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I/ITSEC 2023: How wide is the gap between the US and China’s capabilities?

29th November 2023 - 15:26 GMT | by Flavia Camargos Pereira in Orlando

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The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower. (Photo: US Navy)

While Washington sees Beijing as its most comprehensive and serious challenger, the Jinping administration has been taking the lead in R&D within certain domains.

The great power competition between China and the US has been leading to a race in the defence realm, with both countries increasing efforts to develop innovative, more lethal and survivable military capabilities. While Washington sees Beijing as its most comprehensive and serious challenge, the Jinping administration has been taking the lead in R&D in certain domains.

This has been the case with hypersonic systems, shipbuilding production and artificial intelligence (AI). China is also heading the dispute in terms of volume and mass production of systems, solutions and ammunition.

Speaking at I/ITSEC 2023 in Orlando, Florida, RAdm Douglas Verissimo, commander of the US Navy Naval Air Force Atlantic stressed that the Chinese are ‘demonstrating both some pretty good mass and acceleration’ in their development programmes.

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According to the DoD 2023 China Military Power Report, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) fielded the DF-17 HGV-armed medium-range ballistic missile with hypersonic capacity in 2020.

The US, meanwhile, is continuing to develop hypersonic systems and missiles, and its current terrestrial- and space-based sensor architectures are insufficient to identify and track this type of threat.

In terms of naval capacities, Beijing is once again the front runner with 340 vessels in its inventory. While China is expected to have 400 vessels by 2025 and 440 by 2030, the US Navy currently has 296 ships and is estimated to have 291 by FY 2028.

In addition, the US government is currently prevented from accessing long-term funding. It will operate under continuing resolutions (CRs) until congress approves the FY 2024 budget request, which can create a wider gap between Chinese and US naval capabilities.

As CRs preclude the Pentagon from starting new multi-year efforts and accelerate production for ongoing efforts, it is preventing the start of production of Virginia-class submarines and the award of a second contract for the Columbia-class submarine programme.

In this scenario, Beijing has been also making progress in other areas such as AI, training, modelling and simulation.

Young Bang, principal deputy assistant secretary of the US Army for acquisition, logistics and training, pointed out that the flexibility of China’s laws enables the country to rapidly move forward in some domains.

The US is in a better position in terms of airpower. (Photo: US Air Force)

‘From a race perspective, there are some gaps they [China] might have advantages,’ Bang claimed. ‘They are very good at getting to the data protection into the research, the basic research, and then operationalising it.’

The US, on the other hand, is in a better position in terms of airpower. Beijing has over 3,150 total aircraft (not including trainer variants or UASs) of which approximately 2,400 are combat aircraft (fighters, strategic bombers, tactical bombers, multi-mission tactical and attack aircraft).

The US Air Force, concurrently, is estimated to have more than 13 thousand units, with more than 5,000 being combat aircraft.

Brig Gen Andrew J. Leone, USAF mobilisation assistant to the Military Deputy, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics, warned that the US must maintain investments in new systems and equipment.

‘It is super important to continue to develop these high-tech solutions, these exclusive technologies and even low-tech solutions’, Leone said.

From Bang’s perspective, the US is also in the lead in terms of innovating and ‘in transformations and language models, whether it is large or small.

In his opinion, another advantage is the personnel and their capacity to solve issues and create new solutions. 

‘The people is our number one asymmetric advantage,’ Bang commented.

Shephard's I/ITSEC 2023 coverage is sponsored by:

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Flavia Camargos Pereira

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Flavia Camargos Pereira


Flavia Camargos Pereira is a land reporter at Shephard Media. She joined the company in …

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