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Is the US - China military gap closing?

Chinese vs US military posturing is nothing new, but as increased spending in China boosts technology innovation, should the US be concerned? We check in on the latest developments in an emerging arms race.

US defence officials express concerns…

On 21 June officials from across the US Department of Defense appeared before the House Armed Services Committee's military personnel subcommittee to warn of the Chinese threat to the US’ technological and industrial base. 

"We must get within the decision loops of our adversaries," the group said. "We must increase the speed and efficiency at which we educate, invent, adapt, prototype and demonstrate to respond to current and future threats to ensure and preserve our dominance in the field." 

"They want to develop weapons systems that strike farther, faster, harder and more precisely as a means to erode the traditional pillars of U.S. military strength and challenge the United States in all warfare domains." 
Anthony M. Schinella, national intelligence officer for military issues at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence

"Chinese industrial policies of economic aggression, such as investment-driven technology transfer and illegal intellectual property theft, pose a multifaceted threat to our entire national security innovation base." 
Eric Chewning, deputy assistant secretary of defense for manufacturing and industrial base policy 

…but China has a lot of catching up to do

China is certainly closing the gap military and is rapidly growing its capability on multiple fronts. However as pointed out in a recent The New Republic analysis piece, there is some question as to whether they currently pose the full extent of the threat they have been made out to be. 

According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Beijing’s military expenditure could overtake America’s by the mid-2030s. 

However, until China can exert military force to the same extent as the US, it will not be a true equal; at present the US is fighting terrorist organizations in at least 14 countries and, as of last year, had special operations forces deployed in 149 countries—roughly three-quarters of the world’s total. 

“Most of the military modernisation underway in China corresponds to achieving the types of capabilities the United States has already attained,” Cortez Cooper of the RAND Corporation said in February. 

China’s capability closers: tech developments that could turn things around 


Earlier in June an image appeared on Chinese online news portals and social media that appeared to show a full-scale model or technology demonstrator of what could become the first sixth-generation fighter, Aviation Industry Corporation of China’s Dark Sword. It is believed that the aircraft will be highly manoeuvrable, supersonic, and unmanned, with intention for use as an air superiority or deep-strike platform. Given current US capability, especially the patchy history of the F-35 so far, the deployment of such a jet could prove a game-changer.


China’s first Type 55 cruiser was launched in June last year. While it does not pose any significant threat to the US and its naval interests in itself, the fact that six more Type 55 are under construction at China’s state-owned shipyards may do. The US can field ships of equal if not greater capability than the Type 55, but there is some doubt as to whether it could, if required, keep up with the pace of Chinese shipbuilding. Given Chinese interest in dominating the South China Sea, the country’s ability to soon field a mature fleet of advanced warships should give other naval interest pause for thought. 


Meaning ‘assassin’s mace’, the systems the Chinese refer to as shashoujian can be used as the prelude to an attack, giving the advantage of surprise to the attacker over a foe that may be technologically superior. The most prevalent of these systems seemingly being developed in China are those targeting objects in space. Since its first successful anti-satellite missile test in 2007, China has been further developing systems that could allow it to bring down or damage satellites. Chinese hackers have reportedly infiltrated the US weather satellite system and in the past decade, two non-military US satellite systems have suffered glitches as a result of hacking attacks – although the attacks have not been attributed to any nation. The potential for disruption of vital satellite support systems should certainly be a concern for the US.