China regularly cites rising personnel and training costs as the reason for its growing defense budget; the buildup of a professional noncommissioned officer corps is a visible sign of such cost pressures. However, the country is investing in a broad program of advanced weapons development as it ratchets up military activities, in its “near abroad” and globally.
Images of its display from the upcoming Zhuhai air show demonstrate an uncanny resemblance to another famous supersonic ASCM, the Mach 2.8-3.0 Russian-Indian BrahMos. Both share the distinctive cone-inlet air intake, a two-stage structure and similar dimensions.
At 7,000 troops, the Peace Mission 2014 military exercise of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) was not large militarily. But its geopolitical importance was considerable: It was the biggest exercise to date for a budding anti-democratic alliance that includes two nuclear powers and could soon gain three more.
Ballistic missiles have often been a threat with a bigger bark than bite, mostly due to poor accuracy that renders them militarily ineffective unless armed with mass-destruction warheads. But, as reported last month (AW&ST Feb. 17, p. DT3), Israeli missile-defense expert Uzi Rubin expects a rapid proliferation of higher-precision weapons before 2020.
China was until the late 1990s content to follow Western unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) developments and keep pace by copying or purchasing foreign technology. But when the People's Liberation Army (PLA) launched a modernization program in the late 1990s to prepare for possible conflict over Taiwan, development of unmanned systems became a priority. The result has been phenomenal growth in the UAV sector, which engages aircraft, helicopter, cruise missile and model aircraft companies, private concerns and university research centers.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says it has the “potential to do for America’s military deterrent power . . . what AirLand Battle did” in the 20th century.
The chief of naval operations sees it as paradigm-shifting. “I don’t want to be over the top,” Navy Adm. Gary Roughhead said at an Aviation Week conference in February, “but it’s pretty ground-breaking.”
It is no secret that long-term U.S. Air Force and Navy planning is focused on China. This alone is straining U.S.-China relations, as well as triggering U.S. domestic criticism from those who regard war with China as inconceivable, and an internal squabble between China-focused planners and “boot-centric” Army and Marine Corps leaders.
China’s 2011 defense expenditure will not be announced until March. Its official $78-billion budget in 2010 represented a 7.5% increase from 2009, when spending rose 14.9%, and was the lowest in a decade. The average annual defense spending increase during the period 2000-09 was 11.8%. China’s actual military spending, however, is much higher. Based on Defense Intelligence Agency estimates for 2008 published by the Pentagon, 2010 spending could have exceeded $185 billion.
The International Institute for Strategic Studies’ Military Balance 2010 report places China third in the number of artillery systems it fields, after Russia and North Korea. But China doubtless exceeds both in resource commitment and breadth of artillery investments. Credited with an estimated 17,700-plus towed, self-propelled and rocket systems, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has at least 56 artillery systems in use, development or available for export. The U.S. Army and Marine Corps, by contrast, have 8,137-plus artillery pieces of roughly 10 types.
There has been significant soul-searching over the past year in the U.S. Defense Department about the viability of the Marine Corps’ amphibious assault mission, tied to the controversy over the troubled General Dynamics Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV) program. No such doubts about amphibious operations exist in China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Since the early 1990s, the PLA has developed and deployed two generations of amphibious armored assault vehicles, and more recently developed a range of specialized amphibious assault and support systems.
If China’s 15 percent military spending increase from 2009 is sustained in 2010, the officially acknowledged spending for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) could surpass $80 billion.
China will announce its annual military spending plans in March, but as the country has never published a detailed defense budget, Western estimates of the amount vary. One Pentagon estimate put spending in 2009 at more than $215 billion — second only to the U.S. Whatever the true amount, China is funding a multitude of programs.