IN FOCUS: China's defence budget hike to benefit key aircraft programmes

Singapore
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China has raised its defence budget by 11% to CNY720 billion ($116 billion), but provided no details about how this will be apportioned among its service branches and various defence programmes.

The increase was revealed in brief story posted by official state news agency Xinhua. It adds that the value of the 2013 defence budget is 1.3% of the country's GDP.

"The military spending will be used to improve living and working conditions of service people, make the armed forces more mechanised and information-based, and to safeguard national security," says the Xinhua story.

"China's peaceful foreign policies and its defensive military policies are conducive to security and peace of Asia," says Fu Yin, a government spokesman quoted in the article.

In 2012, Beijing spent CNY651 billion, up by 12% from 2011. Experts have long conjectured that China's defence budget is actually far larger than the publicly disclosed amount.

Although China's defence spending is still a fraction of US defence spending, defence analyst Andrew Erickson said in his blog that the increase has important implications for security in the region.

"Regardless of exact numbers, the People's Liberation Army [PLA] already boasts potent capabilities vis-à-vis its outstanding island and maritime claims in near seas [Yellow Sea, East China and South China Sea], regarding which Beijing reserves the right to use force," he says.

"The USA enjoys, by far, the world's largest defence budget, but its military is dispersed worldwide to pursue ambitious global missions. China's defence spending remains a distant second in size, but is concentrated primarily around China's mainland, border regions and maritime periphery. It is how it might be used there that causes concern."

Over the 12 months since the announcement of the 2012 budget last year, there have been several major developments in regard to the future of Chinese air power.

In September 2012, a new fighter resembling the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter was photographed at the Shenyang Aircraft Corp airfield. Designated the "J-31" by Chinese bloggers and defence observers, the type conducted its first flight on 31 October 2012.

The J-31 joined another advanced developmental fighter - the Chengdu J-20, which first emerged in late 2010. At least two J-20 prototypes are undergoing testing at Chengdu.

Another major aircraft to emerge since the last budget is the Xian Y-20 strategic transport, a large aircraft that appears to be slightly smaller than the Boeing C-17. Photos of the long rumoured type first appeared on Chinese defence enthusiast sites in late 2012, and the aircraft conducted its maiden flight on 28 January.

China's navy also conducted the country's first fixed wing flight operations from a warship on 25 November 2012, when a pair of Shenyang J-15 fighters - which are all but identical to Russia's Sukhoi Su-33 - commenced flight operations from China's first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning.

Although the 2013 budget announcement (as in years past) lacks transparency, Beijing was surprisingly open about the Y-20's development and Liaoning flights. After the appearance of the Y-20, it quickly moved to officially confirm the programme. As for the Liaoning flights, it allowed a television crew from a state-run media outlet to film flight operations.

Aside from high profile aircraft development programmes, Beijing is also likely to invest in key areas such as aircraft engines, sensor technologies and precision weapons.