Intelligence: Chinese Mysteries


November 6, 2007: China's new, high tech military isn't all it appears to be, and the intel community in the West is having a hard time measuring it. That's because China is rapidly building first rate industrial capabilities. But they aren't quite there yet, often in very subtle ways. A shortage of key technical, scientific, managerial and engineering personnel has prevented China from manufacturing the most complex devices. This is seen in the continuing problems they have with building the most advanced electronic and mechanical systems. Thus, their missiles and military electronics are unreliable. There are continuing problems with building military jet engines that work well and reliably. This is even the case when the equipment is built under license. In those situations, even sending in technical experts from the nation providing the license is not sufficient. This was the case with the building of the Ukrainian DN80 gas turbine (used in many Chinese warships). These problems were worked out, sort of, after several years of effort. But the experience left the Chinese navy with unreliable power plants for many of their ships. Likewise, many Chinese warplanes, using Chinese built engines, experience higher rates of engine failure, more hours of maintenance for each hour in the air, and engines that have to be replaced far more quickly than do similar engines in the West.

This sort of thing gives intelligence analysts fits. They know, from studies done after the Cold War ended (when Russian high tech was discovered to be far less ready for action than believed in the West), that the high tech component of the Chinese armed forces is not all it's appear to be. But exactly what kind of combat power do the Chinese have? Naturally, the Chinese have a better idea than the Americans do. And they want to keep it that way. Which is one reason the Chinese so aggressively try to keep U.S. spy ships and aircraft away from their training exercises. The Chinese are also very strict with data on the actual performance of their high tech gear. But there are too many military and civilian personnel working with, and around, this stuff. Western intelligence services try and collect as many bits of information from these people as they can. And from that, you try to estimate just how high the Chinese high tech has actually gotten.


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