China challenging U.S. military technological edge: Pentagon official

WASHINGTON Tue Jan 28, 2014 6:25pm EST

Members of a military band attend a session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) of the Shanghai Municipal Committee, in Shanghai January 18, 2014. REUTERS/Aly Song

Members of a military band attend a session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) of the Shanghai Municipal Committee, in Shanghai January 18, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Aly Song

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. military's technological superiority is increasingly challenged by China, and efforts to maintain an edge are complicated by shrinking defense budgets that have cut money for development, the Pentagon's top weapons buyer said on Tuesday.

Frank Kendall, the deputy undersecretary of defense for acquisition and technology, told lawmakers the U.S. military's technological superiority is being "challenged in ways that I have not seen for decades, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region," where China is pursuing a rapid modernization program.

"Technological superiority is not assured," Kendall told the Armed Services Committee in the House of Representatives. "This is not a future problem. This is a here-now problem."

With China, Russia and other countries rapidly modernizing their militaries, Pentagon officials are voicing increasing concern about the possibility of losing the technological edge that has enabled the U.S. military to dominate the battlefield over the past 25 years.

U.S. defense officials say they do not expect a conflict with China or Russia, but the chances are that some of what they develop will be sold to other nations and the U.S. military may eventually face those systems.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel underscored the value of advanced research in a visit this month to Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico, saying the "technological edge that we've been able to maintain is critically important ... in the world that we're in today with more complications, more combustibility."

Admiral Samuel Locklear, the head of U.S. Pacific Command, told reporters in Washington recently the military's "relative dominance" had been diminishing after a period of unequalled superiority.

"That's not something to be afraid of; it's just to be pragmatic about," Locklear said, adding that the military would have to think carefully about which systems to develop in the future in order to maintain that edge.

Asked by a lawmaker how the technology race with China was going, Kendall indicated it was not positive, even though U.S. defense spending is far greater than China's.

The base U.S. defense budget will drop below $500 billion in 2014 under a deal finalized in January, while China's grew to $119 billion last year after another double-digit jump.

"Overall, China's military investments are increasing in double-digit numbers each year, about 10 percent," Kendall said. "Their budget is far smaller than ours. But their personnel costs are also far smaller than ours."

Personnel costs make up roughly half of the U.S. defense budget.

Kendall told lawmakers the Pentagon's ability to respond by developing new technologies was "severely limited by the current budget situation," with the department facing hundreds of billions in cuts to projected spending over the next decade.

Lawmakers voiced concern about not having known about Pentagon concerns earlier and asked Kendall when he first realized U.S. technological superiority was being challenged.

"We've had a steady decline (in spending) over the last several years of cuts ... We've been pleading with you guys to come over and tell us the problem," Representative Randy Forbes of Virginia, a Republican, told Kendall.

Kendall said the issue became "a more visible concern" when the department conducted a strategic review after Congress approved the budget cuts in 2011.

(Reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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Comments (10)
XianSheng wrote:
This is no small issue. It is only due to technological superiority of defense forces that the US still exists today, not because no one is interested in destroying the US, from hostile nations to Islamic jihadists. The US should cosider extreme measures, such as limiting trade with China, which would deprive them of the money that is fueling their military investments; limiting oil trade with Russia for the same reasons; doubled efforts by the US military to recruit more bright minds; increasing the military budget. This is not a call for US militarism. This is simply a call to wake up and be aware of the alarming situation before it’s too late.

Jan 28, 2014 6:52pm EST  --  Report as abuse
Eideard wrote:
China’s personnel costs could never match ours. Unless they decide they, too, need several hundred military bases scattered around the world like Caeser’s legions.

The cost of supporting a US soldier abroad is double what it would be if they were limited to defensive duty in the United States – instead of the cops of the world.

Jan 28, 2014 8:05pm EST  --  Report as abuse
freeokinawa wrote:
It helps to reduce arrogance from clueless US lawmakers. The recent hypersonic glider missile test by China is a good wake up call for US not to push China around. China is fed up with the Pivot To Asia nonsense. There is NO Red Menace, get over it. People should not use China’s legit China Seas disputes as an excuse to beat up China just because she is not yet a democracy.

Jan 28, 2014 8:19pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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