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DOD Official Briefs on 2023 China Military Power Report

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Good afternoon, everyone. I appreciate you all joining.

Thanks to the PA team here for organizing and also to my team and everyone else throughout the department and the interagency who contributes to producing this report every year.

I believe you've all received an embargoed copy of the executive summary, by now, of this year's China Military Power Report. And I thought I would open with some brief framing remarks about this year's report. And then we'll open it up for questions. And I understand we've got a lot of questions queued up already, so I'm excited to have a conversation with everyone.

As I think you're all aware, our National Security Strategy identifies the PRC as the only competitor with the intent and increasingly the capability to reshape the international order. And the 2022 National Defense Strategy identifies the PRC as increasingly capable military as the department's top pacing challenge.

So what we've tried to do with the China Military Power Report is to illustrate why the National Security Strategy and the National Defense Strategy identified the PRC as this unique competitor in the security realm in the case of the national security strategy and as our pacing challenge here at DOD in the case of the NDS.

And this congressionally mandated report charts the current course of the PRC's national economic and military strategies and offers insight into the PLA's strategy, its current capabilities, some of its operational activities, as well as its future modernization goals.

And, of course, this is a Congressionally mandated report, but we view it also as important to inform all of you, to inform the academic and think tank community, to inform conversations with our allies and partners, in addition to meeting the Congressional requirement to document the most recent year's developments in PRC strategy and military capabilities.

As our baseline assessment of PRC military and security developments during 2022, the CMPR, of course, covers a lot of ground. It also includes some early 2023 content. We don't have an exact information cut-off date for everything in the report. You know, we've tried to update it to reflect some significant developments from at least the early part of this year, but it is primarily focused on 2022.

And even within those boundaries, of course, there's again a lot of ground that we cover here.

I'm looking forward to answering your questions. And -- before we do that, I guess I would just offer that this year's report does address a number of new topics while also expanding on some themes that I think have been pretty consistent in terms of their coverage in previous year's reports.

But a couple of things that I think are noteworthy here this year's report gets into how Beijing's strategy of amassing its national power is confronting what Xi Jinping perceives as an increasingly turbulent strategic environment for China's development. Something that he spoke about in public earlier this year, as we note in the report, highlighting what the PRC perceives as containment, suppression, and encirclement.

The report also details a trend in the risky and coercive operational behavior by the PLA. I know that many of you probably saw the release of videos and images related to that topic and perhaps attended the briefing yesterday.

We do cover that in some detail in the report this year. And we also cover in some detail the PRC's intensifying pressure campaign against Taiwan. It's deepening security ties with Russia, the continued development of the PLA's nuclear space and cyberspace capabilities, and also the continued reluctance on the PLA's part to consistently engage in military to military communications with the United States.

So with that, I'm happy to open it up for some questions. And I'll also just note at the outset that if there are any particulars that we're not able to cover here today, of course, you can follow up with (staff) on any of those kinds of issues.

STAFF: Yes, sir. We'll get started with Tara at Associated Press.

Q: Hi. Thanks for doing this. A couple questions on China's nuclear build-up. This -- the embargoed materials say a thousand or so warheads by 2030. How would you characterize this compared to last year?

And the report last year mentioned 1,500 weapons by 2035. Is that still the Pentagon's assessment?

And then last, have you seen anything that would indicate that China is deciding to do away with a no-first-use policy? Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: OK. So I'll kind of try to take those in turn. So -- we see the PRC continuing to quite rapidly modernize and diversify and expand its nuclear forces.

What they're doing now, if you compare it to what they were doing about a decade ago, it really far exceeds that in terms of scale and complexity. They're expanding and investing in their land, sea, and air-based nuclear delivery platforms, as well as the infrastructure that's required to support this, despite major expansion of their nuclear forces.

You know, we estimate in the report that -- as you pointed out here, we were giving you a current estimate, more than 500 operational nuclear warheads as of May 2023, which for many items in the report is kind of where we have our information up to that date.

And so that's on track to exceed some of our previous projections. We state in the report, as you pointed out, that they'll have probably over 1,000 nuclear warheads by 2030.

