How Advanced Is China's Military Development?

      January 14, 2011 07:22

      Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie told his visiting U.S. counterpart Robert Gates earlier this week that China's military technology is decades behind the world's most advanced armed forces and does not threaten any country. The comments came after Gates voiced concerns about the latest developments including the test flight of a stealth jet fighter and the nearing deployment of the "aircraft carrier killer" missile Dongfeng-21D. Is China's military technology really that far behind the U.S.?

      ◆ World's 2nd Biggest Military Spender

      From 1989 to 2009, China maintained double-digit increases in annual military spending, and in 2010 it rose 9.8 percent. Experts believe the actual amount of money is two or three times higher than the amount announced.

      According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, China's military spending stood at US$98.8 billion last year, a distant second after the U.S. which spent $663.2 billion. China spent most of the money on modernization projects, including the development of new weapons. A military parade in Beijing in October 2009 showed off its latest military buildup.

      Clockwise from top left, Yingji-62, CJ-10, Julang-2 and Dongfeng-21

      China unveiled 52 cutting-edge weapons during that parade, including the J-10 fighter jet, KJ-200 early-warning aircraft and Hong-6U aerial refueling tanker aircraft. It also introduced its latest missiles, including the Dongfeng-21, Julang-2, and Yingji-62. With a range of between 1,300 km and 2,000 km, the Dongfeng series of missiles are capable of taking on U.S. aircraft carriers operating in the northern Pacific and South China Sea, while the Julang series, with a maximum range of 8,000 km, can reach the U.S. mainland.

      At the Zhuhai Air Show in November last year, China unveiled the CJ-10 anti-ship missile and WJ-600 unmanned bomber. This July, it is expected to commission its first aircraft carrier modified from the unfinished Soviet aircraft carrier Varyag, with a homegrown aircraft carrier being built in Shanghai to be unveiled next year.

      ◆ Stealth Bomber

      What are the capabilities of China's first stealth fighter, the fifth-generation J-20? Gary Li, a researcher at London's International Institute for Strategic Studies, said the J-20 is capable of achieving the missions China requires but lags behind the U.S.' F-22 Raptor in stealth terms and should not pose a threat. Experts have said the J-20 will not be deployed until after 2017.

      But others warn against underestimating China. Its Jin class of nuclear-powered submarines can carry up to 12 Julang-2 ICBMs with maximum ranges of 8,000 km.

      U.S. attitudes have changed due to the test flight of the J-20. Last week, the U.S. announced it would cut defense spending for the first time since 2001. Gates originally said the Chinese stealth jet to be deployed in 2020 at the earliest, but was embarrassed by the sooner-than-expected test flight earlier this week. He even mentioned continued spending on the Joint Strike Fighter, new long-range nuclear bomber, and new electronic jamming technology programs, which had been halted.

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