China tops US in ships, missiles, air defense: Pentagon report

Washington: China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has surpassed the US military in terms of navy size, land-based missiles and advanced air defense systems, a Pentagon report shows.

According to a Newsweek report, the PLA is now on track to become “world-class military” before the middle of this century.

The PRC has marshaled the resources, technology, and political will over the past two decades to strengthen and modernize the PLA in nearly every respect,” the report stated.

“China is already ahead of the United States in certain areas” such as ship-building, land-based conventional ballistic and cruise missiles, and integrated air defense systems.

When it comes to ships, China has managed to amass the world’s largest navy with some 350 ships and submarines, including more than 130 major surface combatants, according to the report. The U.S. Navy, in comparison, has about 293 vessels in its battle force.

At a press conference that preempted the report’s release, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Chad Sbragia told reporters that the PLA Navy was forecast to have an additional 10 ships by the end of the year. He noted, however, “there is certainly more to naval power than ship counts.”

On the topic of missile strength, Sbragia said China feels it has “an asymmetric advantage” over regional powers “not least of which is the United States, and the development and expansion of those have been significant.”

China also has more than 1,250 ground-launched ballistic missiles (GLBMs) and ground-launched cruise missiles (GLCMs) with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers, or roughly 310 and 3,420 miles, according to the report. The US was restricted from producing such weapons through its 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with Russia, leaving the Pentagon with just one fielded GLBM and no GLCMs.

China has also invested in 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.”

For the first time, the Pentagon released this year an estimate of China’s nuclear stockpile, which it estimated was in “the low-200s.” However, the report said that this number “is projected to at least double in size” over the next decade.

The figure was dwarfed by the estimated 5,800 warheads in US hands, but the report also observed that China has managed to “increase the peacetime readiness of its nuclear forces by moving to a launch-on-warning (LOW) posture with an expanded silo-based force.” Unlike the US, though, China has pledged a “no first use” policy.  (Newsweek)

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