US Still Ahead of China in Military Firepower

November 21, 2021 Updated: November 21, 2021

News Analysis

The Chinese regime is expanding its military capabilities at breakneck speed, but the United States is still ahead, in terms of total firepower.

The vice chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force Gen. John Earl Hyten, called China’s military buildup “stunning.” He cited China’s increasing military overtures toward Taiwan and recent tests of hypersonic missiles as a potential threat to the United States.

Hyten told the Associated Press that China is mobilizing all of its resources and developing its military so quickly, which has prompted the Biden administration to reorient U.S. foreign and defense policy toward countering Beijing’s military ambitions.

China’s state-run media Global Times claims that the United States is afraid to go to war with China. It stated that “frontline troops are getting closer and closer” and that “the risk of a China-US military confrontation has increased.”

According to satellite imagery, China has missile targets that are shaped like an American aircraft carrier and two destroyers, which suggests that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is training for a potential war with the United States.

Satellite photos also show that China has about 250 ICBM silos under construction.

China vs. US

China spends $178.2 billion on defense, while the United States spends $740.5 billion. The United States ranks first in firepower, while China ranks third, after Russia, according to the latest data from Global Firepower, a website that provides analytical information of modern military powers.

China’s available manpower is about five times that of the United States. And, in spite of falling birthrates largely caused by Beijing’s one-child policy, China still has more than four times as many people reaching military age each year. China’s active-duty military is about 50 percent larger than the United States, but the U.S. reserve forces are about 60 percent larger than China’s.

Sailors stand on the deck of the new type 055 guide missile destroyer Nanchang of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy as it participates in a naval parade to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the founding of China’s PLA Navy in the sea near Qingdao, in eastern China’s Shandong Province on April 23, 2019. (Mark Schiefelbein/AFP via Getty Images)

In terms of overall firepower, the U.S. ground forces, while smaller than China’s, are more superior in terms of equipment and training and combat effectiveness. The United States is also dominant in air power. The United States has more aircraft, and the combat capabilities and technology of most U.S. aircraft are superior to China’s.

Naval power also favors the United States. While China has more boats and ships, U.S. ships are more advanced, on average, and have greater firepower. Another tremendous advantage to the United States in waging a naval war is that it maintains 800 military bases in 70 countries around the world. U.S. troops, aircraft, and ships can deploy from these bases, or U.S. ships can use them for resupply.

The United States has about four times as many aircraft as China and about five times as many helicopters. The United States has double as many tanks and about 10 percent more armored vehicles. China has more self-propelled artillery, while the United States has more towed artillery. China has more ships and boats, but the United States has nearly six times as many aircraft carriers. The U.S. Navy has 10 helicopter carriers, while the PLA Navy has none. China has more submarines, but the United States has more nuclear submarines. The United States has nearly double as many destroyers as China.

In nuclear warheads, the United States is also ahead of China. The United States has 3,750 nuclear warheads, whereas China is expected to have 400 within the next 10 years. The United States already has several nukes in position, on alert, and in reserve than China is expected to have for several years.

One area where China is leading, however, is in missiles. China has absolute advantage in ground-based ballistic missiles that can carry out nuclear or conventional attacks. In 1987, the United States signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with the Soviet Union, which prevented the United States from building these ground-based missiles. China, on the other hand, was under no such restrictions, while the United States only withdrew from the agreement in 2019. Consequently, this is one area where China has an advantage.

Never having been so constrained in missile deployment, China has built up an arsenal of roughly 2,000 ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles, while the United States has almost none. Then President Donald Trump approved budgets for several U.S. military branches to begin acquiring missiles. The Marines, for example, had requested $125 million to buy 48 missiles.

When it comes to logistics and defense support, the United States is way ahead of China. China has just over 500 airports, while the United States has over 13,000. America has more roadways, more ports, and dramatically more oil production capabilities.

Another tool the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has at its disposal is propaganda and power projection. One reason for the Chinese regime’s frequent incursions into Taiwan’s air and sea space is not only to threaten the self-ruled island, but to project its power to the Southeast Asian nations that are largely allied with the United States.

And this underscores a tremendous advantage that Washington has over Beijing. The United States has allies. America is a member of numerous defense pacts and treaties, including NATO, the Quad, AUKUS, and the Five Eyes (FVEY), as well as bilateral defense agreements with Taiwan, the Philippines, South Korea, and Japan. The United States also participates in multilateral defense pacts with the countries of the Americas.

China, on the other hand, is not a member of any defense pacts, and can only count on North Korea, Iran, sometimes Russia, and possibly a few client states such as Cambodia and Pakistan for help.

A military conflict is becoming more likely between the United States and China. Both identify Taiwan as the catalyst that could trigger a war. The CCP claims that the United States is afraid to fight, although there is no evidence to support this assertion.

In terms of firepower and global logistics, the United States is still ahead of China. But since the Chinese regime is modernizing its military quickly, the United States will need to keep up defense spending and continue improving its combat capabilities.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Antonio Graceffo, Ph.D., has spent over 20 years in Asia. He is a graduate of Shanghai University of Sport and holds a China-MBA from Shanghai Jiaotong University. Antonio works as an economics professor and China economic analyst, writing for various international media. Some of his books on China include "Beyond the Belt and Road: China’s Global Economic Expansion" and "A Short Course on the Chinese Economy."