With the release of the Pentagon’s annual report to Congress on the status of China’s military, we’ve seen the usual fear about the Chinese bogeyman that we've come to expect. But, as we at BFAD have noted before, US defense spending still dwarfs China's defense spending, and will continue to do so for some time. This budgetary dominance translates to capability dominance as well despite the PLA’s modernization efforts of the past decade. The IISS points out that the Chinese will not have the ability to produce anything to actively challenge the F-22 or F-35 for about a decade. The Pentagon estimates that the J-20, China’s first stealth aircraft prototype, will not be operational before 2018 at the earliest.
According to the same report, when the Chinese complete work on their first carrier in the next few years, the old hull they bought from Ukraine, the Kuznetsov Hull-2, it will still “…take several years for an operationally viable air group of fixed and rotary wing aircraft to achieve even a minimal level of combat capability.”
The report also highlights how far China still has to go. In the chart below, the report illustrates that despite its modernization and with the exception of submarines, China’s forces are less than 40% modernized—with modern being defined as what US forces achieved in the 1980s.
We’ve emphasized that we need to make strategic choices given today’s fiscal environment, and if we make smart choices, we will still have plenty of resources to balance a rising China if that’s what we feel we need to do. As we stated last year when the 2010 report was released, we should be careful to understand what our actual motivations are.