Moscow. Last year, the three nations
with the world’s biggest military expenses were
the United States ($547 billion), the United Kingdom
($59.7 billion) and China ($58.3 billion).
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute
(SIPRI) published these figures in its 2008 annual
report. There are other estimates, but they are
not radically different.
Many research organizations and the media tend
to base their comparison of various countries
military might on their defense budgets, although
their estimates are often disputed, sometimes
by the objects of their studies.
Although such comparisons are very relative,
they are a point of departure for analyzing the
military potentialities of different countries.
Reports of international institutions which study
the strategy and national military potentials,
such as the London-based Institute of Strategic
Studies (IISS) and SIPRI, are considered the most
Only recently, Chinas defense budget was
a little over $20 billion. What stands behind
its leap in military expenses? What war machine
will it have in the future? Many countries, above
all Chinas nextdoor neighbours, are interested
in answers to these questions.
The growing economy is the main catalyst of Chinas
boosting military potentialities. Its industrialized
export oriented economy (China is increasingly
becoming the worlds producer of absolutely
everything - from man-made flowers to cars) requires
adequate military protection. And China has is
ambitious in raising its military and strategic
Despite successes in the last few decades however,
Chinas armed forces are still rather backward,
which another incentive for increasing military
Its ground forces are relatively numerous but
it does not have enough modern military hardware;
its army air defense system is weak, and its artillery
is insufficiently mobile.
The same is true of Chinas air force. Most
of its combat aircraft are copies of Soviet war
planes of the 1950s. The number of modern aircraft
Moreover, Chinas industry is not developed
enough to produce modern aircraft independently.
It cannot manufacture a number of important aggregates
at the level of the leading aircraft-building
Thus, its engines for combat aircraft are still
below their Western and Russian counterparts in
economic fuel consumption and overhaul period.
In order to close the gap, China will have to
make considerable investments, primarily to modernize
its industry. Chinas airlift force is also
weak. It does not have enough medium and heavy
military transport aircraft.
The development of the navy in China is impeded
not only by its rather backward industry but also
by the fleets second-rate role in its military
As distinct from the majority of industrially
advanced countries, Chinas fleet is not
an independent branch but part of its Peoples
Liberation Army (PLA). This subordinate position,
that is, orientation to army tasks, limits the
Chinese fleet to coastal missions.
The Chinese Navy primarily operates in territorial
waters and a 200 mile-long economic zone. For
actions in the open sea, China has a very limited
number of multi-purpose nuclear-powered submarines
and shore-based Xian H-6 (Tu-16 licensed copy)
But this situation is changing, and the PLAs
navy is expected to receive its first aircraft-carriers
in the coming decade.
Escorted by an adequate number of frigates or
destroyers, they will be able to operate in far-away
waters. As other nuclear powers, Chinas
strategy is largely based on the nuclear deterrent.
At present, it is equipping its nuclear forces
with new DF-31A missiles, which can destroy targets
at a distance of 11,000 km. It is also introducing
into its fleet nuclear-powered missile carriers
of the 094 type, which are harder to detect than
their predecessors (092-type submarines) and equipped
with JL-2 missiles capable of hitting targets
on other continents.
Experts believe that all in all, China now has
300-400 nuclear charges. This amount is much below
the Russian or US potentials but the situation
is gradually changing.
On the whole, Chinas armed forces are capable
of carrying out any regional missions, but in
strategic potentialities (that is, in nuclear
deterrent, and ability to transfer troops over
considerable distances) they are lagging behind
even their Russian counterpart, which is not at
its prime at the moment, to say nothing of the
This situation is most likely to remain the same
in the next 10 to 15 years. After all, China is
not going to have tough military confrontation