We have, in past years, sometimes included projections for 2035 and for 2027. We included those largely because those are two of the three capabilities development milestones that Xi Jinping has set for the PLA with the other one being 2049.

This year, we decided to include just the current or -- as of earlier this year, current number of weapons, and then to look out to the end of the decade to 2030, rather than to include the years that the PLA has milestones from Xi Jinping for 2027 and 2035. So we didn't do those this time around.

But I think -- what I would say is that we do see them continuing to grow their force to 2035, roughly in line with previous estimates. You know, we are noting that currently they are -- kind of exceeding some of our previous projections. And so if you take that out beyond 2030, I think, -- it's safe to say that that's a trend that we think would continue.

But -- of course, also the further out you go, the more variability there is, the more factors, the factors that they take into account may change and evolve.

And I guess the other point I would note on this is that the PRC has often stated that their aversion to greater transparency, about their nuclear force, has been based on the numerical asymmetry between the U.S. and Russia for that matter and the PLA's arsenal.

And so I think as we see them building up to larger numbers, that raises some questions, at least in my mind, about whether they might, perhaps, in line with what they've stated previously, be more willing to be more transparent. So I'd also recommend asking the PRC sources that you talk to where they think that they'll be in the further out years.

Because, again, as they develop more capability, I think -- logically, perhaps they'd be willing to be a little bit more transparent about it, although, of course, that remains to be seen.

And then on the no-first-use policy, no, we haven't seen any indication that they're going to formally change that.

But, I would note that as we've pointed out in the report a number of times over the years, that there are indications in some of their openly published military literature and articles by Chinese scholars and foreign policy and our arms control and nuclear policy experts that do suggest there are circumstances under which they would, perhaps, judge that their policy didn't apply or that, it could be invalidated. 

So no, we don't see them making a formal declaration that they're changing it. That, hasn't happened yet, at least so far. But -- we have seen plenty of indications that there are circumstances under which they might judge that it wouldn't apply. And I don't think that hasn't changed either. 

STAFF: Okay, Michael, Wall Street Journal.

Q: Yes, Michael Gordon, Wall Street Journal. I have three quick questions following on Tara's question. The report says that the PRC has probably completed the three silo fields for solid fueled missiles, that's 300 ICBM silos. My question to these, do you project that all of those silos are going to be filled with Chinese ICBMs or do you simply not know if that's going to be the case?

Two, do you see any signs of cooperation, coordination, technical or strategy-wise with Russia in terms of strategic nuclear forces?

And lastly, what -- where is the FOBS program at this point in time? Thank you. 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Okay, I guess I -- I don't think I can get into much more detail that is in the report, on some of the specific details of the nuclear expansion and modernization. I guess what I would say there is that, in terms of the silo fields as well as what they're doing with their SSBMs, with the air leg of the Triad, as well as with the -- land mobile forces in addition to the silo fields, we'll continue to monitor their expansion very closely.

You know, I suggested earlier that perhaps they'll be willing to become more transparent over time. I mean, I would also rather than just speculate about it, I'd say we would certainly urge them to be more transparent about their nuclear build-up. You know, it's something that, although they haven't changed their no first use policy, just kind of referring back to the earlier question, that certainly raises question about what is their long-term intent here. 

And I think it reinforces the importance of pursuing some practical measures to try to reduce nuclear risks. And -- we'll continue to raise strategic stability issues with the PRC. And I think to, we'll -- what we'll do is continue to underscore to them that these are the types of discussions that -- major powers need to have with each other. And that as they continue to further develop and expand their nuclear force, it only makes it more important that we're able to have those kinds of conversations with them. 

And I don't have anything new to add on the FOBS. 

Q: And what about the question on cooperation and coordination --

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Oh, sorry. Sorry. No, I mean -- we're closely watching what they're doing -- with Russia generally. I thinkwe do see the PRC kind of looking at Russia as an important strategic partner from -- from their perspective to kind of balance against, again, what Xi Jinping described earlier this year as the containment suppression and encirclement from the U.S. and its allies and partners. But I don't have anything specifically related to nuclear weapons on that front. 

STAFF: All right, Tony, Bloomberg. 

Q: Hi, sir. Thank you for doing this. A couple things that were mentioned in your -- in the embargoed material. What will the box on the famous balloon disclose that hasn't already been written about? 

