While the US military is still the biggest in the world, Beijing and Moscow
are catching up. Here we look at the respective countries’ manpower
China has dispatched a convoy of warships for its first ever naval exercises in the Mediterranean, together with a Russian flotilla.
The drills demonstrate a strengthening bond between Moscow and Beijing, who – despite having no formal military alliance – see their combined might as a counterbalance to US power.
Both countries have been modernising their armed forces, and while their equipment still lags behind top-end Western technology, experts say they are closing the gap.
Xi Jinping came to power in 2012 vowing to dedicate his presidency to building the “Chinese Dream” of the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation”.
Part of that dream involves a major overhaul of China’s 2.3 million-man
military which is three-times the size of Russia’s but which critics
say has become bloated, corrupt and unfit for battle.
“Chinese leaders see a strong military as critical to prevent other
countries from taking steps that would damage China’s interests and to
ensure China can defend itself, should deterrence fail,” said a Pentagon
report released on Friday.
Mr Xi’s determination to drag the
People’s Liberation Army (PLA) into the 21st century will see defence
spending rise to around £85 billion in 2015, up around 10 per cent from
the previous year.
The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), now the largest in Asia with more than 300 vessels according to the Pentagon, will receive a hefty chunk of those funds.
Beijing currently has at least 25 destroyers and is building China’s
second aircraft carrier at a shipyard in its north-east – part of
ambitious plans to build a “blue water navy” that can give Beijing
greater control of the high seas.
China is also seeking to increase its fleet of submarines, currently comprised of 59 diesel submarines and nine nuclear power ones, according to a recent United States’ Office of Naval Intelligence report.
However, simply investing in military hardware will not in itself solve China’s problem, experts warn.
Beijing still faced “a multitude of challenges” before it could boast of having a modern, war-ready military, Dennis J Blasko, author of The Chinese Army Today, warned in February.
Those challenges include an excess of non-combatant troops, a lack of
experienced commanders and a lack of combat experience for an army that
has not fought abroad since 1979.
Mr Xi, who is chairman of
China’s Central Military Commission as well as president, has also
toppled a number of senior military figures in an attempt to fight
corruption within the PLA. Those taken down include General Xu Caihou,
the commission’s recently deceased vice-chairman.
total active military manpower is a third of China’s, it is rich in
tanks and artillery, the hardware which it allegedly sends into Ukraine
to help pro-Moscow separatists fighting government troops there.
Defence spending in Russia doubled between 2004 and 2014.
Dmitry Medvedev, then president, announced in 2010 that 13 trillion
roubles (£270 billion) would be spent over the next decade on a massive
state rearmament programme.
The plan was to bring the proportion of modern weaponry in the Russian armoury to 70 per cent by 2020.
Russia’s military budget rose by 33 per cent to about 3.3 trillion
roubles in 2015, although officials have warned it may have to be cut
back amid the oil price slump and Western sanctions.
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