The US Department of Defense is predicting that China will maintain double-digit growth of its defence budget until at least 2005, partly to fund on-going modernisation. Earlier this year Beijing boosted its publicly reported defence budget by 17.6% to $20 billion.

In its latest congressionally mandated report on China's military, the DoD estimates that Beijing's actual annual military spending is around $65 billion - the highest worldwide after the USA. The DoD reports: "Total spending is closer to $65 billion, and annual spending could increase in real terms over three- or four-fold by 2020."

Although China has around 3,400 combat aircraft, only 100 are considered modern, says the DoD. However, China's acquisition programmes and the introduction of improved training and new tactics to complement modern technology are intended to improve combat capability over the next 10 years.

The Pentagon says that over the next 20 years Chinese aircraft production is expected to focus on an indigenous fourth-generation fighter, improved versions of the Xian JH-7 fighter bomber and possible upgrades to licence-built SukhoiSu-27/30s. China is known to be developing the ChengduJ-10 fourth generation fighter while an upgrade is improving the JH-7's compatibility with precision-guided munitions (Flight International, 19-25 March).

The DoD says it expects China to continue pursuing an airborne early warning and control acquisition following the cancellation last year of a deal to buy Israeli Aircraft Industries Phalcon systems, following pressure from the USA.

In-flight refuelling capability, demonstrated by the Chinese for the first time in April 2000, "remains rudimentary, probably limited to clear weather and daylight", says the DoD.

Source: Flight International