The Department of Defense has released an assessment of China’s economic and military capabilities. Front and center in the report is the $50 billion of damage China does to America’s economy each year. Additionally, China is spending ever more on its military. Andrew Erickson reports for The National Interest (abridged):
In keeping with the Trump Administration’s outlook and priorities, there is greater emphasis on economic issues than in earlier years of the report. This year’s iteration highlights the U.S. Trade Representative’s conclusion that PRC government policies cause “harm to the U.S. economy of at least $50 billion per year.”
Building on previous years’ analysis, the report judges that China’s defense budget grew an average of 8% inflation-adjusted from 2009-18. Beijing’s official military spending in 2018 was just over $170 billion; the Pentagon estimates actual spending at over $200 billion. As for revenue generation, China is currently in the top five of arms exporters globally, typically offering more flexible terms and creative side payments than competitors.
The speed of growth for the PLAN’s already large submarine force has slowed, but remains impressive: the Pentagon’s revised projection still predicts 65-70 submarines by 2020.
Employing the world’s largest shipbuilding industry by tonnage, China is series-producing several major surface combatants.
China’s submarines and warships alike are outfitted with large quantities of potent cruise missiles, guided by increasingly precise over-the-horizon (OTH) data fusion and targeting capabilities.
For many readers, one of the report’s most exciting revelations is that China began constructing its third aircraft carrier in 2018. This news was not confirmed conclusively by previous open sources, allowing the Pentagon to make a unique contribution with its disclosure. This second indigenously built carrier is poised to be China’s largest thus far, with the greatest endurance; and only one thus far with a catapult launch system capable of dispatching larger, more capable aircraft. It follows China’s first indigenously built carrier, slated for commissioning later this year. That platform, in turn, is based on China’s only operational carrier to date, the Ukrainian-built but Chinese-refitted Liaoning.
China has the world’s third largest aviation forces, with more than 2,700 aircraft, of which more than 2,000 are combat aircraft. Aeroengines remain a critical Chinese weakness, but China is finally investing heavily in improvements. The 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20) prioritizes turbofans as a top technology focus area, together with hypersonics and the deployment and hardening of satellites.
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