April 14, 2006

China fears drive big US arms projects

By Jim Wolf - Analysis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. fears of a rising China are
spurring billions of dollars worth of weapons projects, from
nuclear-fueled attack submarines to fighter jets to destroyers.

Even as President George W. Bush prepares to welcome
President Hu Jintao to the White House on Thursday with full
military honors, Washington is factoring in potential conflicts
over such sore spots as Taiwan, competition for scarce
resources and any threat to its predominance in Asia.

"Of the major and emerging powers, China has the greatest
potential to compete militarily with the United States and
field disruptive military technologies that could over time
offset traditional U.S. military advantages absent U.S. counter
strategies," the U.S. Defense Department said in a long-term
strategy review released in February.

The focus of the U.S. approach to China remains to prod it
into playing a constructive regional role and to be a partner
on security challenges from terrorism to curbing the spread of
weapons, narcotics and piracy.

But in its long-range blueprint, the Pentagon laid out
plans for "prudent hedges against the possibility that
cooperative approaches by themselves may fail to preclude
future conflict" with powers such as China.

Among China-related moves, the Pentagon said it would build
-- two decades sooner than originally planned -- a "long-range
strike capability" to be ready by 2018 while modernizing the
U.S. bomber force of B-1s, B-2s and B-52s.

The new project could involve manned or unmanned bombers as
well as directed-energy weapons such as lasers.

The U.S. Air Force has already begun to deploy the
radar-evading, F-22A "Raptor" multirole fighter jet, designed
to knock out advanced surface-to-air missiles and enemy

"Deterring or defending against potential aggression by the
PRC is the strongest argument for the F-22A," said Christopher
Bolkcom, the top warplane expert at the nonpartisan
Congressional Research Service, using initials for the People's
Republic of China.

The Air Force hopes to buy at least 176 F-22As, which would
be built through 2012 by Lockheed Martin Corp., the Pentagon's
No. 1 supplier, at a projected $62.6 billion, including
development costs. More than 50 have been delivered.


Another big-ticket item that might be built in lesser
numbers if not for the perceived China threat is the
Virginia-class nuclear submarine. In its long-range blueprint,
the Pentagon called for doubling to two per year the number
bought by the Navy by 2012 at a cost of $2 billion apiece.

The submarines are built by General Dynamics Corp. and
Northrop Grumman Corp..

The same companies are building the Navy's next-generation
DD(X), a destroyer designed to appear on enemy radar screens as
no bigger than a small fishing boat.

The first two DD(X) destroyers, which can attack land
targets with precision weapons and new long-range guns, are to
be purchased in fiscal 2007 at a combined cost of $6.6 billion.
The Bush administration is planning to buy seven of them as
part of a projected 313-ship Navy in the coming years.

"The fleet will have greater presence in the Pacific Ocean,
consistent with the global shift of trade and transport," the
Pentagon said in its strategy paper. It said 60 percent of U.S.
submarines would be based there, up from 50 percent now, and at
least six aircraft carriers, up from five now.

Peter Rodman, assistant secretary of defense for
international security affairs, said last month that China's
military buildup was forcing the United States to revise plans
for any showdown over Taiwan -- the U.S.-armed, self-governing
island that Beijing claims as its own.

Roger Cliff of the RAND Corporation, a not-for-profit
company that conducts many studies for the Pentagon, said China
was turning out weapons comparable in capability to the systems
that still make up the bulk of those used by U.S. forces.

"If the United States is to keep its qualitative military
advantage over China, therefore, we will need to continue to
develop and field systems that are significantly more advanced
than the types currently in our inventory," he said.