By John Isaacs
There is a rising clamor in Washington, D.C., appealing for a substantial increase in the U.S. military budget to confront a resurgent China.
However, despite China’s military buildup, the United States will maintain a substantial lead in key capacities, such as nuclear weapons, combat aircraft and aircraft carriers (see chart below).
The China hawks now have the recent discovery of up to 250 missiles silos in China as the latest reason for a U.S. military buildup. No one is quite sure what the Chinese plans are, but the growth of China’s nuclear arsenal is not new. Even with this ongoing buildup, the United States retains a huge superiority in nuclear warheads.
While the Pentagon also espouses great power competition as a reason to boost U.S. military spending, top military leaders concede that the United States remains far ahead of the Chinese in most military measures:
Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley on the U.S. militarily strength over China or Russia:
Just to be clear and I reiterate it, neither China nor Russia militarily, nor any other country on the face of the Earth is better militarily than the United States military. (June 23 hearing)
Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley on U.S. nuclear advantage even if China expands its nuclear force:
If we continued to fully modernize the triad, then the U.S. nuclear strategic deterrent is fully adequate to deter any adversary to include China even if China doubled what they have right now with no question in my mind [emphasis added]. (June 17 hearing)
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on U.S. advantage with allies:
We have something that China doesn’t have: we have allies and we have partners. And if you consider the Australias, Japans, and the Koreas of the world, there’s tremendous capacity in our allies and partners . . .But we far and away exceed any capability that China would have in terms of partner or ally capability and we’re going to continue to strengthen what we have. (June 23 hearing)
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on U.S. Navy advantage:
We have the most powerful, dominant naval force on the face of the planet. It has been so in the past. It will remain so going forward. (June 17 hearing)
Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley on U.S. Navy advantage:
A couple of things to consider: survivability, small, better dispersal. And submarines, by their nature, are extraordinarily survivable. They’re very lethal. And they are one of the significant asymmetric advantages that the United States has. (June 23 hearing)
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday on U.S. submarine advantage:
So, if I start undersea, that’s our most survivable strike platform in the United States Navy, and arguably, in the U.S. military is our underwater superiority over the Chinese. (June 24 hearing)
The facts bear them out:
United States vs. China Military Capability Comparison 2021: Advantage U.S.
|Estimated nuclear stockpile in 2020||3,800||320|
|Estimated nuclear weapons deployed on ICBMs or on bomber bases in 2020||1,750||20|
|Total Ships and submarines||293||350|
|Ballistic missile submarines||14 Ohio Class subs||4 Ballistic Missile submarines|
|Nuclear powered aircraft carriers||11, with modern aircraft||2 lower capability smaller carriers|
|U.S. Navy has at least a 2-1 advantage in tonnage over China|
|U.S. Navy has a at least a 10-1 lead in carrier-based airpower over China|
|Active military personnel||1,388,000||2,035,000|
|Last major combat experience||Ongoing in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria||1979 in Vietnam|
|Alliances||NATO, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Japan||No formal military alliances.|