The 20th annual report on China by DoD noted the "staggering" improvements in China's ability to build, coordinate and project power since the first report was issued. Credit: FAS Handout.

The US Defense Department annual report to Congress was sobering, to say the least.

In a sense, it was the acknowledgement of an amazing decade of achievement, driven by a political will that is intent to achieve dominance by 2049.

Under the national strategy pressed by Chinese President Xi Jinping, the result has been that “China is already ahead of the United States in certain areas” essential to its overall aim of progressing from homeland and periphery defense to global power projection, reported.

According to the DoD report, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has already surpassed the US in missile development and its number of warships and air defense systems under the Chinese Communist Party’s long-term plan.

The ultimate goal of the People’s Republic of China, or PRC, is to “develop a military by mid-Century that is equal to — or in some cases superior to — the US military, or that of any other great power that the PRC views as a threat,” the DoD’s report said.

To that end, the PRC has “marshalled the resources, technology, and political will over the past two decades to strengthen and modernize the PLA in nearly every respect.”

The PRC has the largest navy in the world, with an overall battle force of approximately 350 ships and submarines, including over 130 major surface combatants, the report said.

That’s compared to the US Navy’s current battle force of 295 ships.

In addition, “the PRC has more than 1,250 ground-launched ballistic missiles (GLBMs) and ground-launched cruise missiles (GLCMs) with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers,” while the U.S. currently fields one type of conventional GLBM with a range of 70 to 300 kilometers and no GLCMs, the report said.

In some respects, China is also ahead on integrated air defense systems with a mix of Russian-built and homegrown systems, the report said.

“The PRC has one of the world’s largest forces of advanced long-range surface-to-air systems” — including Russian-built S-400, S-300, and domestically-produced anti-air systems — making up “part of its robust and redundant integrated air defense system,” the report said.

Despite the advances, the PLA “remains in a position of inferiority” to the US in overall military strength, said Chad Sbragia, the deputy assistant secretary of Defense for China.

The 173-page DoD report “does not claim that China’s military is 10 feet tall,” but the Chinese Communist Party wants it to be, and has the plan and resources to reach that goal, Sbragia, a retired Marine officer, said at an American Enterprise Institute forum on China’s military.

The DoD report, titled “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China” comes about two weeks before Congress is set to return from recess to convene a Senate-House Conference Committee on the National Defense Authorization Act and the defense budget for Fiscal Year 2021.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper has acknowledged downward pressures on the defense budget to offset the enormous costs of the Covid-19 response while arguing for sustained increases of 3-5% in defense spending to maintain US superiority, the report said.

The 20th annual report on China by DoD noted the “staggering” improvements in China’s ability to build, coordinate and project power since the first report was issued.

“DoD’s first annual report to Congress in 2000 assessed the PRC’s armed forces at that time to be a sizable but mostly archaic military that was poorly suited to the CCP’s long-term ambitions,” the report said.

In 2000, “the PLA lacked the capabilities, organization, and readiness for modern warfare,” the report said. But the CCP, it added, recognized the shortcomings and set about with determination to “strengthen and transform its armed forces in a manner commensurate with its aspirations to strengthen and transform China.”

“More striking than the PLA’s staggering amounts of new military hardware are the recent sweeping efforts taken by CCP leaders that include completely restructuring the PLA into a force better suited for joint operations” and for “expanding the PRC’s overseas military footprint.”