China is reducing the gap with the United States, as seen by its military exercises around Taiwan.

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China’s military exercises in Taiwan demonstrate how it is bridging the gap with the United States.

Expand this picture via Getty Images for AFP Beijing is using much more powerful naval, air force, and missile weapons than it did during the previous big crisis over the self-governing island, as it conducts military exercises surrounding Taiwan following a contentious visit by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The military drills, which started on Wednesday shortly after Pelosi left and are anticipated to last through the weekend, serve as a sobering reminder of how far China’s military has advanced since 1995–1996 when Beijing fired missile salvos close to Taiwan and conducted naval drills, including amphibious operations similar to those required for a full-scale invasion of the island.

According to Anthony Cordesman, a national security expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, China’s military at the time “was more from the 70s, early 80s” in terms of capabilities and modernization. He claims that it was “ineffective as a fighting force.”

No more, claim specialists. The Chinese navy has evolved from primarily being a coastal patrol force to having an aircraft carrier and submarine fleet that can conduct operations far from the mainland. Although not quite as powerful as the most recent American models, its warplanes are not far behind them.

Expand this picture via Getty Images, Hector Retamal/AFP According to Robert Haddick, visiting senior fellow at the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies and author of Fire on the Water: China, America, and the Future of the Pacific, China’s current generation of warplanes is still based on Soviet designs, particularly the Su-27 and its successor, the Su-35, from the 1970s and 1980s. They have, however, undergone numerous upgrades during this time, he claims.

According to Haddick, the Su-35 can carry a variety of anti-ship and land attack weaponry in addition to having air-to-air capability, making it roughly comparable to the F-15E Strike Eagle aircraft used by the U.S. Air Force.

According to Lonnie Henley, a veteran intelligence officer and instructor at George Washington University’s Elliot School of International Affairs, the planes feature stronger avionics, radar, and missiles than their Soviet-era equivalents.

He mentions a few other advanced aircraft that China claims have stealth capabilities and are also rumored to be in flight-ready condition. Although he admits it’s difficult to determine at this point whether they even come close to matching the decreased radar signature of aircraft like NATO’s F-35, “they look like a stealth fighter,” he says.

Expand this picture via Getty Images for AFP With its gains, China poses an increasing threat to American operations in the Pacific. Haddick asserts that China’s anti-ship cruise missiles “are both more numerous and more powerful than those of the United States.”

West of Guam, where a significant U.S. military facility is situated, he claims, “They now constitute a considerable threat to U.S. naval operations.”

According to him, American surface ships, including its aircraft carriers, may be targeted in a shooting conflict. The same is true of China’s aircraft carriers, of which two are currently regarded as “combat ready” and one is still being outfitted.

When compared to the American behemoths, “they are smaller carriers,” claims Haddick. However, China is not attempting to project naval strength globally way the United States is. He claims not yet, at least. Haddick claimed that although the aircraft carriers “are not designed to reach out to the United States,” they “definitely constitute a capacity that is a threat” when combined with China’s installations on Pacific islands.

The Type 055 destroyer “the largest surface combatant currently being built in the world,” from Beijing is being contrasted with its British and American competitors.

According to Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, American war planners are likewise concerned about China’s sub-surface capabilities. Even though it’s “not as good in the open ocean as our capacity since it’s not predominantly a nuclear-powered fleet,” he admits, “their diesel submarine fleet has come a long way.”

The subs “would surely be one of their big aces in the hole,” according to O’Hanlon, “except for the loud waters of the western Pacific not too far from home territory.”

When it comes to space and cyber, China is nearly at par with the United States. In the event of war, O’Hanlon asserts that China’s space and cyber capabilities could potentially prove to be powerful. They are all, I would say, only a half level below ours and capable of causing some fairly severe issues with their capacity to disrupt our space activities, their ability to target using their own space capabilities, and certainly their cyber war capabilities.

WORLD Nevertheless, China hasn’t engaged in a shooting conflict since it clashed with Vietnam in 1979. Its soldiers lack combat experience.

“One never knows if the training program was so adequate or not until action actually occurs,” adds Haddick. So, even to the Chinese themselves, I’m sure, it is still a mystery.

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