WASHINGTON—The Pentagon voiced alarm over China's military buildup, saying it was expanding its advantage over Taiwan and investing heavily in ballistic and cruise missile capabilities that could one day pose a challenge to U.S. dominance in the western Pacific.
In its annual report to Congress on Chinese military capabilities, the Pentagon also cited China's advances in electronic warfare. The U.S. government has been the target of cyber intrusions the report says appear to have originated in China and aimed to steal military secrets. "These intrusions focused on exfiltrating information, some of which could be of strategic or military utility," the report said.
Though their two countries are increasingly interlinked economically, ties between the U.S. military and the People's Liberation Army of China have deteriorated since January, when the Obama administration notified Congress of a plan to sell Taiwan up to $6.4 billion in arms.Defense Secretary Robert Gates has appealed to the Chinese to re-engage to reduce the risk of any military miscommunications. But U.S. officials say they have seen few signs of a thaw.
Washington has long voiced alarm over China's military buildup opposite Taiwan. In this year's report, which was delivered months behind schedule, the Pentagon said China's military edge over Taiwan was continuing to "shift in the mainland's favor," the main argument used by the Obama administration in approving the arms deal.
A particular concern for the U.S. is China's development of an antiship ballistic missile with a projected range of nearly 1,000 miles. The missile is meant to give the PLA the capability of attacking ships, including aircraft carriers, in the western Pacific, the report said.
Some experts say the missile could herald the end of U.S. naval domination. Others say the PLA has yet to conduct any realistic tests of the conventionally armed ballistic missile and has no reliable way of targeting U.S. carrier task forces when they are at sea because China doesn't have enough low-earth-orbit reconnaissance satellites.
A senior defense official called the antiship ballistic missile a "great concern" but added: "They still have a long way to go."
The new missile is part of what the Pentagon described as "the most active land-based ballistic and cruise missile program in the world."
The report said China's military has established information-warfare units to develop viruses to attack computer systems of its adversaries as well as tactics to protect its own networks. The goal of the computer attack tools, the report said, is "to deny an adversary access to information essential to conduct combat operations." The ability to conduct cyber attacks fits within China's broader goal of conducting asymmetric warfare to exploit weaknesses in stronger enemies like the U.S. By seeking to harvest huge volumes of data from U.S. computer networks and building up cyber-warfare capabilities, China is positioning itself to leverage some of the weak links in U.S. military systems.
The report referenced cyber intrusions it says appear to have originated within China. It is unclear whether these were conducted by or at the behest of the Chinese military.
The Wall Street Journal reported last year, and U.S. officials recently acknowledged publicly, that the Pentagon's largest weapons program, the Joint Strike Fighter, had been infiltrated. Investigators believe attackers in China were behind the effort to siphon off engineering designs and other information.