China’s military modernization poses a significant challenge to US leadership in the Indo-Pacific, says Davis

OTTAWA, ON (Nov. 23, 2017): The US and China are currently racing to achieve comparative military-technological advantage. Given China’s rapid technological advances, it would be a risky to assume the US will win this race.

China is focused on preventing uncontested access from potential adversaries, such as the US and its allied militaries, including Canada, to its near seas and beyond. It’s looking at a range of different technology to do so – from hypersonic missiles to quantum radar to autonomous drone swarms.

That is the subject of a new commentary for the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, as part of our Dragon at the Door series. Authored by Malcolm Davis, a Senior Analyst from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, this commentary examines China’s military modernization and the increasing challenge it will pose in the Western Pacific.

“The US military and its key allies have long enjoyed an ability to project military power into China’s air and maritime approaches,” notes Davis. “By contesting this access, China could deal a significant blow to US leadership in the region.”

To read the full commentary, titled " How China’s military is changing the game in the Pacific," click here.

His cutting-edge analysis provides a window at what US defence planners, and those in Ottawa who might envision a greater Canadian role in the Indo-Pacific, may have to deal with in the near future. Significantly, China is looking at achieving specific technological advances in some critical areas over the next 10 years.

Hypersonic technology could be used to develop more sophisticated and longer-range missiles that can penetrate

America’s air and missile defences. China’s expanded fleet of increasingly quiet submarines could be used to challenge America’s undersea dominance in the Pacific, especially given its reduced numbers and atrophied anti-submarine warfare capabilities.

China’s sophisticated fleet of 4th and 5th generation aircraft, with their long-range attack capabilities, could prove threatening to America’s shorter-range platforms.

Quantum technology could provide a range of different capabilities – from ultra secure quantum cryptography to quantum sensing and radar that can detect submarines and stealth aircraft. Even quantum computing, with its game-changing implications for battlefield management, is potentially not out of reach.

The US may also confront the threat of autonomous swarms of drones, enabled by advances in artificial intelligence, that could attack “with lethal precision while sustaining little damage to themselves.”

Unlike in democracies like the United States and Canada, China is able to look at many of these advanced technological weapon systems with little in the way of “legal, ethical, and moral constraints.”

As Davis concludes, “little debate appears to be occurring, but plenty of development and progress is clearly underway.”


Malcolm Davis is a Senior Analyst in Defence Strategy and Capability at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

The Macdonald-Laurier Institute is the only non-partisan, independent national public policy think tank in Ottawa focusing on the full range of issues that fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government.

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