83. National Intelligence Estimate1

NIE 13–3–70

[Omitted here is the Table of Contents.]


The Problem

To assess the strength, capabilities, and disposition of the Chinese Communist general purpose and air defense forces with particular reference to the impact of domestic political developments and Sino-Soviet tensions.


Twenty years have now been expended in Communist China’s effort to strengthen and modernize its armed forces. Peking’s persistent willingness to allocate a large share of its resources to military purposes has yielded some creditable results. At the same time, however, the effort has been beset by difficulties caused by disruptive economic and political policies and by the ambivalence between Maoist military doctrine and the requirements for building a modern, professional military force.
The upheavals of the Cultural Revolution interferred with military training and degraded the combat capabilities and readiness of the Chinese Armed Forces. But the extent of this degradation and the degree of its persistence up to the present time is in dispute. CIA and INR believe that the level of training is still well short of normal in the army because of continued heavy involvement in non-military activities and that progress in extricating the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) from these tasks will be slow. DIA and NSA, on the other hand, believe that training in the army approached normal levels in 1968 and that any residual degradation in combat readiness and effectiveness is slight. A discussion of the evidence on these points at issue is contained in paragraphs 12 to 17.
The deteriorating course of Sino-Soviet relations, which first deprived China of extensive military assistance and then in recent years led to an ominous buildup of military forces and pressure against China, has added another dimension to China’s defense problem. Although Peking’s reaction has so far been cautious and limited in scope, the Soviet buildup is almost certainly having a major impact on Chinese military planning.
Despite its problems, the PLA has the capability for putting up a formidable defense of the mainland. Its principal strength lies in the size of the ground forces (about two and one-half million) and their fighting potential as an infantry force. Although China’s military stance is basically defensive, its forces could overwhelm its neighbors in Southeast Asia or Korea if not opposed by a modern outside power; and, as it is demonstrating in Indochina, Peking can provide important assistance to insurgent groups across its southern borders.
In conventional combat against a modern opponent, however, each branch of the PLA would have critical weaknesses. Army units are believed to be seriously deficient in motorized transport and heavy armament; the air defense system probably lacks an adequate communications and data processing capability and could not withstand a large-scale, sophisticated air attack; and China’s navy, while growing, is still little more than a coastal defense force.
As estimated, current and projected production programs will not, for many years, provide sufficient quantities of the various types of weapons and equipment needed to remedy matériel deficiencies and to raise the PLA to modern combat standards. But the Chinese are persevering—and almost certainly will continue to do so under any foreseeable leadership—with a fairly broad range of modernization programs along the following lines:
Ground Forces. Although the army is deficient in firepower and mobility and seems to have made less progress in modernization than might have been expected, the firepower of Chinese combat units is increasing. Already well supplied with small arms, ground units are receiving more tanks and artillery.
Air Forces. All elements of China’s air defense apparently have been improved. Command and control capabilities have probably increased, more and better radars have been deployed at an increasing rate, and Mig–19 production probably has recovered from the Cultural Revolution. SAM deployment, however, has been proceeding slowly and we are increasingly uncertain about Chinese plans for producing the Mig–21. There is some evidence that an aircraft of native design based on the Mig–19 has been produced in China.
Naval Forces. With few exceptions, naval shipbuilding programs appear to have recovered fully during 1969 from the Cultural [Page 220] Revolution, and current expansion of shipyards indicates that new programs could be planned. Greater emphasis is being placed on production of larger, longer range ships capable of extended patrols. Construction of R-class submarines now averages about two units a year, and China has begun to build destroyers. Old destroyers are being converted to carry cruise missiles.

[Omitted here is the 24-page Discussion section of the NIE, which includes the following chapters: I. The People’s Liberation Army and the Cultural Revolution, II. The People’s Liberation Army Today, and III. Outlook; and an Annex: Status of Forces and Trends.]

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, INR/EAP Files: Lot 90 D 110, National Intelligence Estimates, NIE 13–3–70. Secret; Controlled Dissem. Another copy is in Central Intelligence Agency, Job 79–R1012, NIC Files. According to a note on the covering sheet, the Central Intelligence Agency and intelligence organizations of the Departments of State and Defense, AEC, and NSA participated in the preparation of this estimate. All members of the USIB concurred with the estimate on June 11 except for the representative from the FBI, who abstained on the grounds that the subject was outside his jurisdiction. For the full text of this NIE, see Tracking the Dragon, p. 678.