China’s Rising Defense Budget Stokes Regional Concerns

China’s Defense Growth Is Still In Double Digits

Jan 8, 2015 Richard D. Fisher, Jr. | Aviation Week & Space Technology

Spending on China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) can be expected to continue to grow at a double-digit annual pace in 2015, despite a slight economic cooling in 2014 that saw the nation miss its official goal of 7.5% growth in gross domestic product, and expectations that growth could fall to 7% in 2015.
Official defense spending figures announced in March 2014 showed a 12.2% increase over 2013, to 808 billion yuan ($132 billion). Assuming at least 10% growth in 2015 this figure could reach 888 billion yuan—about $145 billion. However, based on previous U.S. Defense Department estimates, actual defense spending for 2015 could exceed $175 billion.

China’s move toward system-of-systems is typified by integration of the CASC HQ-6/LY-60D surface-to-air missile system and Norinco LD-2000 gun, with a common control center, for point defense. Credit: Bill Sweetman/AW&ST
China regularly cites rising personnel and training costs as the reason for its growing defense budget, and the buildup of a professional noncommissioned officer corps is a visible sign of such cost pressures. However, the country is investing in a broad program of advanced weapons development as it ratchets up military activities, in its “near abroad” and globally. Speaking at a PLA conference on Dec. 4, Communist Party and PLA leader Xi Jinping called for accelerated weapon development. State media quoted Xi as saying: “Equipment systems are now in a period of strategic opportunities and at a key point for rapid development.” At the November 2014 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Beijing, the U.S. and China made agreements to reduce maritime incidents and advance mutual notification of military exercises. But China’s continued refusal to open talks on strategic nuclear systems, and its increasingly aggressive pursuit of territorial claims in the China Sea, continue to spur regional anxiety.

A near explosive pace for China’s weapons development was visible during November’s biennial Zhuhai air show, where much more space was devoted to land warfare systems and electronics than was the case two years ago. The stars of the show were the Shenyang J-31, China’s second stealth fighter, and the Xian Y-20 airlifter—China’s largest-ever indigenous airplane. A large model of the Shenyang FC-31, an upgraded development of the J-31, was displayed, along with a mockup of an advanced cockpit.

Weapons companies Norinco, Poly Technologies, China Aerospace Science and Industry Co. (Casic) and China Aerospace Science and Technology Co. (CASC) unveiled competing reconnaissance-strike complexes of multiple types of tactical missiles and anti-aircraft missiles netted to radar and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)-based sensors and central control systems. These will help give China’s customers anti-access/area denial capabilities like China is building in the Western Pacific.

The fourth prototype of the Chengdu J-20 heavy stealth fighter emerged in late November, with initial operating capability expected in 2017-18. Chengdu’s J-10B, a substantially upgraded version of China’s first indigenous modern fighter will be entering initial units. At Shenyang, fighter production is shifting from the J-11B—a clone of the early Russian Sukhoi Su-27—to the two-seat J-16, designed for strike missions, and the J-15 carrier fighter. The Russian-Chinese industrial tension that followed the appearance of Chinese “bootleg” versions of 1980s Russian systems seems to be easing, with the Russian government and industry being willing to accept China’s emulation of last-generation technology as long as China imports Russia’s latest offerings. Sales of new Russian systems slated to be completed in 2015 may include up to 24 Su-35 fighters and the new Almaz-Antey S-400 surface-to-air missile system.

Chinese power projection systems will also advance, like the Y-20, which may enter service in 2017-18; some Chinese sources suggest that China eventually will require 400 of the type. Asian military sources have told Aviation Week that Xian’s H-20 flying-wing strategic bomber could emerge by 2025. It increasingly seems that China’s second and third aircraft carriers may be built near-simultaneously, as a new large Type 071 landing platform dock and plans for a new landing helicopter dock amphibious assault ships emerge. Also there are reports that in addition to six Type 093 second-generation nuclear attack submarines (SSN) expected by the Defense Department, there may be up to 14 Type 095 third-generation SSNs in the early 2020s.

Strategic and space systems will also advance in 2015, as CASC’s new DF-41 mobile multiple-warhead ICBM may begin deployment and Type 094 nuclear ballistic missile submarines begin deterrence patrols. At Zhuhai, Casic unveiled its FT-1 mobile solid-fuel space launch vehicle, plus a family of six small satellites, which could also launch anti-satellite weapons. In a Dec. 7 report in state media, a CASC official explained that the Long March 5 heavy space launch vehicle will be launched in 2015, with the expected super-heavy Long March 9 (130 tons to low Earth orbit) to emerge by 2030, to support Moon and Mars missions.

A version of this article appears in the December 29/January 14 issue of Aviation Week & Space Technology.