Two, there's also a notice that they'll be some discussion in a box of U.S. defense engagement with Taiwan. What will you be outlining there for the first time that you haven't already? 

And then three, will the report at all discuss major improvements that the DOD has seen over the last year in China's capability to conduct combined arms, including airborne operations, combined arms assault against Taiwan? In what areas does DOD still see deficiencies in those combined arms capabilities? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Okay, thanks. Yes, I'll just take those one at a time. So on the balloon, we're trying to -- in the report we're trying to provide kind of a concise chain of events that took place over the course of late January and early February, including the U.S. and Canada tracking the balloon as it crossed into Canadian and U.S. airspace. There is quite a bit out there on this already. 

So -- I would probably characterize it as, what we're doing is kind of describing that we did take some precautions to minimize what intelligence the balloon could collect as it transited over the U.S. I think as you all know, on February 4, we shot the balloon down off the coast of South Carolina and then the Coast Guard, Navy and FBI conducted salvage and recovery operations. 

I think you were also tracking, as well, China's response to the incident, in which they claim that it was a purely civilian airship that was being used a meteorological research and had been blown off course. The PRC then tried to mount sort of a counternarrative in which they accused the U.S. of flying surveillance balloons over China, which was inaccurate. 

And I -- what we also talk about here is how the PLA has been researching and developing high altitude balloons now since at least the mid-2000s. And it's something that a number of PRC research institutions and companies have been involved in, to develop and test high-altitude balloons that have payloads for imaging, for data relay, for communications and the like. 

And, certainly, it is true that some of this research may support civilian applications but it's pretty clear, I think, that a lot of these high altitude systems are instead intended to support the PLA's requirements. And the high-altitude balloon that was shot down on February 4 was developed as part of this broader military linked aerial surveillance program. 

And I -- I think what I would actually highlight here as the key takeaway from the entire incident, at least from my perspective, is that the high altitude balloon incident really highlighted the critical need for open and consistent military-to-military communications at all levels. We did not have that during that incident because the PRC declined some of the requests that we put forward. But, I think -- again, this kind of incident really highlights how important it is that we have those communications, which is why we're going to continue to pursue them. 

On your second question about Taiwan, we do have a box about U.S. defense engagement with Taiwan in the report. You know, I guess I would note here that while the PRC routinely accuses us of not abiding by their One China principle, the way that we look at this, our defense engagements with Taiwan are one element of our unofficial U.S. Taiwan relationship. They are consistent with our One China policy, as guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the three communiques and the six assurances. 

And, you know, it's also true that U.S. defense engagement with Taiwan has evolved over time. But -- from our perspective it's evolved in response to what the PRC is capable of doing and what they are demonstrating that they're willing to do in terms of military coercion and intimidation against Taiwan. 

So, when I say that our defense engagement with Taiwan has evolved, that doesn't contradict our policy in any way. In fact, I think it's required by our policy. And so, that's -- that's what the Taiwan Relations Act says that we need to do. It's -- we have also the six assurances and the idea here that it's -- what we're doing is conditioned on the threat posed by the PRC. 

So, I think what I'd highlight there is that our policy hasn't changed. Our defense engagement with Taiwan has evolved and continues to evolve. And we're going to use it to bolster the long-standing policy position that we have. And that -- we continue to oppose unilateral changes to the cross-strait status quo by either side, to not support Taiwan independence, and to have the expectation that cross-strait differences are going to be addressed or resolved by peaceful means. So, again, we see our defense engagement as very consistent with that longstanding policy. 

On the last question about combined arms, I guess what I would say there is that we do, in the report -- talk about some of the PLA's annual exercises, some of what they have been doing, and obviously, they continue to focus on this as one of the main jobs that they have to improve their capability, to do. And so we definitely see improvements in their capabilities. Those were demonstrated in certain respects during their response to the then-Speaker Pelosi's visit to Taiwan, to President Tsai's transit of the United States. 

