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Think Tank Evaluated U.S. – China Military Capabilities

A recently released report by RAND Corporation, a global policy think tank shows that the risks posed to the U.S. in a military engagement with China are increasing. This is to be expected as China has been increasing its military budget by double-digit percentages for over two decades. Each year the People's Liberation Army (PLA) grows more capable while U.S. military power is remaining somewhat stable. Despite the advances by the PLA, it still fails to hold any significant advantages over the U.S. military in a variety of scenarios. This though should not lead U.S. leaders into a false sense of complacency as over time, the PRC will eventually start to overtake the U.S. in several operational areas.

U.S. - China military capabilities - The Report

In a 430-page report written by 14 scholars entitled U.S.-China Military Scorecard: Forces, Geography, and the Evolving Balance of Power, 1997-2017, U.S. and Chinese military capabilities in 10 operational areas are examined. A “scorecard” has been produced for each operational area and capabilities are evaluated for the years 1996, 2003, 2010, and 2017 to provide an assessment on trends. Furthermore the operational areas are evaluated in the context of two scenarios; a Taiwan invasion less than 200 km from the mainland and an engagement over 900 km from the mainland in the South China Sea Spratly Islands.

The report eschews political issues and government policy to instead focus on the military aspects of the scenarios. In this regard the capabilities of military equipment, military doctrine of the U.S. and China, and abilities of both forces are evaluated.

The operational areas evaluated are air, maritime, space, cyber, and nuclear. Four air operational areas are covered: Chinese air base attack; U.S. vs. Chinese air superiority; U.S. airspace penetration; U.S. air base attack. Two maritime operational areas: Chinese anti-surface warfare; U.S. anti-surface warfare. The rest are U.S. counterspace; Chinese counterspace; U.S. vs. China cyberwar; and Nuclear stability.

Due to their nature, the evaluations of space, cyber, and nuclear operational areas are the same for both the Taiwan and Spratly Islands scenarios. Increasing PLA capabilities are more pronounced in the Taiwan scenario than the Spratly Islands scenario as a result of geography; the additional distance stretches PLA capabilities and logistics.

Operational Area: Air

The ability of China to conduct attacks on U.S. and allied airbases is one of the two operational areas that China has finally gained an advantage over the U.S. though this is only in the Taiwan scenario. Over the years the PLA has amassed over highly accurate 1,400 conventional ballistic missiles and hundreds of cruise missiles. U.S. air bases in Japan, particularly Kadena Air Base are seriously threatened by this. While these bases can to a degree defend themselves, a saturation-type strike by PLA missiles can...