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.
Wrapped in secrecy for most of the decade following its 1998 test flight, Chengdu Aircraft Corp.’s J-10 multirole fighter is set to enter the global market. Following a development history that extends to the 1960s, and five years in the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF), the J-10 may emerge in the market soon after 2010, offering capabilities approaching Lockheed Martin’s F-16C Block 60, at half the price.
China will announce its annual military spending plans in March. If the 15% increase from 2009 is sustained, the officially acknowledged spending for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) could surpass $80 billion. But as China 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.
Two separate but related developments may affect the air operations of many nations. China is scaling up development of indigenous surface-to-air missiles, with an eye toward bolstering its air-defense capabilities and becoming an important, low-cost supplier to the market. Russia, Belarus and China are developing a new generation of VHF-band radars that track stealth aircraft.
China is expanding its force-projection capabilities on land, sea and in the air with a range of weapons. The primary goal is to protect economic interests through control of the western Pacific. But China also seeks to counter U.S. naval power in the region and make alliances with strategically placed countries like Iran and Pakistan.
Concern is growing over China’s development of a long-range, precision-strike antiship ballistic missile (ASBM). In a discussion of the weapon in this year’s annual China Military Power report to Congress, the Defense Dept. concludes the capability is significant, “as it provide[s] China with preemptive and coercive options in a regional crisis.”
China has been developing and purchasing weapons for precision-strike warfare. This is the hard edge of the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) doctrinal drive toward using increasingly sophisticated information technologies such as C4ISR (command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) to improve the capabilities of weapon systems (DTI March, p. 39). The PLA’s near-term goals appear to be greater asymmetric capabilities to target U.S. naval assets in the western Pacific and in space as part of an anti-access strategy.
In late 2008 and during the first weeks of 2009, Chinese and Russian sources provided new insights into China’s ambitions to build aircraft carriers and air wings to equip them. This data was then assessed in light of China’s momentous December 2008 decision to dispatch a small People’s Liberation Army Navy flotilla to prosecute Somali pirates (see related story on p. 21), resulting in wide commentary about the country’s ambitions to build a much larger conventional navy.