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    China ranks third in the world in military expenses

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    MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti military commentator Ilya Kramnik) - Last year, the three nations with the world's biggest military expenses were the United States ($547 billion), the United Kingdom ($59.7 billion) and China ($58.3 billion).

    The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) published these figures in its 2008 annual report. There are other estimates, but they are not radically different. Many research organizations and the media tend to base their comparison of countries' military might on their defense budgets, although their estimates are often disputed, sometimes by the objects of their studies. Although such comparisons are very relative, they are a point of departure for analyzing the military potentialities of different countries. Reports of international institutions which study the strategy and national military potentials, such as the London-based Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) and SIPRI, are considered the most accurate.

    Only recently, China's defense budget was a little over $20 billion. What stands behind its leap in military expenses? What war machine will it have in the future? Many countries, above all China's next-door neighbors, are interested in answers to these questions.

    The growing economy is the main catalyst of China's boosting military potentialities. Its industrialized export-oriented economy (China is increasingly becoming the world's producer of absolutely everything - from man-made flowers to cars) requires adequate military protection.

    Despite successes in the last few decades, China's armed forces are still rather backward, which is another incentive for increasing military spending. Its ground forces are relatively numerous but it does not have enough modern military hardware; its army air defense system is weak, and its artillery is insufficiently mobile. The same is true of China's air force. Most of its combat aircraft are copies of Soviet war planes of the 1950s. The number of modern aircraft is negligible.

    Moreover, China's industry is not developed enough to produce modern aircraft independently. It cannot manufacture a number of important aggregates at the level of the leading aircraft-building powers. Thus, its engines for combat aircraft are still below their Western and Russian counterparts in economic fuel consumption and overhaul period. In order to close the gap, China will have to make considerable investments, primarily to modernize its industry. China's airlift force is also weak. It does not have enough medium and heavy military transport aircraft.

    The development of the navy in China is impeded not only by its rather backward industry but also by the fleet's second-rate role in its military potential. As distinct from the majority of industrially advanced countries, China's fleet is not an independent branch but part of its People's Liberation Army (PLA). This subordinate position, that is, orientation to army tasks, limits the Chinese fleet to coastal missions. It primarily operates in territorial waters and a 200 mile-long economic zone. For actions in the open sea, China has a very limited number of multi-purpose nuclear-powered submarines and shore-based Xian H-6 (Tu-16 licensed copy) missile-carrier aircraft. But this situation is changing, and the PLA's navy is expected to receive its first aircraft-carriers in the coming decade. Escorted by an adequate number of frigates or destroyers, they will be able to operate in far-away waters.

    As other nuclear powers, China's strategy is largely based on the nuclear deterrent. At present, it is equipping its nuclear forces with new DF-31A missiles, which can destroy targets at a distance of 11,000 km. It is also introducing into its fleet nuclear-powered missile carriers of the 094 type, which are harder to detect than their predecessors (092-type submarines) and equipped with JL-2 missiles capable of hitting targets on other continents.

    Experts believe that all in all, China now has 300-400 nuclear charges. This amount is much below the Russian or U.S. potentials but the situation is gradually changing.

    On the whole, China's armed forces are capable of carrying out any regional missions, but in strategic potentialities (that is, in nuclear deterrent, and ability to transfer troops over considerable distances) they are lagging behind even their Russian counterpart, which is not at its prime at the moment, to say nothing of the United States. This situation is most likely to remain the same in the next 10 to 15 years. After all, China is not going to have tough military confrontation with anyone.

    The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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