80. National Intelligence Estimate1

NIE 13–3–65


The Problem

To assess the character and present effectiveness of Communist China's armed forces, and to estimate trends which would affect their future capabilities.


This estimate is the first to attempt a comprehensive analysis of the broad range of questions pertaining to Communist China's military establishment. The Chinese Communist regime's intensive and highly effective security measures make China, in general, a difficult intelligence target. Estimating the nature and scope of the Chinese military production effort is made more difficult because much of the program is still in the developmental and factory construction stages. We are thus unable to make confident judgments on many important matters concerning the nature, scope, and prospects of Chinese Communist military developments and this paper should be read in the light of this general caution.


Communist Party influence permeates all levels of the Peoples Liberation Army (the entire Chinese Communist military establishment). The senior political and military leaders are united by ties of comradeship in a long revolutionary war. Political commissars are assigned to every command down to company level. Although the troops are conscripts, they are selected for political reliability and receive constant political indoctrination. (Paras. 12–13, and para. 1 of Annex B)
The Chinese Communists continue to proclaim the military doctrine of Mao Tse-tung which stresses self-reliance, the dominance of men and politics over weaponry, and the concept of a protracted “people's war.” This doctrine, deemed applicable to “wars of national liberation,” [Page 153]is also applied to a potential conflict with the US. Communist China is apprehensive regarding the possibility of a US nuclear attack followed by a large-scale invasion, but holds that in such a case China could accept nuclear devastation and still overwhelm the invaders in a protracted “people's war.” The Chinese leaders hope that this prospect will deter the US. (Paras. 6–10)
The Chinese leaders, however, cannot derive much comfort from this rationalization of their present strategic situation. Since coming to power in 1949, they have steadily sought to modernize their military establishment. They have considered it a matter of first importance to develop an independent nuclear capability. (Paras. 1, 11)
Communist China's military power derives primarily from the numerical strength of the Chinese Communist Army (CCA), some 2.3 million men, and tremendous reserves of manpower. Although the CCA is essentially an infantry force, its capabilities for combat are formidable. In open warfare against modern opposition, it would be hampered by shortages of armored equipment, heavy ordnance, mechanical transport and POL. In mountainous or jungle terrain, these shortages would be of less importance. In 1961, many Chinese units had serious shortages of equipment and were understrength. The Chinese have sought to ameliorate this situation by bringing up to strength and fully equipping selected divisions. We estimate that as many as one-third of the combat divisions have been so improved, and are distributed throughout most of China's military regions. We lack the information to make any confident estimates of present production rates of specific items of army equipment, but Communist China has sizable facilities for the production of such materiel. We believe that the production at land armaments plants has increased over the low 1960–1963 level and that it will continue to increase. (Paras. 15–17, 28, 38, and paras. 1–10 of Annex B)
The mainstay of the Chinese Communist fighter force in the air force and navy is the some 1,600 MIG-15s and MIG-17s. There are also about 150 MIG-19s and 25 to 35 MIG-21s. Except for the MIG-21s, these aircraft are obsolescent and probably less than 10 percent of these fighters have airborne intercept equipment. The backbone of China's air offense would be the 270 or so IL–28 jet light bombers. They also have 12 or so TU–16 medium bombers capable of carrying a bulky nuclear weapon. Attrition has taken its toll of aircraft in service and the Chinese aircraft industry is only now approaching the capability to arrest this decline. The Chinese have been adding to all of their aircraft development and production centers, and there are indications that they are getting ready to produce the MIG-19, or the MIG-21 and may, indeed be in the early stages of production. We believe the chances are less than even that production of bombers will begin during the next two or three years. (Paras. 22, 27, 41–43, and paras. 1–7 of Annex A)
The primary mission of the Chinese Communist Navy (CCN) is coastal defense. Its major combatant units are 21 operational W-class submarines, 4 Gordy-class destroyers, 4 Riga-class destroyer escorts, and 14 patrol escorts. The CCN also has about 155 motor torpedo boats. The capabilities of the CCN against modern opposition would be limited by obsolescent equipment and probably by substandard combat proficiency of its crews. We believe the Chinese have placed a high priority on construction of submarines. We estimate that by mid-1966 the Chinese Communist naval order of battle will include 25 W-class submarines. (Paras. 15, 25, 44, and paras. 8–11 of Annex A)
The Chinese have given top priority to their nuclear weapons and missile programs. On the basis of our scanty evidence, we estimate that the Chinese, over the next two years, will be able to carry out a nuclear test program and stockpile about 10 bombs. In the ballistic missile field, we believe the Chinese are developing a medium-range missile (1,000 n.m.) modeled on the Soviet SS–4. It is possible that by 1967 or 1968 the Chinese could have a few such missiles with compatible fission warheads. The Chinese almost certainly are determined to develop a nuclear strike capability against US territory. This determination could be reflected in the initiation of programs in the near future looking toward longer run development of a limited number of ICBMs and the construction of a small fleet of missile carrying submarines. Even if the Chinese have already begun work on such programs, we believe that they could not pose a threat to the US until sometime after 1970. (Paras. 51–52, 56)
During the last year or two, Communist China's industry has begun to revive from the severe setbacks it suffered when the Great Leap Forward collapsed and the Soviets withdrew most of their assistance in 1960. We believe the Chinese leaders will sustain substantial military production even at the risk of serious economic difficulty. However, China's economy will not be able to support anything approaching a maximum production effort by all sectors of military industry and in coming years the Chinese will have to make a number of difficult decisions regarding priorities. We cannot predict in what quantities Peiping may decide to turn out the various items of equipment, and there is a good chance that the Chinese themselves do not yet see their way clearly. (Paras. 31, 34, 56)
Nevertheless, barring some major setback, Communist China's military power will gradually grow and this growing power will almost certainly increase Peiping's political leverage against its Asian neighbors—whether or not Chinese Communist leaders actually engage in direct hostilities or commit armed forces abroad. (Paras. 53, 55)

[Here follow the Discussion portion of the estimate and two annexes.]

  1. Source: Department of State, INR/EAP Files: Lot 90 D 110, NIE 13–3–65. Secret. Controlled Dissem. According to a note on the cover sheet, the estimate was submitted by the Director of Central Intelligence and prepared by the CIA and the intelligence organizations of the Departments of State and Defense, Atomic Energy Commission, and the National Security Agency. All members of the U.S. Intelligence Board concurred on March 10, except the Assistant to the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who abstained on the grounds that the subject was outside his jurisdiction.