China Military Budget Threatens U.S. Advantage, Kendall Says

China’s increased defense spending coupled with shrinking U.S. budgets threatens to end U.S. military superiority, a top American procurement official said.

“We’ve relied on technological superiority for decades now as one of the fundamental things that sets our military apart and I do see that that’s not assured given the investments being made by China as well as by other powers,” Frank Kendall, under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, told reporters in Singapore yesterday.

China has been matching its growing economic might by expanding its military muscle as it asserts itself more aggressively in the Asia region. Defense spending reached $240 billion last year, about twice the officially declared budget, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency said this week. China’s official figure is about five times less than what is spent in the U.S., where efforts to trim the U.S. budget deficit have forced the adoption of mandatory cuts in military spending known as sequestration.

“I can say that we do not find the sequestration levels to be what we need to defend the country and implement our strategy,” Kendall said.

Research Cuts

Planned cuts to research and development pose the biggest threat to U.S. military readiness, Kendall said. If there are more funds available in the future, the U.S. can buy more equipment or do more training, but “we can’t buy back the time it takes us to develop new systems, so I’m particularly concerned about that now,” he said.

China is expected to release its military spending figure for the year at the National People’s Congress in early March. A focus of its spending will probably be on projecting the country’s military power into the region, General Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, commander of U.S. air forces in the Pacific, said in an interview Feb. 9.

“They’re continuing to go after less in the defensive nature and more on their ability to get power outwards,” General Carlisle said. “You see that in their air force too with respect to their ability to use their aircraft carrier, their ability with long-range bombers, their ability with fighter aircraft.”

China’s air force is fielding new precision-guided cruise missiles, long-range bombers and drones, according to U.S. military intelligence officials. “While we would not characterize the modernization as accelerated,” it’s “progressing at a steady pace,” Lee Fuell, a director at the Air Force’s National Air and Space Intelligence Center, said in a presentation released Jan. 30.

Asia Pivot

The U.S. commitment to its military rebalancing to Asia remains, independent of budget levels, Kendall said.

Still, less money means “we have to do less, and we have a lot of commitments around the world so we have to rebalance the rebalance, I guess I could say,” he said. “The shift in emphasis to Asia and the Pacific region is here to stay. There’s no question about it.”

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