War with China
EVOLUTION OF WARFARE Blog. In the last installment, we looked at how we stood in a war with Russia. Now, let’s take a look at China, from publicly available information.
China’s population is about 1.4 billion, estimated for 2016, which is about 4.5 times that of the U.S. Life expectancy is 75.5 years: 74 for males and 77 for females. But, life expectancy is higher in the developed industrial provinces on the Pacific coast, and much lower in the backward agrarian impoverished interior of the country. Their population growth has been about 0.5 percent over the last few years, but they recently rescinded their one child per couple law: Chinese couples are now allowed to have two children, depending on circumstances. Even without this change, China has a growing labor and military pool of males, considering the law of large numbers. They also have one of the fastest aging populations in the world. By 2020, more than 23 percent of their citizens will be over 65, or 322 million people. That’s equal to the entire population of the U.S. today. That demographic will create large pension and medical care liabilities for them, and divert money from military and investment programs.
China is a country of 3.7 million square miles, about the same size as the U.S. at 3.8 million. They have 9,010 miles of coastline, compared to the U.S. at 12,380 miles. Their entire coastline is on the eastern side of the country and runs from North Korea to Vietnam. That limits their ability to put warships into the Atlantic: they must go around Africa, through the Panama Canal, or around South America. They do have many excellent deep warm-water ice-free ports, though. Chinese ports handle 150 million cargo containers per year.
When it comes to gross domestic product (GDP), China is second in the world with about $11.4 trillion in 2015, compared to $17 trillion for the U.S. However, official government figures are questionable. While they say their economy grew by 6.9 percent in 2015, financial analysts say it’s closer to 3 percent or 4 percent, possibly less. They certainly have the financial ability to supply and wage a war, where the Russians don’t.
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China has about 2.3 million active duty military personnel. 1.7 million are People’s Liberation Army (PLA) ground forces. Those forces are all volunteers, since they have a large population and not many jobs, so they don’t have conscription. While China has the largest military in the world, they have not been in battle since the Korean war of the 1950s. They have no combat-experienced officers and soldiers. In a ground war, they have huge logistics problems: how do you get thousands of soldiers to the battlefield?
In 2014, China spent about $140 billion on their military, compared to the U.S. at over $600 billion, and Russia at $90 billion. But, China’s slowing economy has reduced their defense spending from annual double digit increases to 7-8 percent increases recently. And they just reduced their army by 300,000 soldiers.
The Chinese navy has about 700 ships, but most of those are coastal defense brown-water vessels and auxiliary supply and maintenance ships. They have slightly more than a hundred blue-water warships. Clearly, most of China’s navy is engineered for coastal operations.
They have one aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, built from an unfinished hull they bought from Ukraine in 1998. It was towed to China and dry-docked at Dalian harbor in 2005. They told the Ukrainians that they were going to use it as floating casino and hotel. The Liaoning was outfitted for sea and commissioned in the Chinese navy (PLAN) in September of 2012. In November, the Chinese government announced successful arrested landings of J-15 fighter jets on its deck. So, China has the experienced a handful of landings and take-offs from its only carrier, in peacetime conditions. Compare that to the many thousands of take-offs and landings on America’s ten aircraft carriers every year, many of those on combat missions. Launching fighters with full armament and fuel loads, and recovering aircraft from combat missions on a carrier deck is a different animal. They have no wartime experience with their vessels, officers, or sailors.
However, China is extending their naval reach. Recently, they closed deals to open naval bases in Sri Lanka (on the Indian Ocean) and Djibouti (on the Gulf of Aden), under the guise of protecting oil shipments and their cargo ships. And they have plans to add at least two more aircraft carriers to their fleet. One is under construction at Dalian shipyards now.
The Chinese navy has 68 submarines, compared to the U.S. with 72, according to Globalfirepower.com. About eleven of these subs are nuclear-powered, and the rest are diesel-electric. These were either bought from the Russians, or the Chinese built them by copying the Russian designs. Most of the fleet is old, outdated, and temperamental. But, their newer Jin-class sub designs are much better. According to reports, they do go into the Pacific from time to time, but mostly stay around the South China Sea.
The Chinese air force (PLAAF) has about 2,200 operational military aircraft, according to a recent congressional report. About 600 of those are somewhat modern, like the J-10, J-11, and J-15 fighters. They also have the Su-27 and Su-30 fighters they bought from Russia, and they just bought thirty of Russia’s newest Su-35’s in 2015 (not yet delivered). They have also built prototypes of their own J-21 and J-30/31 stealth designs, but seem to have problems with the engines. It was the J-11 fighters that China just sent to the disputed Woody Island in the South China Sea in February. None of their fighter pilots have any combat experience, except for intercepting and irritating one of our RC-135 intelligence planes off their coast in September 2015.
The H-6(X) series are the Chinese long-range bomber platforms. They have built between 160 and 180 of them since the 1960s. The H-6K is a version that carries cruise missiles. But according to reports, these planes are based on older technologies and in need of significant upgrades to be effective. They also don’t have reliable air refueling capabilities, so the threat from these platforms is local at best.
China has about 8,000 tanks in service, compared to the U.S. with about 8,800 and the Russians at more than 12,000. About 5,000 of these Chinese tanks are the antiquated Type-59, a Chinese copy of the old cold war Soviet T-54/55 series. They have about 700 of the newer Type-99 battle tanks. China is tinkering with new tank designs but nothing in production.
Finally, China has about 260 nuclear warheads, compared to the U.S. at 7,300 and Russia at 8,000. So, they don’t see a need for any more, as a deterrent.
As we can see here, China is building-up their navy and air force more than their land-based tank and ground forces, while the Russians are mostly building-up their ground-force capabilities. The Chinese want to be a regional power in the South China Sea first, and then a world power by creating naval bases in foreign countries. The Russians want to expand their influence mostly on the ground, in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, and be a regional power. Both China and Russia are still stuck in 3rd generation warfare platforms (3GW), strategies, and tactics: the Chinese in naval warfare and the Russians in ground warfare.
So, China is just another 3GW enemy. They are not a threat in the air, on the sea, and certainly not in a ground war (except in the Korean Peninsula). The Chinese leadership is more interested in conducting an economic war and they have been successful at that. As they transition from an export-oriented economy to a consumer-spending economy, things get dicey. Internally, China is a central-planning communist country. Externally, it’s a capitalist country. This schizophrenia could create a lot of social unrest if things don’t go well with the transition.
Both China and Russia have become more aggressive recently. Russia’s moves in Crimea and the Ukraine challenge the Baltic States, not the U.S. Their efforts in Syria are to keep a warm-water port for their navy and protect an ally. Russia’s primary goal is to reclaim the old Soviet Union satellite countries and use them as a buffer against NATO.
China is reclaiming those worthless islands and arming them, to buffer themselves against the U.S. in the Pacific. They are a threat to Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines, and possibly the heavily used shipping lanes in the South China Sea, not to the U.S.
Like Russia, China does not want a war with the U.S. They just want to become a regional power in the Pacific, usurp some of America’s influence, and become a world power. China’s ambitions are similar to Russia’s, but in different regions.
Next time, we’ll take a look at North Korea’s military capabilities. That will definitely be entertaining.
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