A new report has warned that the Chinese military is close to achieving technological parity with the U.S., as part of a deliberate and long-term plan for Beijing to develop the world’s dominant military force.
The report—written by former deputy defense secretary Robert Work and his former special assistant Greg Grant—was published by the Center for a New American Security. It warns that the long period of American global military dominance may be coming to an end as China rises.
“The Chinese People’s Liberation Army has been patiently stalking the U.S. military for two decades,” the report explains. “It has studied the preferred American way of war and devised a strategy to exploit its weaknesses and offset its strengths—particularly its military-technological strengths.”
The country now “appears increasingly close to achieving technological parity with U.S. operational systems and has a plan to achieve technological superiority,” the authors added.
China’s plan to topple the U.S. as the world’s most advanced military is split into three phases, the report explained. The first—explored in the late 1990s and 2000s—involved China developing methods to challenge the U.S. from a position of inferiority until its modernization efforts bore fruit.
The second, reached when China achieved “a position of rough technological parity in guided munitions and battle network warfare,” would allow the country to assert dominance over local theaters. Through specialist weapons such as anti-ship and hypersonic missiles, this would allow China to make the prospect of war in areas like the South China Sea or Taiwan too costly for the Americans to consider.
The third and final stage is when the Chinese military has already surpassed the U.S. in terms of technological sophistication. This would then allow Beijing to project power beyond local theaters into the rest of the world.
The report said China had used industrial and technical espionage to establish some form of equal footing with the U.S., analyzed the Pentagon’s capabilities and methods to identify weaknesses that can be exploited, and invested heavily in artificial intelligence to gain an edge on the battlefield. The report also suggested China may have so-called “black capabilities” that would only be unveiled in event of a conflict to surprise its adversaries.
American military officials and lawmakers have previously sounded the alarm regarding China’s military advancement. Beijing has been investing huge amounts in its armed forces over the past two decades—at least 620 percent in real terms between 1996 and 2015, the CNAS report says. China now has the second largest military budget in the world behind the U.S.
Last year, General Paul Selva, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned that the Chinese military could achieve technological parity with the U.S. by the early 2020s, and surpass it in the 2030s. A Congress-commissioned study published at the end of 2018 warned the U.S. was now in a position where it could lose a war against China.
President Donald Trump’s administration formed a new National Defense Strategy at the start of last year, which urged the Pentagon to transition from a counter-insurgency footing toward a “great power competition” strategy to meet threats from Russia and China. This built on a 2014 Pentagon initiative known as the “Third Offset,” which stressed the need for technological innovation to maintain America’s battlefield dominance.
Work told The Washington Post that the Third Offset should have specified the Chinese threat. “I would have said, ‘The Chinese are coming, the Chinese are coming, the Chinese are coming,’ if I was able to do that,” he explained. “And I would have tried to inject a more heightened sense of urgency that we can’t afford to wait anymore. Every day we wait, we fall farther and farther behind.”