Some of these new platforms appear designed to assist Beijing with the kinds global humanitarian and development missions its military has been conducted in recent years.
As in previous years, the report lists a number of things the Chinese military is developing, including ballistic and surface-to-air missiles with greater payloads and ranges; multipurpose helicopters; and amphibious vehicles.
But, "this year's report is less a discussion about new weapon systems," Cheng says. "Instead, we have a list of what seem to be buying and that's the end of the story. It is interesting that [the Pentagon] seems to have chosen not to bring up some of the details."
Notably, the Pentagon report states "numerous indicators" of China expanding its special forces units. The report features no lengthy analysis about what the commandos might do, other than stating that "PLA special operations forces could infiltrate Taiwan and conduct attacks against infrastructure or leadership targets."
U.S. officials are increasingly concerned about cyber attacks that for years have appeared to originate inside China. Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia and Asia Pacific Security Affairs David Helvey says officials now have greater confidence that many cyber attacks emanate from Chinese soil.
At a Friday Pentagon press briefing, Helvey declined to comment on whether such attacks appear to be conducted by Chinese government entities or proxies.
Overall, the Pentagon's latest report paint a disturbing picture for Washington, Cheng says.
"What this shows is in the event of a conflict between the U.S. and China—and I think no one on either side of the Pacific wants that—the Chinese can make life very difficult for us," Cheng says.
"The Chinese are devoting resources—and have been for two decades with no end in sight—to modernizing its military," Cheng says. "In some areas, they are a lot better than they used to be. In others, like ballistic missiles, they are truly innovative. And in cyber, they are doing pretty well," Cheng says. "Also, they closely analyze our wars and how we fight. Many of their military weapon programs seem focused on trying to find key vulnerabilities in our capabilities."
Still, Cheng highlights a key difference between the American and Chinese militaries.
"The Chinese know, and so do we, that they haven't fought a war since 1979," says Cheng. "The one reality is the PLA does not have real combat experience. And people who have served will tell you there ain't nothing like real combat experience."
John T. Bennett covers national security and foreign policy for U.S. News & World Report via the DOTMIL blog. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter.
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