A lot has changed since the Pentagon’s Report on China’s military twenty years ago naively dismissed the rise of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The latest report by the Office of the Defense Secretary released yesterday, details how America’s most serious existential threat has grown to equal, and in some areas surpass, the U.S. military in just two decades.
China is on track to become what Supreme Leader Xi Jinping has described as a “world-class military” before the middle of this century. The year 2049 is the 100th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Xi’s long proclaimed date for China to become the world’s biggest superpower.
The 2020 Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China (PRC) report to Congress alarmingly shows how “China is already ahead of the United States in certain areas” such as shipbuilding, size of their Navy, land-based conventional ballistic and cruise missiles, and integrated air defense systems.
According to the report, China’s PLA Navy (PLAN) has already grown to become the world’s largest navy with about 350 ships and submarines. Over 130 of those vessels are major surface combatants, compared to a total U.S. battle fleet of less than 300 ships. The U.S. has made plans for a 350 ship Navy, but even if that goal is reached, the PLAN is expected to continue growing beyond that.
This year alone, the PLAN is expected to add ten major ships to its fleet. Since China can focus most of its sea power near its shores to threaten U.S. allies such as Taiwan and Japan, and the South China Sea, this puts considerable pressure on the U.S. Navy which has more major global commitments.
Adding to the severe weapons disparity, the report notes that China also now has more than 1,250 offensive intermediate and medium-range ground-launched ballistic missiles (GLBMs) and ground-launched cruise missiles (GLCMs), some able to strike targets up to 3,400 miles away. As Newsweek explained, the U.S. was restricted from producing these such weapons by its 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with Russia.
President Trump had the U.S. leave the INF Treaty in August of last year, partly due to Russian cheating, but mostly to allow the U.S. to counter this massive Chinese missile superiority. Since then the U.S. has tested both a medium-range GLCM and GLBM, but it is now in a game of catch up.
In addition to this massive offensive missile capability, Newsweek notes that:
China has also invested in defense, establishing what the Pentagon report called ‘one of the world’s largest forces of advanced long-range surface-to-air systems.’ These include state-of-the-art Russian S-400s, S-300s and domestically-produced systems ‘that constitute part of its robust and redundant integrated air defense system architecture.’
Also worrisome is China’s plans to double its nuclear stockpile by 2030, which I have reported on earlier. In this report, the Pentagon released an estimate of China’s nuclear stockpile for the first time. It estimates that it is still relatively small, in “the low-200s,” but “is projected to at least double in size” to 500 weapons over the next decade.
This latest Pentagon report shows how serious the Chinese military threat is, and the immense effort required by the U.S. going forward just to keep pace with the Chinese Dragon.
The “PRC has marshalled the resources, technology, and political will over the past two decades to strengthen and modernize the PLA in nearly every respect,” the report assessed. If the U.S. is unable to do the same over the next decade, it will pay a very heavy price.