A “jamming” of Chinese systems during US house speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Taiwan visit and defensive positions in military drills on its Indian border suggest Beijing may be less militarily advanced than widely accepted. Anthony Klan reports.
China’s military exercises on its border with India over the past two years were all “defensive” in nature, rather than practise for an advance on Indian territory, according to top-level intelligence sources.
A review of the more than half-a-dozen exercises on the border this year, as well as analysis of recent military installations, also showed Beijing was focused on “contactless warfare”, relying heavily on drones, unmanned vehicles and rockets.
“An in-depth study of all these exercises has revealed that PLA (Peoples’ Liberation Army) has deployed a selective range of equipment to specifically counter an air attack of the Indian Air Force,” says an intelligence dossier obtained by The Klaxon.
“None of the infantry exercises of PLA in its western theatre was designed on an offensive infantry operation within Indian border.
“Furthermore, the nature and design of the exercises ensures that in case a war escalates, it should be contactless,” it states.
Contactless, or “non-contact”, warfare refers to the “remote delivery of destructive kinetic energy”, involving limited soldier-to-solider contact.
“Since January 2022, PLA has conducted several exercises along its border with India,” the dossier states, citing multiple examples.
“All the exercises were aimed at creating a defensive front in its own territory where its infantry does not have to fight directly”.
Beijing military exercises on the China-India border in February and March used unmanned vehicles, while an airforce drill in April was to “intercept and dogfight incoming IAF (Indian Air Force) jets”.
“Exercises by Xinjiang military unit in February and March 2022 were focused upon evacuation of wounded soldiers through remotely controlled unmanned Ground Vehicles and Type 09 Ambulances,” the dossier states.
“In April 22, PLAAF Aviation brigade based in Urumqi, Xinjiang conducted an exercise to intercept and dog fight incoming IAF jets”.
Beijing had also conducted multiple exercises involving drones in the border region.
The Line of Actual Control and intersection of territory controlled by India, China and Pakistan. Source: BBC
“In April 2022, PLA conducted an exercise in Tibet where its Logistics Support Unit practiced the delivery of supplies to border outposts through drones,” the document states.
“The drones supplied fuel. Fresh and non-staple food, medicines and other supplies.
“The exercises conducted by PLAAF in Tibet and Xinjiang were of defensive nature rather than attacking”.
Large numbers of newly-deployed rockets along the Line of Actual Control, a notional demarkation line separating India-controlled territory and China-controlled territory, were there to target “incoming threats”.
“In January 2022 PLA (China’s People’s Liberation Army) deployed PLC-181 and PHL-191 rockets across Line of Actual Control in large numbers to target potential incoming threats,” the dossier says.
Recent major upgrades to Chinese airforce bases in Tibet were similarly defensive.
“Major upgrade of PLAAF (People’s Liberation Army Air Force) bases in Tibet has also happened this year, where most of the bases have been upgraded with HQ-19 interceptors, and DF-16 missiles to counter incoming jets and contactless counter attack.”
Analysis of Beijing’s military machinations has traditionally been tempered, by what China, and its state-controlled media, chooses to publish, but increased bellicosity and actions over the past two years provided more public insight than had been available in several decades.
China’s focus on unmanned warfare and defensive drills on the India-China border. Source: Intelligence
In June 2020 Chinese and Indian forces clashed in the high-altitude Galwan Valley, in the deadliest confrontation between the two nations in over four decades.
The dossier states that at the time, Beijing engaged in a “hasty preparation” of rocket defences in case of Indian Air Force attacks.
“An incident that remained out of sight was the hasty preparation of the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force for a counter defence as it strongly anticipated that if a war between India and China escalates, Indian army and Air Force may hit PLA positions hard”.
Following the clash on June 15-16 2020, in the eastern part of the Kashmir region, in the Western Himalaya, India confirmed 20 soldier deaths.
China has repeatedly refused to disclose its total casualties, naming only four official deaths.
In February The Klaxon exclusively revealed a research report showing the actual casualty rate was far higher.
Beijing’s increased bellicosity over the past two years had allowed more public insight into “China’s actions and reactions to real-time military threats” than had been seen decades.
In recent years China has heavily promoted military prowess through propaganda via state media.
A study of “all major to minor military exercises” in China over the past two years suggested Beijing may be less advanced that previously widely believed.
“A carefully observation of real-time military tactics of China has exposed several short-comings which may prove fatal to CCP in case of full-blown war”, the dossier states.
“Several short-comings may prove fatal to CCP in case of full-blown war”
“All the exercises alongside Indian border are focused upon contactless warfare which exposes major drawbacks in Chinese infantry units which is either not willing or not prepared for direct combat”.