But we would also note, and do note, in the report that the PRC still perceives that they have some shortcomings that they have yet to fully address, in terms of their ability to conduct this. That's one of the topics on which we have a special topic in the report. And, yes, we highlight a number of the areas in which they still feel as though they've got some shortcomings. Some of the things that they talk about our how they can operate or need to be better prepared to operate in what they call a complex electromagnetic environment. 

You know, they still talk about some of the challenges they are involved in, command-and-control and coordination among others. And I think I would all refer you to the box for some additional details, but, yes, they continue to -- I think, to make progress, but also to demonstrate some areas in which they haven't yet accomplished the goals that they have set out for themselves. And, you know, we take note of some of those shortcomings, including, but not -- but not limited to the two that I just mentioned. 

Q: Thank you. 

STAFF: OK. Jeff, Voice of America. 

Q: Thanks very much for doing this. Two questions. First, with all the military capabilities that China is rapidly fielding, what do you see them doing to try to test these capabilities to make sure that the troops have the requisite or necessary combat experience if they got into a fight, because it doesn't -- the forces generally haven't been very much battle-tested in any real war for a while? 

And then also the report talks about China's chemical and biological weapons research. Can you share some examples of what type of bioweapon research has you most worried? And is this at all connected to some the previous warnings by U.S. intelligence agencies about Chinese efforts to collect DNA and other genetic information? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: OK. So on the question of combat experience, I think this is another -- I could've listed this, actually, as another one of the shortcomings that the PRC highlights in a lot of their own self-assessments -- in response to the previous question as well. It is something that the PLA notes and speaks about publicly. They do, you know, highlight that the PLA hasn’t been involved in major combat operations since the 1979 conflict between China and Vietnam. And so they try to address that, I think, by attempting to make their training and their exercises more realistic -- to more closely approximate what they refer to as, a real war or actual combat type conditions. 

And I think they tried to address that as well by learning whatever lessons they can from other countries involvement in military conflicts.

So the PLA has very carefully studied military conflicts involving U.S. forces, Russian forces and others over the years. And that's one of the key sources that I think that they draw on to try to better understand how they need to prepare themselves for future combat operations.

So certainly they're watching very closely how the war in --Russia's war of aggression in Ukraine is unfolding. And that's something that they'll try to learn a lot of lessons from among any other opportunities that they have to learn those types of lessons.

On the question about chemical and biological Research. You know, we highlight in the report that the PRC's chemical and biotechnology capabilities are sufficient to research, develop, and produce at least some types of chemical and biological agents or toxins on a large scale. That they have, very likely, capabilities that are relevant to chemical and biological warfare that could pose a threat to the U.S. and the forces of our allies and partners, and U.S. forces and allies and partners forces.

And they continue also to engage in biological activities that have some dual-use applications, raising concerns regarding their compliance with the Biological Weapons Convention. That includes studies at PRC military medical institutions on potent toxins that have dual-use applications.

So we -- we stated in the report again that we, the U.S. cannot verify or cannot certify that the PRC has met its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention due to concerns regarding their research on pharmaceutical-based agents and toxins that could have potential dual-use applications.

So those are kind of the highlights of what we have in the report on this topic. We get into of course a bit more detail than that, but I don't have anything to add for you on the -- on the second part of the question.

STAFF: Idrees at Reuters.

Q: The 500 nuclear warheads number. Is that an increase or a slight increase from the previous report? And in this report you say they're expected to have over 1,000 warheads by 2030. That is the same number I think as the 2021 report. So I'm just confused how it is exceeding projections. If the 2030 number is still the same at the end of the day?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Sure. So -- again I think the 500 that we assessed that they had as of May does put them on track to exceed previous projections.

You know, what we're saying for 2030 is over a thousand. So again that is consistent with what -- consistent with what we said in the previous report. But -- again we see them on track to exceed those projections. So we're not trying to suggest a very large departure from where they look to be headed in last year's report, but we are suggesting that they're on track to exceed those previous projections.

And -- again I think that the major -- this obviously raises a lot of concerns for us. And -- we'll continue to monitor it as I said earlier. But for us what we'd really like to see is for them to be more transparent about their nuclear buildup and also to see some greater willingness on their part to discuss the strategic stability and risk reduction issues with us.

