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The Pentagon identifies 2027 as a key deadline for China military modernization, then 2035 and 2049

USA / China

G Iuvinale

The U.S. Department of Defense released its annual report on the "Military and Security Developments Involving the People's Republic of China," commonly known as the China Military Power Report (CMPR), November 29, 2022.

This year's report follows the Defense Department's release of its unclassified National Defense Strategy in October, which identified the PRC as the most consequential and systemic challenge to U.S. national security and a free and open international system. The report covers the contours of the People's Liberation Army's way of war, surveys the PLA's current activities and capabilities and assesses the PLA's future military modernization goals.

The highlights

Expanding PRC National Power to Transform International System The PRC increasingly views the United States as deploying a whole-of-government effort meant to contain the PRC's rise, which presents obstacles to its national strategy. The PRC's strategy aims to achieve "the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation" by 2049 in a determined pursuit to amass its national power to transform an international system more favorable to the PRC's political governance system and national interests.

Increasing PRC Military Coercion

Over the course of 2021, and as seen in 2022, the CCP has increasingly turned to the PLA as an instrument of statecraft in support of its national strategy and global ambitions. The report highlights that the PLA has adopted more dangerous, coercive and aggressive actions in the Indo-Pacific region.

Strengthening PLA Nuclear, Space and Counterspace Capabilities

The PRC has clearly stated its ambition to strengthen its "strategic deterrent," and has continued to accelerate the modernization, diversification and expansion of its nuclear forces, as well as the development of its space and counterspace capabilities. Intensifying Diplomatic, Economic, Political and Military Pressure Against Taiwan

Intensifying Diplomatic, Economic, Political and Military Pressure Against Taiwan

The PLA will likely continue to increase military pressure — in concert with diplomatic, information and economic pressure — in an attempt to compel Taiwan toward unification.

PLA Trends in the Indo-Pacific Region

In 2021, and through 2022, the PRC increasingly turned to the PLA as an instrument of statecraft as it adopted more coercive and aggressive actions in the Indo-Pacific region. The CMPR highlights the following four trends:

Developing PLA Military Strategy

  • The report offers analysis of the PLA's way of war and assesses its future military modernization goals. The PLA is setting its sights to 2027, looking to develop the capabilities to be a more credible military tool for the CCP to wield as it pursues Taiwan unification.

  • In 2021, the PLA began discussing a new core operational concept called “Multi-Domain Precision Warfare,” intended to leverage its command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) network to rapidly identify key vulnerabilities in an adversary’s operational system and launch precision strikes against those vulnerabilities.

Increasing Coercion in the Taiwan Strait

  • The PRC conducting persistent military operations near Taiwan — and training for a Taiwan contingency — likely signals a greater urgency for the PLA to improve its planning and capabilities as PRC leaders look for military options to achieve their objectives.

  • Throughout 2021, and into 2022, the PLA increased provocative and destabilizing actions in and around the Taiwan Strait, to include increased flights into Taiwan's claimed air defense identification zone and conducting exercises focused on the potential seizure of one of Taiwan's outlying islands.

Increasing Unsafe and Unprofessional PLA Opereational Behavior

  • Throughout 2021 and into 2022, PLA naval vessels and aircraft have exhibited a sharp increase in unsafe and unprofessional behavior in the Indo-Pacific region, including lasing, aerobatics, discharging objects and activity that impinge upon the ability of nearby aircraft to maneuver safely.

  • Unsafe and unprofessional behavior appears to target U.S. military aircraft and naval vessels, as well as those of our key allies and partners.

Stregthening PRC's "Strategic Deterrent" Capabilities

  • In 2021, the PRC probably accelerated its nuclear expansion. DOD estimates China's operational nuclear warhead stockpile has surpassed 400 warheads.

  • By 2035, the PLA plans to "basically complete modernization" of its national defense and armed forces. If China continues the pace of its nuclear expansion, it could likely field a stockpile of about 1500 warheads by that time.


This report illustrates how the Chinese Communist Party has frequently turned to the People's Liberation Army in support of its global ambitions, and provides an assessment of PLA capabilities that underscores why the PRC represents the Defense Department's pacing challenge. In addition to continuing to monitor the PRC's evolving military strategy, doctrine and force development, the United States – alongside allies and partners – will continue to urge China to be more transparent about its military modernization program.

Earlier this month, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters, “China is not shy about their goal. They want to be the No. 1 power in the globe by mid-century, by 2049. And they want to do that military, diplomatically, informationally, economically, and so on and so forth.”

But, Milley added, “China is not going to be a better military than the United States military is. But they're going to try, but they're not going to get there. We will be No. 1 five years from now, 10 years from now, and 50 years from now. We are not going to let China take No. 1.”

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