China wants to be Asia’s unquestioned military power and is rapidly upgrading its arsenal.
Beijing is developing next-generation fighter jets, ballistic missiles, and advanced naval vessels — partly in order to keep pace with the US.
The two powers are in a low-key arms race in east Asia. The US is currently engaged in a “pivot to Asia,” focusing military and diplomatic attention on an increasingly important part of the world.
Meanwhile, China is trying to expand its territorial reach into the South China Sea, an effort that’s bringing Beijing into recurring conflict with US allies like Japan, the Philippines, and Vietnam.
And China is constantly building its military with a possible invasion of Taiwan in mind.
Although China’s military has a long way to go before it is qualitatively or even quantitatively at parity with the US, the country’s development of high-end weaponry has been notable, and counts as one of the major geo-strategic developments of this decade.
Here are some of China’s fanciest new weapons — and how they could shift the balance of power in Asia.
The J-20 bears striking resemblance to the F-35 and the F-22, likely due to data theft and Chinese imitation of the designs of both planes. China may have stolen the design specifications needed to give the J-20 stealth capabilities that are on par with the F-35.
Although the plane is estimated to have a striking range of 1,000 nautical miles, the aircraft itself is still reliant upon Russian engines and is in a relatively early stage of its development.
The Xian H-6 Bomber is derived from the Russian Tupolev Tu-16 Badger. The bombers have two upgraded variants, the X-6G and the H-6K, that could both pose a threat to US interests in the Pacific.
According to a Pentagon report to Congress, the X-6G has four weapon hardpoints that could carry anti-ship cruise missiles. The newer H-6K has new engines and can carry six anti-ship or land cruise missiles. The bombers can carry nuclear payloads as well.
These upgrades give China a long-range-capable strategic bomber. The Xian H-6 can fly missions of 3,100 miles in distance, and some analysts believe it could reach Hawaii.
China has conducted two tests of its hypersonic glide vehicle, the Wu-14.
Hypersonic 'boost-glide' weapons are launched by rockets similar to ballistic missiles. But they reenter the earth's atmosphere while moving several times faster than the speed of sound -- and can glide at angles that make them highly accurate and nearly impossible to intercept using existing anti-missile systems.
The missiles are highly coveted by both the US and China for their ability to quickly hit targets as well as avoid missile defence shields.
The technology is still unproven on both sides of the Pacific, though: in August of 2014, both the US and China conducted unsuccessful boost-glide missile tests.
One of China's top strategic goals is projecting maritime power beyond the Chinese coastline. Beijing's growing fleet of nuclear-powered attack submarines is at the forefront of this strategy.
In total, China has six attack vessels which operate alongside an estimated 53 diesel-powered subs. The diesel submarines are limited in range and must surface regularly. But the nuclear powered subs can operate for weeks at a time underwater, far away from Chinese territory -- and closer to possible targets.
Chinese attack submarines entered the Indian Ocean for the first time in October of 2014, marking another significant milestone in China's naval development.
China has engaged in at least one confirmed anti-satellite missile test. In January 2007, China destroyed one of its own weather satellites with a ground-based ballistic missile. The destruction of the satellite created a debris cloud that littered Earth's orbit.
Since then, China has carried out a number of other, less-dramatic tests which the US has characterised as anti-satellite missile exercises.
Anti-satellite missiles could give China an asymmetric advantage over US forces, as China could hypothetically target and destroy GPS satellites. Beijing has the means to do something that many of the world's other developed militaries would never seriously contemplate doing, given the potentially disastrous consequences of an anti-satellite strike for the world's space infrastructure.
China's DF-5A and DF-41 can only be fired from a stationary launch pad. But Beijing also has a road-mobile ICBM -- the Dong Feng 31A (DF-31A). The DF-31A has a range of 7,000 to 7,400 miles, putting US territory within range. It can also be fitted with certain types of nuclear payloads.
The DF-31A could be loaded into China's growing fleet of 'boomer' nuclear submarines. This would allow the missile to function as a sea-based nuclear deterrent -- even after a nuclear exchange China could continue to launch missiles from hidden locations in the ocean.
The Type 055 Cruiser, which is still under construction, will give China's Navy a considerable boost once it's deployed. The cruiser will function as a multipurpose warship that could be used for both expeditionary warfare as well as coastal defence.
The 055 will be a large cruiser by Chinese standards, although it will still be smaller than the US's Zumwalt-class destroyer. Even so, the 055 could carry an estimated 128 vertical launch cells for cruise missile deployment. This would allow the cruiser to strike far into enemy territory. And because of its size, the ship expected to be able to function far from its home port, giving China the ability to project hard power far from the country's shoreline.
In November 2013, China successfully completed a test flight of Sharp Sword, a stealth combat drone. The success of the flight places China alongside the US, France, and Great Britain as the only countries that have reached this military threshold.
China has revealed little information about its unmanned aerial vehicle programs. However, it is thought that China has a range of drones, from small tactical vehicles to models that look alarmingly like the US 's Reaper and Predator.
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