Thu, Mar 09, 2017 - Page 9 News List

US military still dominant in Asia, but China’s power growing

By Christopher Bodeen  /  AP, BEIJING

China’s announcement of a 7 percent rise in military spending for the year came shortly after US President Donald Trump called for a 10 percent increase in the US’ defense budget, prompting renewed scrutiny of how the two countries’ capabilities compare.

While the US military remains the dominant force in Asia and the world, China has been moving from quantity to quality and is catching up quickly in equipment, organization and capability, and is increasingly able to project power far from its shores.

Rapid economic growth, lavish spending and a desire to regain China’s historical role as East Asia’s leading power are helping drive the moves.

Below is a comparison of the present state of the two militaries, based on figures found in recent US government research on China’s capabilities and information from defense think tanks and government Web sites. Some figures are estimates or approximations.


The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has a total of 2.3 million personnel under arms, constituting the world’s largest standing military. It provides only partial information about its order of battle, the PLA’s mission and future plans, although outside analysts have produced detailed estimates.

US troop strength varies depending on need, but as of Jan. 31, there were 1.4 million active service members spread throughout the services.


China announced this week that defense spending would rise by 7 percent this year to 1.044 trillion yuan (US$151.3 billion at the current exchange rate). While China has the world’s second-largest defense budget, it is still just a fraction of what the US spends, even if analysts’ estimates of hidden additional spending are taken into account.

Trump’s request for an additional US$54 billion in spending would bring the US defense budget to a record US$603 billion, and that is before including tens of billions of US dollars for overseas military operations. If approved, the increase would mean the US was spending 3.4 percent of its GDP on defense, up from 3.2 percent of GDP last year.

China says its budget this year would equal 1.3 percent of GDP.


Owing to the PLA’s origins as a guerrilla army and former tensions along its land border with Russia, the ground forces continue to dominate, with 1.6 million personnel and a weighty emphasis on armored vehicles (9,150) and heavy artillery (6,246).

The US Army boasts 460,000 personnel, with another 182,000 in the US Marine Corps. It has a smaller emphasis on artillery (1,299) and armored vehicles (8,848), but places a greater emphasis on air support and special forces operations.


The US can boast more than 13,000 aircraft of all types to China’s nearly 3,000. The gap is especially great in helicopters, where the US has more than 6,000 to China’s 802.

Despite having fewer aircraft, some of which are under the PLA Navy, the PLA Air Force has 398,000 personnel to 308,000 for the US Air Force.

Both air forces are seeking to upgrade their aircraft, although the introduction of the fifth-generation F-22 and F-35 puts the US several years ahead.

China’s stealth fighters remain in the prototype stage, although it has managed to replace more than half of its fighter fleet with fourth-generation aircraft.


The PLA Navy has many more vessels (714 to 415), but the US has more where it counts in terms of power projection.

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