China's Military Advantage Over US in Indo-Pacific Is 'Alarming': Defense Expert

China's Military Advantage Over US in Indo-Pacific Is 'Alarming': Defense Expert
An American soldier walks in front of military tanks at the U.S. Army military training base in Grafenwoehr, southern Germany, on July 13, 2022. (Christof Stache/AFP via Getty Images)
Andrew Thornebrooke

China’s military maintains a sizable advantage over the United States in the Indo-Pacific theater, according to one defense expert.

Dakota Wood, a senior research fellow at The Heritage Foundation, said that China’s military dwarfs that of the United States and would have the advantage of numerous land-based systems in a conflict.

“Numerically, it’s very concerning,” he said during an Oct. 18 interview with NTD, a sister media outlet of The Epoch Times. “As an example, we’ve got fewer than 300 ships in the U.S. Navy. Of those, 100 are at sea on any day. Of that 100, about 60 are in the western Pacific.”

“The Chinese navy alone is 360 ships,” Wood added. “So, just in numbers, even if our ships are far better than theirs, it’s still a 6-to-1 disadvantage.”

His comment follows the publication of the 2023 Index of U.S. Military Strength, which downgraded the U.S. military’s overall power to a score of “weak” for the first time. The scoring is the second lowest of five possible ratings, ranging from “very weak” to “very strong.”

The report (pdf), published annually by conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation, stated that a combination of underfunding, outdated equipment, lack of training, and unrealistically hopeful expectations concerning international relations contributed to its assessment.

“As currently postured, the U.S. military is at growing risk of not being able to meet the demands of defending America’s vital national interests,” the report stated.

“It is rated as weak relative to the force needed to defend national interests on a global stage against actual challenges in the world as it is rather than as we wish it were.”

China Has Military Advantage in Indo-Pacific

The report describes China as the United States’ “most comprehensive threat.” It outlines how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is modernizing its own military for the purpose of being able to win a war against the United States.

“China has invested in an arsenal of missiles designed to target U.S. warships, has upgraded its fleet of fighter jets, and is fielding advanced equipment that is rivaling the U.S. military’s in quality,” the report stated.

“U.S. intelligence experts gauge that China has surpassed the U.S. in hypersonic missiles, space systems, and naval shipbuilding. It has initiated a massive increase in its nuclear capabilities.”

A missile is launched from an unspecified location in China on Aug. 4, 2022. The Chinese military fired missiles into waters near Taiwan as part of its planned exercises on Aug. 4. (CCTV via AP)
A missile is launched from an unspecified location in China on Aug. 4, 2022. The Chinese military fired missiles into waters near Taiwan as part of its planned exercises on Aug. 4. (CCTV via AP)

Wood, who edited the report, said the CCP would hold a geographical advantage over the United States in most likely conflict scenarios, such as an invasion of Taiwan.

“They’re operating within 100 miles or so of their coastline,” Wood said. “Our guys and gals are 6,000 miles from home.”

“They’ve got land-based resources they can bring to a naval fight. We don’t have similar sorts of capabilities [in the region].”

Typically, Wood said, the answer to such a situation would be increased funding for superior training and equipment. U.S. warfighters are receiving less of either than in previous years, however, despite the growing threat of conflict.

“In the Cold War, our pilots would fly in excess of 300 hours a year,” Wood said. “Today, the average Air Force pilot flies fewer than 120.”

“We just don’t have the funding to keep stuff in the air, to sail the ships, to practice and rehearse and train and fire rounds downrange with artillery pieces. It’s that training aspect that offsets the numbers and geography that favors China, [but] we’re really lacking on the training and readiness side in the U.S.”

US Military Problems

Wood explained that a key factor contributing to the U.S. situation is a lack of adequate funding for military modernization. Despite rising dollar figures, the real value of the money spent on the U.S. military isn't equal to what was spent in previous decades.

In 2020, for example, the U.S. defense budget was $778.23 billion, which amounted to just 3.74 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). Conversely, in 1990, the defense budget was $325.13 billion, which was 5.61 percent of GDP. In 1960, meanwhile, the defense budget was $47.35 billion, which was 8.99 percent of GDP.

The amount the United States spends on defense as a proportion of its overall growth is, therefore, at near-historic lows. Add to this the effects of rampant inflation over the past year, and the real purchasing power of the military has rapidly dwindled.

Speaking at a launch event for the report, Wood said all of this adds up to create a situation in which the U.S. military simply hasn't been able to afford the type of rapid modernization that China invested in.

“It’s alarming,” Wood said.

“We’ve just seen this trend over time that readiness is in the tank. Most of the equipment that the services use is just old. ... Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles that are still sitting in silos were first acquired in the early 1970s.”

To that end, Wood said the report was “not an indictment” of U.S. warfighters, but of the equipment, funding, and ideas that had stunted the military’s ability to pursue national objectives and the subsequent strain that they caused.

Perhaps nowhere was this as well illustrated, Wood said, as in the demanding training schedule of U.S. troops and their equipment. Despite the fact that the Navy is half the size it was in the Cold War, he said, it's still maintaining the same number of deployments, leading to increased wear on personnel and materiel.

“Each crew on those ships is working twice as hard; you’re deploying the ships twice as often, [and] maintenance problems increase,” Wood said. “So we have too few things, whether it’s a plane or a ship, and they’re still working at the same operational tempo.”

The report stated that its ranking of U.S. military power as “weak” directly results from years of poor leadership in Washington.

“This is the logical consequence of years of sustained use, underfunding, poorly defined priorities, wildly shifting security policies, exceedingly poor discipline in program execution, and a profound lack of seriousness across the national security establishment even as threats to U.S. interests have surged.”

Andrew Thornebrooke is a national security correspondent for The Epoch Times covering China-related issues with a focus on defense, military affairs, and national security. He holds a master's in military history from Norwich University.