The curious case of Vlad the Embezzler

FILE – This is a Friday, Oct. 17, 2014 file photo of Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Francois Hollande, right, during a meeting on the sidelines of the ASEM summit of European and Asian leaders in Milan, northern Italy. EU sanctions against Russia over the crisis in Ukraine are cutting both ways and pinching some big European companies. But economic relief isn’t likely any time soon, diplomats and analysts say: EU rules make the sanctions tough to overturn. France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine are trying to set up talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, toward easing the tensions behind sanctions that have hit Russia’s economy, sent the ruble sinking and affected corporate Europe _ including banks, oil companies, machinery makers and food giants. (AP Photo/Daniel Dal Zennaro, Pool, File)

FILE – This is a Friday, Oct. 17, 2014 file photo of Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Francois Hollande, right, during a meeting on the sidelines of the ASEM summit of European and Asian leaders in Milan, northern … more >

By Aram Bakshian Jr. – – Wednesday, January 7, 2015


By Karen Dawisha

Beware of historians bearing analogies. If every two-bit dictator whom post-World War II pundits and scholars have compared to Hitler or Stalin packed even a tenth of the wallop of the originals, we would all have been engulfed in World War III years ago. The latest dictator to come in for the Hitler-Stalin treatment is that indubitably bad, more than a little power-mad master of the Kremlin, Vladimir Putin.

On the other hand, Mr. Putin and ardent acolytes of his Russian “imperial presidency” have likened this former secret policeman and backroom apparatchik to, among others, Peter the Great (another eager grabber of neighboring real estate), Catherine the Great (responsible for the first Russian annexation of the Crimea), and Nicholas I (a brutal believer in Russia’s imperial mission who blundered into, and botched, the Crimean War). As historian Orlando Figes pointed out in his excellent history of the latter conflict a few years ago, “on Putin’s orders, Nicholas’ portrait [now] hangs in the antechamber of the presidential office in the Kremlin.”

To the extent that Mr. Putin is a zealous Russophile bent on restoring the power and prestige once attached to the Russian Empire and its Soviet successor state, the comparison to Nicholas I makes sense. But there is another aspect to Mr. Putin’s style of personal rule open to yet another analogy. Describing the corrupt autocracy of an earlier day, the great 19th century Russian historian Vasiliy Klyuchevsky wrote: “The state grew fat while the people grew thin.” As Karen Dawisha illustrates in “Putin’s Kleptocracy,” the most defining characteristic of the Russian state under Vladimir Putin may be its pervasive corruption rather than its chauvinistic militarism. Thus, “the gap between rich and poor has become the greatest in the world … the midpoint of wealth for Russians is only $871 — as compared to $5,117 for Brazil, $8,023 for China, and $1,040 for India, all energy importers.”

Meanwhile, Russia’s vast energy resources and the rest of her commercial assets are arguably even more concentrated in a few hands than they were at the height of Czarist or Communist central planning: 35 percent of the total wealth in the country is owned by 110 billionaires. Russia, Ms. Dawisha writes, “has become the country where the super-rich receive the greatest protection from the state. None of this would be possible without the personal involvement of Putin.”

In “Putin’s Kleptocracy,” Ms. Dawisha has given us not so much a settled history of how and why Vladimir Putin has emerged as the corrupt dictator of a corrupt state, as a raw prosecutor’s file of facts, circumstantial evidence and well-founded rumors threaded together to build the case for a sustained, criminal conspiracy to undermine post-Soviet Russia’s admittedly flawed attempt to create an open, prosperous society based on human rights and the rule of law. But even if Vladimir Putin had never been born, that attempt might have been doomed. Where countries like Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia have all made substantial progress toward the transition, Russia has failed at least in part because, unlike these former subject states, it had virtually no pre-Soviet democratic institutional memory or foundation to build upon.

The degree to which Mr. Putin and his oligarchic puppeteers cunningly planned all of this in advance is debatable. More often than not, in periods of great social, political and economic upheaval, the winners are quick-witted, improvisational opportunists rather than large, far-seeing conspiratorial movements; thus there are moments when Ms. Dawisha seems to make connections between dubious or non-existent dots. But even allowing for a certain amount of overkill, she has compiled a devastating dossier on what history may recognize as a state system that served mainly as a cover for the criminal looting and victimization of the people whose self-sacrificing patriotism it so cynically and shamelessly manipulated.

Which, analogy-wise, leads us to a comparison with yet another figure from the murky East European past: Prince Vlad III of Wallachia, a particularly nasty 15th-century despot who earned the nickname “Vlad the Impaler” because of his preferred method of dealing with political opponents. Vlad would later serve as inspiration for Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” known for draining the life out of his victims. Perhaps, at the end of the day, Mr. Putin, who also has a penchant for crushing all opposition and siphoning off vital resources, will be remembered in his turn as “Vlad the Embezzler.”

• Aram Bakshian Jr., a former aide to Presidents Nixon, Ford and Reagan, is a contributing editor to The National Interest.

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