Chinese efforts to replicate, mirror, copy or simply “rip-off” U.S. innovations in the area of weapons development is something that has been tracked for many years now, as it appears to expand beyond the somewhat visible or transparent Chinese effort to “borrow” U.S. 5th-generation stealth fighter external configurations.
DoD’s public news reports have on several occasions in recent years cited concerns that the Chinese J-20 and J-31 do look like F-35 and F-22 design rip-offs to a large extent. Yet it does not stop there, as Chinese drones, armored vehicles and even USS Ford-like aircraft carrier designs appear extremely similar to U.S. designs.
Much of this phenomenon is known and documented in public Pentagon reports, other news reports and Congressional studies, yet there also appears to be a lesser recognized, yet equally troubling Chinese effort to mirror, copy or simply replicate U.S. strategies, tactics, modernization approaches and training methods. Clear evidence of this kind of copying can potentially be seen in the Pentagon’s interesting 2021 China report.
Opposition Force (OPFOR)
Chinese efforts to pursue a U.S.-military-like “multi-domain” approach to future warfare is by no means new or surprising, yet there are two other areas mentioned briefly in the Pentagon’s China report which raise interesting questions.
The recently published Pentagon report, called “2021 Report on Military and Security Developments involving the People’s Republic of China,” says the country is greatly increasing the “realism of its training and the effectiveness of Opposition Force units (OPFOR).”
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Is China “red-teaming” with much greater fidelity, scope and technological sophistication? Are Chinese wargames and war preparation methods increasingly “borrowing” from or copying U.S. approaches? This is indeed interesting, and of course not surprising, as the U.S. is well known for its ability to create “red-teams” or OPFOR units.
The Air Force’s Red Flag training wargame, for instance, has in recent years used advanced weapons such as EW jamming or “GPS-denied” conditions as part of an elaborate effort to test and prepare U.S. platforms against the kinds of extremely sophisticated adversaries they may face in great power warfare.
While many specifics regarding the composition or technological elements of an OPFOR are likely unavailable for security reasons, Air Force news reports have explained that great care is put into creating a realistic and sophisticated OPFOR to truly challenge the limits of U.S. forces.
OPFOR units are by no means restricted to the Air Force, as Army and Navy units also wargame or train against advanced “red-team” units. This is particularly true at the Army’s National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., where training has for many years now sought to prepare the service for major, multi-domain mechanized warfare against a sophisticated adversary.
In fact the NTC, one could say, was somewhat ahead of its time as it was deeply immersed in preparations for great power war more than 10-years ago during counterinsurgency efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan when the U.S. military was understandably distracted or engaged in counterterrorism.
“Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, border clashes with India, and other significant events in 2020, the PLAA accelerated its training and fielding of equipment from the already fast pace of recent years,” the Pentagon report writes.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.