counter U.S. ballistic missile defenses.

Griffin pointed out that different weapons and military systems, such as sensors in space that can detect missiles, would be required to defend against enemy hypersonic weapon attacks.

Griffin said a new “industrial base” is needed to manufacture such systems, according to a Dec. 13 article published by National Defense, a magazine published by NDIA.

The Washington Free Beacon, in an article published in June 2017, pointed out that China made a major breakthrough by developing a new ramjet engine for China’s hypersonic missiles. According to China’s state-run media, the innovation was the result of two successful flight tests capable where the ramjets reached hypersonic speeds.

The U.S. sector is taking notice. Arms manufacturer Lockheed Martin was awarded two contracts by the U.S. Air Force this year—one in April worth $928 million and the second in August for $480 million—to build hypersonic missiles, with the goal of having flying prototypes by 2021, according to Defense News, a website covering the defense sector.

Other weapon threats from China include anti-satellite weapons, which would be a threat to U.S. space operations; new stealth aircrafts; and underwater acoustic systems for anti-submarine warfare, according to the GAO report.

Other Threats from China

China was also named as a specific threat in the arena of cyberspace. In vague terms, the report said China, Russia, and Iran “may engage in advanced information operations campaigns that use social media, artificial intelligence, and data analytics to undermine the United States and its allies.”

In addition, China was expanding its geopolitical influence in ways that would “challenge U.S. access to air, space, cyberspace, and maritime domains,” the report stated.

Since 2013, Beijing has invested in infrastructure projects throughout Southeast Asia, Africa, Europe, and Latin America, in an effort to build up trade routes—and political clout—under the One Belt, One Road (OBOR, also known as Belt and Road) initiative.

To challenge OBOR, the U.S government has adopted countermeasures. In July, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the United States would provide $113 million to support infrastructure, digital, and energy projects in the Indo-Pacific region.

And a week ago, on Dec. 13, national security advisor John Bolton unveiled the United States’ new strategy in Africa to counter China’s aggressive expansion, during a speech at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.

In cybersecurity, the White House issued a new National Cyber Strategy in September to protect U.S. interests against cyber-criminal activities. China was called out for engaging in “cyber-enabled economic espionage and trillions of dollars of intellectual property theft.”

The GAO report also listed several threats related to dual-use technologies—those that can be developed for both military and civilian uses. One such example was IoT (internet of things), or electronic devices that can connect to the internet. “Adversaries could also disrupt IoT-enabled critical infrastructure and devices,” the report stated.

In late October, the U.S.–China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC) issued a report, warning that Beijing had strategically invested in IoT technology for its own national interests—and that China-manufactured devices could allow it to spy on consumers.

Chinese tech firms are collaborating with the Chinese military and government agencies in order to develop technology with defense and mass surveillance capabilities.

Another dual-use technology is quantum information science.

“Quantum communications could enable adversaries to develop secure communications that U.S. personnel would not be able to intercept or decrypt. Quantum computing may allow adversaries to decrypt information, which could enable them to target U.S. personnel and military operations,” according to the GAO report.

Beijing’s ambitions in developing quantum computing was stated in its economic blueprint, “Made in China 2025,” and its 13th Five-Year Plan (2016–2020).

H.R. 6227, a U.S. resolution known as the National Quantum Initiative, was introduced by House of Representative Lamar Smith (R-Texas) in June with the aim of keeping the United States ahead of competitors in quantum technology. The bill has been passed by both the House and the Senate this month.

Frank Fang
Frank Fang is a Taiwan-based journalist. He covers US, China, and Taiwan news. He holds a master's degree in materials science from Tsinghua University in Taiwan.