It is clear by now that China is using the Zhuhai Air Show in Guangdong to remind everyone that it has one of the most technologically advanced militaries in the world. It is well known that China is jumping forward with its hypersonic weapons program. Now it is letting attendees at the show see new mockup models of ultra-high-speed missiles up close and personal, including an air-launched hypersonic weapon. This willingness to show off has been a public relations bonanza for China as the media has fawned over the various military hardware that Beijing has hyped during the air show that will last until November 13.
Believe the Hype
There are new versions of older weapons systems for expo attendees to view that continue to build buzz. For example, an H-6 bomber was seen carrying a mockup of two air-launched hypersonic weapons that started out as hypersonic missiles launched from a ship. The ship-launched hypersonic YJ-21 was test-fired in April from a cruiser, now it soon may have the capacity to be air-launched. The H-6 bomber even flew into the airport and landed with its hypersonic mockups on board.
Chinese Cruise Missiles Are Getting Better
Another piece of hardware, an AKF-98 stand-off cruise missile, was also on display. This model is comparable to the Lockheed Martin AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) or the European Storm Shadow/SCALP. The AKF-98 is thought to have more radar-evading characteristics than previous Chinese cruise missiles.
Wielding the Sword With Precision Munitions
China Sends a Clear Message
These weapons demonstrate more evidence that China is confident in its defense industrial base as it continues to add capabilities to existing weapons systems to send a message that it is serious about defending the homeland, bullying Taiwan, and protecting its territorial claims in the South and East China Sea. Cost does not seem to be an issue. Air Force acquisition officials have conceded that China is making weapons “five to six times” faster than the United States.
Red Tape and Politics in the U.S. Slows Down New Weapons Purchases
While the United States must go through a complicated and extensive review before arms purchases are made – starting with a White House and Pentagon budget proposal for new weapons that must be approved by Congress. China has few such restrictions and just pumps out the arms while the United States debates on overall strategy against China and lawmakers are hampered by budget necessities and parochial concerns in their home districts.
Ready to Take on the World
Zhuhai has been an impressive coming-out party for the Chinese military. Usually, China has displayed new weapons in military parades. Now it is letting its most valued arms systems be examined up close at an expo. For Example, the J-20 Mighty Dragon, the most advanced fighter in the fleet, is on the ground at the air show. Attendees can look into the cockpit and examine features. China also has a mockup of its next-generation fighter at the expo that can be compared to the American Next-Generation Air Dominance fighter.
The Clock Is Ticking
This air show should be a wake-up call to the United States and its allies. China no longer has a military that needs modernization. It is modernized. They are producing indigenous weapons that are knock-offs of the United States and sometimes based on stolen materials. The Americans can complain about cyber espionage, but China keeps soldiering on with various acquisition programs. And overall manpower is an advantage too for Beijing as China has the largest army on earth at around two million active personnel.
Now is the time for the United States national security apparatus to bear down. China is fully awake and cognizant about what arms it needs and how those arms will be used. China keeps improving its military. With such a complicated and slow process of producing weapons in the United States, it will be difficult to keep up. And China even enjoys that the Americans are spending so much on its military because that takes away resources that could be spent domestically. China is a steadfast competitor in this arms race and Beijing knows that this is a high-stakes, whole of government mobilization for improving the balance of power against the United States.
Expert Biography: Serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Dr. Brent M. Eastwood is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science and Foreign Policy/ International Relations.