The Buzz

Congressional Request For Proposal Solicits Expert Report on Chinese Weapons

The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission is requesting expert proposals to provide a one-time unclassified report on China’s development of advanced weapons.

The Request for Proposals seeks unclassified, open-source assessments of specific Chinese weapons systems and areas of ongoing technological inquiry. Some detailed priority areas include:

1. Maneuverable re-entry vehicles, including hypersonic glide and supersonic combustion ramjet engine-powered vehicles;

2. Directed energy weapons, to include high power radiofrequency weapons, high energy lasers, and particle beam weapons, with effects ranging from satellite jamming to target damage;

3. Electromagnetic railguns;

4. Direct-ascent, co-orbital, and other anti-satellite weapons in addition to counterspace electronic warfare capabilities; and 5. Unmanned and artificial intelligence-equipped weapons.

The RFP also places a premium on the need for reports which detail the implications of China's advanced weaponry for the United States. This includes an examination of potential U.S. countermeasures and areas of needed developmental emphasis, along with assessments of relative competitive advantages in key areas of weapons development.

Context: US-China Military Competition

The project seems unequivocally aimed at helping lawmakers and policy leaders better apprehend the fast-moving trajectory of China's military modernization and weapons development. The request for a report comes amid a broader context of US concern about many areas of Chinese progress in developing next-generation weaponry. Several examples among many include reports of China's testing of hypersonic weapons, a development which could dramatically change the threat calculus for aircraft carriers and other US surface warships, among other things.

China is known to have conducted several hypersonic weapons tests. The US Air Force Chief Scientist, Geoffrey Zacharias, told Scout Warrior that the US is indeed seeking to accelerate its hypersonic weapons development program, at least in part, to exceed or keep pace with Chinese progress. Zacharias explained the US approach as consisting of "stair-steps" including a planned progression from hypersonic propulsion to hypersonic weapons, hypersonic drones and ultimately hypersonic recoverable drones or air vehicles; he said the US envisions having hypersonic weapons by the mid 2020s, hypersonic drones by the 2030s -- and recoverable hypersonic drones by the 2040s.

In addition, China's well-documented anti-satellite, or ASAT, weapons tests have inspired international attention and influenced the Pentagon and US Air Force to accelerate strategies for satellite protection such as improving sensor resiliency, cyber hardening command and control and building in redundancy to improve prospects for functionality in the event of attack.

China's drone programs, cyber intrusions and indigenous aircraft carrier construction are also several factors among many likely driving Congressional interest in this kind of report.

China's rapid development of new destroyers, amphibs, stealth fighters and long-range weapons is quickly increasing its ability to threaten the United States and massively expand expeditionary military operations around the globe, according to several reports from teh US-China Economic and Security Review Commission in recent years.

2016 US-China Economic and Security Review Commission

The 2016 US-China Economic and Security Review Commission specifies China's growing provocations and global expeditionary exercises along with its fast-increasing ability to project worldwide military power.

As examples, the report catalogues a number of aggressive Chinese military or maritime militia encounters:

-  In May 2016, two PLA Air Force fighters conducted an unsafe intercept of a U.S. EP-3 aircraft, causing the EP-3 to dive away to avoid a collision.

-   In 2013, a PLA Navy ship crossed the U.S. guided missile cruiser Cowpens’ bow, causing the ship to alter course to avoid a collision.

-  In 2009, the U.S. Navy ship Impeccable was harassed by maritime militia boats in the South China Sea.

 - In 2001, a PLA Navy fighter collided with a U.S. Navy EP-3 reconnaissance aircraft over the South China Sea.

Additional instances of Chinese provocation in recent year include placement of surface-to-air-missiles and fighters in sensitive areas of the South China Sea, along with its announcement of an "Air exclusion zone."  While the US military flew B-52 bombers through this declared zone in a demonstration of defiance, the move did demonstrate China's growing willingness to be aggressive. In addition, Chinese "land reclamation" and territorial claims in the South China Sea prompted US "freedom of navigation exercises" to unambiguously thwart China's claims.

As part of a detailed effort to document China's growing influence as an expeditionary global power, the Congressional report highlights a range of Chinese deployments and worldwide exercises beyond their borders or more immediate regional influence. From the report:

- 2012, China deployed its first UN peacekeeping combat forces to the UN Mission in South Sudan to provide security for PLA engineering and medical personnel.

 - Indian Ocean far sea deployments: In early 2014, Chinese surface combatants carried out far sea training, during which they transited through the South China Sea, into the eastern Indian Ocean, and then sailed back to China through the Philippine Sea. During the 23-day deployment, the PLA Navy conducted training associated with antisubmarine warfare, air defense, electronic warfare, and expeditionary logistics.