And then obviously in terms of what -- what we're doing ourselves, our own Nuclear Posture Review makes it clear that we're going to have a safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent and that we're going to make sure that we have -- credible extended deterrence that we need for our allies and partners.

Q: I'm just confused how you're exceeding projections when the projection of 2030 is the same as the 2021 report?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes. Again I think, just -- underscore the word over in terms of the -- over a thousand.

STAFF: All right. Demetri, Financial Times.

Q: Two questions. The first is in terms of the risky and coercive aerial intercepts of allies and partners aircraft. Can you give us a breakdown or a rough breakdown of the different countries? And then on mil-to-mil relations have you learned any more on what has happened to Li Shangfu? And do you think his disappearance could pave the way for restarting some of the mil-to-mil channels that have been closed?


So on the -- on the first question, I guess -- first refer you to the briefing yesterday that ASD Ratner and Admiral Aquilino presented. You know, we've seen these kind of intercepts against not just the U.S. but our allies and partners. Both Australia and Canada have talked about this publicly including some of the -- a very recent incident involving Canada that a Canadian -- the Canadian news media reported on, as they were they were embarked on the Canadian aircraft that the PRC intercepted unsafely in recent days.

I don't believe that we have a specific breakdown on numbers of incidents by country. In the report I think we simply presented a kind of top-line number for the U.S. and then another number that includes all of the allies and partners together.

Then on the question of U.S.-PRC defense relations – I guess what I would say there is obviously I'd refer you to the PRC for any announcements that they might make regarding their own PLA personnel. But -- what I would say is that we continue to believe that it's extremely important for us to maintain open lines of military-to-military communications between the U.S. and the PRC, across multiple levels, including the senior most levels.

I know that they have stated that that we continue to maintain military-to-military communications with them. And -- certainly we do have working-level communications.

We have also had recently a meeting between Admiral Aquilino and the Deputy Chief of the PLA's Joint Staff Department in Fiji. But again from our perspective it's important that we have consistent, open lines of communication across all of these levels including the most senior levels.

You know -- you mentioned kind of the current status of -- on the PRC side of their senior defense leadership. And I think we do note in the report that anticorruption investigations in the PLA are -- a component of the party-wide effort that Xi Jinping has accelerated since he took office.

I think I would say that we know that corruption in the PLA has been a longstanding problem and that it's got -- from the PRC's own judgments, a profound effect on what they're able to do and how they do it.

You know, the PRC media also announced recently that the PLA Rocket Force leadership was being replaced and that the PLA had launched an inquiry into corruption that was linked to the procurement of military equipment. So I think indicating that there are anticorruption campaign -- definitely remains in progress.

And then -- I mean again on the sort of the key issue at the heart of your question there -- we certainly think it's been unfortunate when we haven't been able to have those senior level engagements at the Shangri-La Dialogue for instance this year. You know, the handshake was not a substitute for a more in-depth substantive discussion.

We hope that we'll be able to have those more in-depth and more substantive discussions in the future, -- again, including at the most senior levels.


SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: And then also that our Defense Attache's office in Beijing maintains with their counterparts in the PLA's office of International Military Cooperation definitely will regard those also as -- again, part of that -- what we see as the importance that we attach to maintaining those open lines of communication. And I would just -- again, reiterate that that should also include the senior most levels.

Q: Thank you.

STAFF: Chris Woody, Insider.

Q: Hi, thanks for your time. The executive summary mentions a few times that the PLA has been tasked with developing the capability to project power globally. I wanted to ask, China's Air Force and Navy as they stand now, are those forces that can effectively project power globally or do you think they still have a ways to do before they have the platforms and the personnel who can carry out long range operations for extended periods?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah. So I think -- we've seen the PRC really start to pursue these more global capabilities, now for going back almost two decades, I would say, really to the early 2000s. You know 2004 was when then President Hu Jintao assigned the -- what are sometimes referred to as the new historic missions to the PLA, which included this more global aspect of their -- their kind of responsibility to support Chinese foreign policy and support the PRC's national security interest.

I think -- what I would say there, is that they have made pretty considerable amount of progress. They've been conducting the anti-piracy operations now for a long time, for example. You know we've seen them work on developing large transport air, craft that could support the PLA's power of projection capabilities. The aircraft carrier program, -- the establishment of some -- of at least the beginnings of a network of global basis with the first base in Djibouti, the continued construction of a PLA facility at Ream Naval base in Cambodia.

