In its latest annual assessment of the relative developments of the military might of leading countries, IISS points to the increasing power of China to challenge the military might of the United States. They note that China is on a path to building a very capable fighting force that at the very least will be able to hold its own in the South China Sea and Pacific.
In naval power, ISIS notes that China in the past four years has built more tonnage than the French Navy operates. However it should be also noted that China is only just starting build its second aircraft carrier. The US currently has 11 aircraft carriers in service, three under construction and one ordered.
The experts note that China has taken its technology often beyond that of its competitors. Whilst China in the past may have produced inferior copies of western technology today it is showing it is capable of surpassing the west. The West is increasingly seeing China as an effective potential military foe, and competitor in the global arms market.
The Military Balance – The Annual Assessment of Global Military Capabilities and Defence Economics
China’s military transformation continues apace. Its land and naval forces are modernising and its progress in defence aerospace remains remarkable.
China looks on track, by 2020, to begin operating the Chengdu J-20 low-observable combat aircraft in front-line squadron service. If this happens, the US would lose its monopoly on operational stealthy combat aircraft.
China also continues to develop an array of advanced guided-weapons projects. The IISS now assesses that the latest in China’s expanding missile line-up – the PL-15 extended-range air-to-air missile – could enter service this year. This weapon appears to be equipped with an active electronically scanned array radar, indicating that China has joined the few nations able to integrate this capability on an air-to-air missile.
These advances are all part of the Chinese air force’s goal to become capable of challenging any opponent in the air domain. For the past three decades, air dominance has been a key advantage for the US and its allies. This can no longer be assumed.
China is pursuing similar ambitions at sea. Since 2000, China has built more submarines, destroyers, frigates and corvettes than Japan, South Korea and India combined. To put this further into perspective, the total tonnage of new warships and auxiliaries launched by China in the last four years alone is significantly greater than the total tonnage of the French navy. The launch of the first Type- 055 cruiser presages the Chinese navy closing another gap in its developing blue-water capabilities. China’s navy is deploying further afield, including to Europe, and Beijing’s base in Djibouti will enable more naval deployments. Closer to home, China continues to reinforce its military facilities on features it has expanded in the South China Sea.
China has also continued to pursue advanced technologies, including extremely high-performance computing and quantum communications. China’s emerging weapons developments and broader defence-technological progress mean that it has become a global defence innovator and is not merely ‘catching up’ with the West. These developments in China remain underpinned by rising defence spending, which has since 2016 been aligned with GDP growth at 6–7%. But using all of these capabilities to best effect will require China making similar progress in improving training, doctrine and tactics.