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March 25, 2021
Notes from the Pentagon

Admiral: China accelerating military buildup

By Bill Gertz
China is speeding up its large-scale military buildup with new weapons and military capabilities faster than previous estimates, the admiral likely to be the next head of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command disclosed this week.

“The pace at which [China] is fielding advanced capabilities is accelerating at an alarming rate,” said Adm. John C. Aquilino, who urged a strengthening of American forces and other elements of power to counter the danger.

Initially, the strategy of China‘s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) was to achieve expansive military power by 2049, he said in prepared testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee this week.

“There are indications this strategy is being reassessed and may be accelerated to achieve its ends within this decade,” Adm. Aquilino, a Navy fighter pilot and currently commander of the Pacific Fleet, told lawmakers.

The PLA strategy seeks to block U.S. access from Asia and influence the region to support Beijing. Building up the military is a key part of the strategy, he said. The Chinese military is “working hard to exploit any perceived vulnerabilities to gain an economic, diplomatic and military advantage while remaining below the threshold of conflict,” he said.

Adm. Aquilino said advanced U.S. technology — offensive missiles, artificial intelligence, lasers, hypersonic missiles and quantum computing — “must keep pace” to deter and, if needed, to defeat China in a war.

The blunt analysis was contained in written answers to questions posed by the committee. Adm. Aquilino described the Chinese moves as “militarization in the region and aggressive activities” that threaten trade and U.S. allies and undermine stability.

“This aggressive posturing challenges operations and maneuver, extends [China‘s] influence, and ultimately challenges U.S. presence and credibility in the region,” he wrote.

Among the threats from China are the growing arsenal of ballistic, cruise and new hypersonic missiles — weapons that travel at extremely high speeds in a bid to defeat current missile defense systems.

The Pentagon needs to invest in more and better air and missile defenses, which the admiral described as the “most pressing priority,” and deploying new long-range offensive missiles.

The PLA Rocket Forces “have a growing inventory of medium and intermediate-range ballistic missiles that can threaten U.S. bases in the region, including those in South Korea, Japan and Guam, as well as naval forces operating inside the Second Island Chain,” said Adm. Aquilino, referring to the string of islands stretching from west of Japan through Guam.

China also is constantly evolving its missile technology, increasing its range, survivability, accuracy and lethality, he said. Of particular concern are China‘s new hypersonic missiles.

“The hypersonic glide vehicle threat poses a serious threat to the U.S. and allied forces in the region and we require a near-term initial defense capability to meet this challenge,” Adm. Aquilino said.

China recently deployed the DF-17 hypersonic missile, a weapon launched on a ballistic missile that glides and maneuvers to targets at speeds five times the speed of sound.

On Taiwan, Adm. Aquilino said the most dangerous flashpoint in U.S.-Chinese relations remains a military move against the democratic island-nation, which Beijing still contends is part of its sovereign territory. The nominee said China views Taiwan as its No. 1 priority and disagreed with the outgoing commander of the Indo-Pacific Command, Adm. Philip Davidson, that China could be ready to move against Taiwan in six years.

“My opinion is this problem is much closer to us than most think, and we have to take this on,” he told a nomination committee hearing.

The military needs to add to deterrence forces now in place as soon as possible to prevent a Chinese move against the island, he said.

In his prepared statement, Adm. Aquilino said the military threat to Taiwan is increasing as Beijing deploys an array of advanced weapons and systems targeting the island. He urged the Biden administration to prevent any miscalculation by China with a strong military presence in Asia.

Adm. Aquilino said that, if confirmed for the Indo-Pacific Command post, he is willing to discuss a potential policy change with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to more clearly define the U.S. commitment to defending Taiwan from a mainland attack. The current U.S. policy, based on the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, does not guarantee a U.S. response to a Chinese military strike against Taiwan.

U.S. national security officials are closely watching the development of a microchip called Prodigy that is expected to power both breakthrough weapons and civilian artificial intelligence systems. The energy-efficient microchip combines different types of processors on a single chip and is expected to have a major impact on both defense and civilian computing sectors.

The chip was designed by the Santa Clara, California-based Tachyum. The company announced this week that the first prototype of the unique universal processor is undergoing testing.

Radoslav Danilak, a veteran Silicon Valley electrical engineer who has worked with the U.S. military and intelligence community, said China tried to purchase the technology for $1 billion but the offer involved questionable involvement of a family member of a Chinese Communist Party Politburo member and was rejected.

Mr. Danilak told Inside the Ring that the prototype exceeded developers’ expectations for speed and performance. The capability of the microchip is so powerful that it is estimated to be in the range of scores of exaFLOPs. One exaFLOP is one quintillion floating-point operations per second.

By contrast, the human brain has been gauged to conduct the equivalent of about 15 exaFLOPS.

Mr. Danilak, Tachyum’s chief executive officer, said the new chip will be used in research on developing an advanced system that will seek to mimic the functioning of the human brain.

“The chip is on its way. It’s a big deal for humanity,” he said.

The first chips are expected to go into production around July, and customers will begin building supercomputers with them before the end of the year. The federal government is already looking for applications for the advanced chip for nuclear weapons design and testing, as well as other advanced weapons and defense systems.

For example, a high-speed computer chip powering AI-based sensors and defenses could be used to counter hypersonic missiles. The military also could use the technology to run aerial and underwater unmanned vehicles and weapons.

“You will be able to do things that your adversary cannot,” Mr. Danilak said.

Commercially, the chip is expected to save billions of dollars for high-tech companies like Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft, reducing the huge costs of cooling current computer server farms. The Prodigy chip combines extreme calculating power with low energy use, Mr. Danilak said.

The U.S. government has made artificial intelligence technology a high priority in the effort to compete with China, both economically and militarily.

Foreign ministers from Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom joined Secretary of State Antony Blinken this week in denouncing China for human rights abuses in western China.

The ministers issued a statement voicing unity “in our deep and ongoing concern regarding China‘s human rights violations and abuses in Xinjiang.”

“The evidence, including from the Chinese government’s own documents, satellite imagery, and eyewitness testimony is overwhelming,” they stated. “China‘s extensive program of repression includes severe restrictions on religious freedoms, the use of forced labor, mass detention in internment camps, forced sterilizations and the concerted destruction of Uyghur heritage.”

The statement said the five nations have taken coordinated action along with the European Union in sanctioning China over the Uyghur repression.

“We are united in calling for China to end its repressive practices against Uyghur Muslims and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang, and to release those arbitrarily detained,” they said.

The imposition of sanctions on Chinese officials was the first coordinated Western action under President Biden.

“Amid growing international condemnation, [China] continues to commit genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang,” Mr. Blinken said in a statement ahead of meetings in Europe.

Beijing retaliated by imposing punitive measures that seek to ban European lawmakers, diplomats, institutes and families from doing business in China.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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