And I think I would also -- note here their participation in peace keeping operations. Some of the bilateral and multilateral military exercises that they conduct -- all of these are -- I think indicators of growing global military activities on the PLA's part. 

You know at the same time I think they still have -- a long way to go in terms of having the level of military capability that I -- that we judge that they think that they need to advance their global security and economic interest.

Q: Right. And thank you for that. And you mentioned the basing there, there's been lots of rumors about bases in lots of countries but right now we've only seen concrete information or developments in Djibouti and Cambodia. Do you assess that's because China hasn't had any luck anywhere else or is it still -- is it the case that China isn't moving on this with as much urgency as other things?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I -- I guess I would just characterize it as a work in progress. I think they're continuing to try to expand the access in the locations that are available to the PLA globally -- and I would expect to see continued effort and continued development -- continued developments on that front in the coming years.

Q: Thank you.

STAFF: Lalit, Press Trust India.

Q: Hi. Thank you for this. I wanted to ask you have you seen, as compared to last year, the Chinese military buildup in the Tibet regions and how -- and (inaudible) border with India? Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: All right. Thank you. So I think what I would -- what I would say there is that -- we see these -- the border tensions reflecting a concerning trend of more assertiveness and provocative behavior by the PRC. You know with -- although I don't have a lot of -- detailed information to present to you on -- force disposition current military activities there, I think -- what I would is that within India we do have a long standing and growing ties that are based on a shared commitment and shared interest politically, economically, culturally, security interest as well, including a commitment to a free and open and prosperous Indo-Pacific.

And -- we do remain concerned about the Chinese efforts that you described. And again, as part of a sort of broader set of efforts throughout the region -- that include engaging in different types of coercive practices here, which -- in this case has included the coercive military activities that you cited.

And I guess, -- I mean, although again -- I don't have detailed information about the force disposition, we do have in the report kind of a laydown of where PLA forces are in the Western Theater Command a little bit more generally.

And we did see in 2022 them continue to increase their deployment of forces and to build up their infrastructure -- opposite India. And so although we may not have quite the level of detail that your question is asking for, I would point you to that section in that report where we do go through some of the development of the military infrastructure, as well as some of the activities that took place in 2022.

Q: Thank you.

STAFF: Jeff, Task and Purpose.

Q: Thank you. This wasn't in the executive summary but the China power report has a handy dandy chart of how many missiles the Chinese have. And I noticed from 2021, they said they had 300 intermediate range ballistic missiles. And then last year it said it was more than 250.

So I'm hoping -- can I get a little more fidelity on exactly how many of these intermediate range ballistic missiles the Chinese have? And as a quick follow-up, it looks like the Chinese now have 370 ships and subs in their Navy. Did they build more than 30 vessels in the past year? Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: OK. So on China's rocket force, we do have a chart in this year's report that breaks down by ICBMs, IRBMs, MRBMs, and SRBMs; including both launchers and missiles.

And so for IRRBMs, what we list in this year's report is 250 launchers and 500 missiles. So I think that hopefully answers the question on the intermediate range ballistic missiles.

In terms of the naval forces, I think -- I'm sorry, could you just repeat the --

Q: Sure. In 2022 the report said that China had about 340 ships and subs total. Now it says they have more than 370 vessels, ships and subs. So am I -- if I do arithmetic, does that mean that they built more than 30 vessels in the span of one year?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: So, I think, I guess I would -- I'm not sure that -- reflects exactly the shipbuilding numbers but rather probably the entry into service -- of ships. So, I think -- roughly. 

And we -- I can try to run that down and come back to you with a little more detailed answer, but I think that -- I would regard it as reflecting an increase in the number of ships in the PLA Navy. 

Q: Thank you. 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Not necessarily the exact shipbuilding numbers because, of course -- what they're building could include things that haven't yet been -- have not yet completed construction and been turned over to the Navy. 

STAFF: Jim, DOD News. 