Some intelligence had reportedly overstated Russia’s perceived military capabilities before it invaded Ukraine.
The dossier notes the Chinese army since January having supplied “large amounts of fuel several times” to its border posts.
“However, in all such exercises, PLA used private drivers to drive the vehicles on long and hilly routes,” it states.
“This observation hints that PLA lacks experienced drivers in their supply chain”.
The intelligence dossier, which includes information from multiple open-source locations, says in other non-routine exercises retired soldiers had been called in to “train new recruits on the maintenance of military trucks”.
The dossier states key Chinese electronic warfare capabilities were jammed during US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s August visit to Taiwan, including by billionaire Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite system.
“According to several monitored discussions of PLA personnel in closed WeChat groups, Elon Musk’s Starlink constellation overrode China’s BeiDou satellite navigation system with started transmitting signals to Starlink satellites instead of the mainland,” it states.
“Also the powerful electromagnetic waves and signal sources of Starlink and American ships around Taiwan covered the north-eastern area of the island and jammed the signals of Chinese ships and fighter planes until Pelosi left on August 3, 2022.
“As soon as the network jamming was removed, PLA announced its live fire exercise,” it states.
Nancy Pelosi shakes hands with Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu as she departs Taipei on August 3. Source: Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Pelosi’s US Airforce plane landed in Taipai’s Songshan Airport at 10.47pm local time on Tuesday August 2 and departed at 5pm on August 3, in the highest profile US visit in 25 years.
That day the PLA’s Eastern Theatre Command said it would conduct “joint military operations near Taiwan” starting that night, Tuesday August 2.
On August 1, the China Maritime Safety Administration announced military drills would be conducted from August 2 until August 6.
On August 2 China’s defence ministry announced six drills in locations around Taiwan, but said they would run from August 4-7, which was after Pelosi’s planned departure.
Despite two of three military exercises announced by Beijing being scheduled to occur during Pelosi’s visit, it appears the only drill that went ahead in any significant capacity was the drill that started on August 4, the day after she left.
China’s military exercises that did occur, circling Taiwan, August 4-7. Pelosi departed August 3. Source: Xinhua
Before Pelosi’s arrival China had been conducting military exercises in the region.
Taiwan’s Defence Ministry said that during the day of August 2, before Pelosi’s arrival, 21 Chinese aircraft entered its “air defence identification zone”.
“Several Chinese warplanes flew close to the median line dividing the Taiwan Strait on Tuesday morning before leaving later in the day,” Reuters reported, quoting a source.
On August 2 Reuters reported the US Navy had deployed four warships in the waters off Taiwan.
They included aircraft carrier the USS Ronald Regan, which had “transited the South China Sea” and arrived in the Philippines Sea; guided missile cruiser the USS Antietam; destroyer the USS Higgins and amphibious assault ship USS Tripoli.
The Financial Times reports that China did not start the military exercises until after Pelosi’s departure.
The PLA’s Eastern Theatre Command had said it would “conduct joint military operations near Taiwan from Tuesday night,” Reuters reported.
“The exercises will include joint air and sea drills in the north, southwest and southeast of Taiwan, long-range live firing in the Taiwan Strait, and missile test-launches in the sea east of Taiwan, the Eastern Theatre Command said,” Reuters reported.
Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said no Chinese warships or military planes entered Taiwan’s air space or territorial sea during Pelosi’s visit, despite China’s “exclusion zones” partly crossed into them.
Musk’s SpaceX company has launched more than 3,000 satellites which provide internet services to people living in remote areas who cannot access high-speed cable internet.
In 2018 it was awarded a US$28.7m contract by the US Government, including to enhance US Airforce electronic warfare capabilities.
China began launching ballistic missiles around Taiwan on Thursday August 4, launching “huge punitive military exercises” in response to Pelosi’s visit, the Financial Times reported.
Taiwan’s defence ministry said China had fired Donfeng missiles between 1.56pm and 4pm in what it termed an “irrational action destroying regional peace”.
The Japanese Defence Ministry said four of the missiles likely flew over Taiwan’s main island.
The Dongfeng ballistic missiles are among the PLA’s most advanced weapons.
“They include the anti-ship intermediate range DF-21, which is viewed as a tool for deterring the US Navy and its aircraft carrier strike groups from operating in strategically important areas near China,” the Financial Times reports.
Satellites used used for espionage and military purposes are known as having an Electronic Intelligence, or ELINT, role.
Reports said the US viewed the Chinese exercises as a chance to evaluate its technological capabilities.
“The bold landing of Pelosi’s plane in Taipei and its detailed live broadcast over the internet questioned China’s ELINT and interception capabilities in its own arena,” the dossier states.
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