GAO Report: China’s Growing Power Poses a ‘Significant’ Challenge to the U.S.

BEIJING, CHINA - OCTOBER 01: Chinese soldiers sit atop tanks as they drive in a parade to
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A recent government watchdog report said China’s growing economic, diplomatic, military, and technology power — “and a willingness to exercise it” — pose a “significant long-term challenge to the United States.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) report stated that China has “greatly strengthened its military capabilities over the last 20 years” and that it has “transformed what was an obsolete military into one that can challenge the U.S. military across the spectrum of conventional and unconventional capabilities.”

The three-page report outlines five “challenge areas” for the Department of Defense (DOD) in China’s goal to have a “world class” military by the end of 2049.

First, it said China is expanding its Anti-Access/Area-Denial (A2/AD) capability — or the ability to deny the U.S. or another country the ability to intervene during a contingency, such as during a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

“This anti-access/area-denial capability includes long-range precision strike capabilities (ballistic and cruise missiles) able to reach U.S. logistics and power projection assets in the region, including Guam, and robust air defenses that reach over 550 km from its coast,” the report said.

The report warned that China will continue to improve this capability. “DOD may be missing opportunities to leverage existing studies to further mitigate mobility threats,” it said.

Second, China has “robust” offensive and defensive capabilities aimed at gaining naval superiority within the first island chain or the area between the East Asian continental mainland coast to the first chain of islands that include Taiwan. In addition to having ballistic missiles able to target aircraft carriers 1,500 kilometers from China’s coast, “China also has the largest navy and shipbuilding capacity in the world,” the report stated.

Meanwhile, U.S. Navy ships were undercrewed by 15% on average in 2020, and the Navy will be “challenged to fully crew the fleet needed to counter advanced adversaries,” the report said.

Third, the report said China’s cyber capabilities are being used to harm an adversary’s ability to conduct military operations against China and to steal sensitive information from the U.S. defense industrial base.

Meanwhile, the DOD has “struggled to ensure its weapon systems can withstand cyberattacks and should take steps to incorporate cybersecurity requirements into contracts,” the report said.

Fourth, the report cited China’s space capabilities, which it said China considers “central to modern warfare.” “China is developing capabilities that threaten the DOD’s satellite communications systems,” it said.

Meanwhile, the DOD has analyzed alternatives to replace existing systems and “concluded that it needs more information to select the next satellite communications architecture,” and its effort to replace infrared sensor satellites used for ballistic missile warning is “likely to be delayed,” the report said.

Lastly, the report cited China’s artificial intelligence capabilities. “China views artificial intelligence (AI) as critical to its future military and industrial power and is pursuing plans to be the global leader in AI by 2030,” it said.

The report said the DOD needs to “effectively identify and ensure the consistent protection of critical technologies such as elements of artificial intelligence from adversaries.”

The report concluded that the U.S. should continue efforts to increase U.S. combat credibility and enhance conventional deterrence. It also recommended that the DOD look to maintain supply chains, gather intelligence, and “responsibly leverage space, cyber, and AI technologies in response to potential threats.”

It said China was facing its own major challenges, including vulnerability to international and regional turmoil, terrorism, piracy, serious natural disasters and epidemics, and major gaps and shortcomings in its military. “[China] has not fought a war with its current suite of capabilities,” it noted.

But the report said the DOD will need to take “timely actions” and that congressional oversight will be important for the U.S. to be poised for success in facing threats from China.

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