Q: Hi, just one -- just one question, you know, President Xi has been going around this week as the 10th anniversary of the bridge in -- or Belt and Road Initiative. And I'm just curious, from a -- from the Chinese standpoint, has the BRI been successful? And, you know, in the past you always made a big part about the military civil fusion development. Is it -- from and again the Chinese standpoint, is it working that way? Is it still fused with the Belt and Road? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Sure, so the Belt and Road Initiative, I guess I would say that I think they're -- they're meeting some of their objectives and maybe falling short of them in other areas. That's -- it sort of depends on region and country and project. 

As for the military civil fusion, I think they're still pursuing that with a lot of determination, they just don't use the term military civil fusion to refer to it in public anymore. They try to kind of talk around that term, but what they're describing still very much reflects the same ambitions and the same kinds of activities that they're undertaking to try to achieve them, in terms of what we would have labeled the military civil fusion and -- again, although they're not referring to it with that specific term publicly anymore, they're absolutely still pursuing it. 

STAFF: Lara, Politico.

Q: Hey, thanks so much for doing this. A couple questions. Just on, the report mentions a new long range fire capability that was demonstrated in the live-fire exercise around Taiwan last year. Can you speak to what that is exactly?

And then my second question is just, I wanted to press you on the nuclear numbers just a little bit. You said more than 1,000 by 2030 and exceeding the projections last year. Like, how much more? Is it like 1,010? Is it 1,500? Can you just any more fidelity in -- of what you mean by more would be helpful. 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Sure. So, on the -- I'll take the second part first. I mean, we're saying over 1,000. You know, we're not trying to suggest it's dramatically -- higher. You know, I -- we wouldn't put over 1,000 if we thought that that wasn't the right way to describe it, if that's helpful to you. 

I think that -- we're not really able to get into the details of -- the underlying intelligence assessments. I mean, we try to, for this report, in different places declassify things so that we can put them out into the public discussion and try to have a well-informed public debate. But -- sometimes we're not able to necessarily go much deeper in terms of the details or exactly how we arrive at some of the assessments. 

And then, I think I'll have to get back to you on the specifics of the conventional strike capability that you referenced. 

Q: Okay, so just to clarify, you said it's not a lot more -- not drastically more than 1,000? But -

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I would -- we try to describe it in a way that we think is accurate by saying over 1,000. 

Q: Okay. Okay. Thank you. 

STAFF: Meredith at Jane’s.

Q: Hi, sir, thank you for doing this. I wanted to ask about the executive summary's mention of conventional -- conventionally armed ICBMs and if you can say -- how the range for those conventionally armed missiles has changed from your report last year and what the significance of that is? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Sure, so I think what I would say is just to put it in a little bit broader context -- the PLA rocket force, when it introduced conventional missile capabilities now more than 20 years ago, started with short-range ballistic missiles. They expanded over time to include medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles and their conventional force. 

And now, we see them kind of continuing to follow that progression and we see -- possible interest in development of a conventional ICBM. So, what we would highlight about that is it would give them a conventional capability to strike the U.S. for the first time from -- for the PLA rocket force and to -- of course, to threaten targets in the continental U.S. and Hawaii and Alaska. 

And, I think -- as we see them maybe exploring the development of those conventionally armed ICBMs, it raises some questions about risks to strategic stability -- which again, I think, highlights the importance of having clear and direct conversations between the U.S. and the PRC on these topics, which we'll continue to pursue. 

Q: And can you clarify how far along the PRC is in the development of those longer range ICBMs? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No, I don't have anything to add at this time beyond what we have in the report. 

Q: Thank you. 

STAFF: Howard, War Zone.

Q: Thanks so much for doing this. Got a couple questions about Chinese aviation. Can you tell me the status of the H-20 stealth bomber and when we'll see that emerge? 

And also, can you tell me about the development of the regional stealth bomber that's been sighted in public U.S. government intelligence assessments is also being in development? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I don't recall right now having a lot of details on that in the report. I'm going to thumb through for a second here. But that may be one that we need to get back to you on what we're able to provide there, if anything. 

Q: On both of those aircraft?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes, on the -- you were asking about -- the one that's referred to as the H-20 as -

Q: Yes. 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: -- as well as the regional bomber?

