Report: China Wants the World's Best Military By 2049

David Axe

Key point: Beijing has almost completely gained the regional upper hand against Washington.

Chinese leaders have laid out a plan for deploying the world’s best-armed forces no later than 2049. If the United States is to prevent China from becoming the world’s leading military power, it needs a plan of its own.

That’s the sobering warning in a new report for the Center for a New American Security by former deputy defense secretary Robert Work and co-author Greg Grant.

Chinese leaders’ resolve hardened in 1991 as they watched the U.S.-led coalition pummel Iraqi forces with seemingly ceaseless barrages of precision-guided munitions.

“A key lesson China took from the 1991 Desert Storm campaign was to strike hard and fast during war’s earliest stages, as initiative once lost would be all but impossible to regain against an opponent capable of 24-hour, all-weather guided-munitions bombardment,” Work and Grant wrote.

By the mid-1990s the senior leadership of the People’s Liberation Army realized “they were engaged in a long-term military-technical competition with the United States, and their strategic aims would necessarily be achieved through a series of distinct temporal phases.”

Phase one would see the Chinese military compete with the United States from a position of technological inferiority. Chinese military writings in the late 1990s and early 2000s explored and emphasized ways to defeat a more technologically advanced adversary, until such time that their modernization efforts were able to narrow the advantages enjoyed by the U.S. military. In particular, the PLA would have to accommodate some period of time in which it lacked “deep and multidirectional strike capabilities” comparable to those of the U.S. military.

Phase two would occur when the Chinese achieved a position of rough technological parity in guided munitions and battle network warfare, making it far more likely China might be able to deter a U.S. military intervention in the East Asian littoral.

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