Q:  Yes, on those. Yes. You can get back to me on that, that would be great. 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes, I may need to do that. Sorry. 

Q: Okay, thanks. 

STAFF: Okay, Brian, Aviation Week.

Q: Hi, thank you. And I guess I'll just continue down the trend of Chinese aviation. The executive summary highlights developments of beyond visual range air-to-air missiles and new secret capabilities. This wasn't mentioned in last year's report, and it's been a while since we heard much about the PL-15. Can you expand anymore on what you've seen in this space over the past year or so? 

And secondly, last year's report highlighted Chinese domestic efforts for domestic aircraft engine production, specifically for J-10s, J-20s, Y-20s. Does this report have any update on the expansion of this, the success of this transition, and where things stand on that? Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: So I don't think I have anything more specific to go into on any of the long-range air-to-air missiles. 

With respect to the engine developments, that might also be one for us to get back to you on. As I'm -- as I'm going through the report though, I did find where we referred to the H-20. So let me -- with apologies for going back to the previous question for a moment.

You know, we know that the PRC has stated publicly through its official media that the H-20 will have nuclear as well as conventional roles, and we do also mention that the PLA Air Force is developing a new medium and long-range stealth bombers for regional targets as well as global targets.

And to the question about sort of when these would enter into service, we note in the report that PLA Air Force leaders first publicly announced the program in 2016. And -- it would be our expectation that it would take probably more than a decade to develop that type of advanced bomber. 

So that is what we have on the H-20 in the report, and I'll see if we are able to add anything on the other questions, although I don't believe that we covered those in detail.

STAFF: All right. Mark, Defense Scoop?

Q: Hi. Yeah, thanks for doing this. You noted that the PLA is growing its capabilities in cyberspace. I'm wondering if you can expand on that a little bit? And describe what you've observed in the last year regarding Chinese advancements in their information capabilities or their approach to include cyber capabilities, cyber ops, electronic warfare, or information warfare?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, sure. So I think the first thing I would highlight is I think the PLA really sees space, cyber, and electronic warfare as very closely interconnected. You know, they've written about a -- concept that they refer to as integrated network electronic warfare for many years.

And then we -- we've seen, with the establishment of the PLA's Strategic Support Force, that they have tied those capabilities together under one organization. You know, definitely we see them trying to modernize all of those capabilities.

And -- for the Strategic Support Force -- we do talk in the report about the Network Systems Department, which is sometimes referred to as the Cyberspace Force, which is responsible for kind of all of the information warfare capabilities. So that includes cyber warfare, what -- technical reconnaissance, electronic warfare, and they also have a psychological warfare mission. 

And then we talk a little bit about the Space Systems Department, which is also sometimes referred to as the Aerospace Force, and that's responsible for all of the PLA's military space operations. And -- as we've highlighted also in some previous years, they really view information superiority and space superiority in particular as critical elements of what they want to be able to do in terms of -- future combat operations -- so we see them continuing to try to improve their cyber and electronic warfare and also their -- kind of full range of counter-space capabilities and technologies.

Q: Yeah, I mean, have you noticed within the last year any changes in terms of growth to that force or change in risk calculus or more aggression in terms of targets that they're trying to go after, either within the United States or around the world?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: So for the Cyber Force, I don't think I really have anything more to add there -- sorry, for the cyber operations. 

Then -- I guess on the counter-space side, while we're on the subject of the PLA's Strategic Support Force, I mean, I would note that -- we do see them continuing to acquire and develop a full range of counter-space capabilities -- so kinetic kill capabilities, ground-based lasers, some orbital counter-space capabilities, as well as expanding their space surveillance capabilities -- which of course are really important, in terms of their ability to monitor objects, to have space situational awareness, and to enable their counter-space actions. 

So we do go into that a -- little bit more in the report, on what they're doing on the Aerospace Force side of the house and the Strategic Support Force.

All right, so I think that was the end of our list of questions, as I understand it. So really -- thanks to everyone for joining us this afternoon and for bearing with us as -- I know we had to reschedule, I think, at least once. So thanks for your patience. And again, please feel free to follow up, (staff) can help address any questions we weren't able to fully answer or other ones that come up.

And thanks again, everybody.