Home » News & Analysis » Work: U.S. at Risk of Losing Military Technology Edge to China in Two Years


Work: U.S. at Risk of Losing Military Technology Edge to China in Two Years

China’s first domestically-built aircraft carrier leaves the pier at the Dalian shipyard on May 13, 2018. Xinhua Photo

The United States will lose its military technological superiority to China in two years if it does not put its $700 billion defense budget into areas that really matter, like artificial intelligence, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a former deputy secretary of defense warned on Thursday.

β€œWe should be prepared to be surprised” in any conflict with China, not only because it has invested heavily in modernizing its armed forces but also how it has invested in next-generation military technology, said former Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work speaking at a forum sponsored by the Center for a New American Security.

To show how serious Beijing is, Work said Chinese President Xi Jinping set down a marker for his military to be able to successfully invade Taiwan by 2020 and 10 years after to that be the world’s leader in artificial intelligence.

China “wants to be a first mover” in A.I., incorporating the Internet of things, big data, robotics and machine learning. “That will be how they will get ahead of the United States,” Work said.

For its part, the Pentagon needs to invest in research and development that would give the United States an asymmetric advantage in any potential conflict with Russia and China, Air Force Gen. Paul Selva said later at the same event.

“I’m not countering what they’re doing. I’m going around it,” Selva said.

Beijing’s defense spending rose 620 percent from then until 2015 and continues to rise. Work said the emphasis initially was on systems that could target with precision and have them become increasingly effective over longer ranges. Beijing and Moscow saw great advantages in putting money into ballistic missiles over heavily investing in all the necessary components of a global air force, especially maintenance and logistics to keep the United States at a distance or make it pay a high price for closing.

Both Russia and China also spent money on how to “duel” American battle networks with the aim to “cripple an enemy’s operational systems [and the] internal links” that could launch a concerted, concentrated attack or response, Work said.

He said for the Chinese, their progress is evident in electronic warfare, cyber, counter-space systems, hypersonic and rail-guns.

“Attack effectively fast” and in salvos, pre-emptively to overwhelm defenses, he said. The Chinese “are looking deep and shooting deep.”

Work said there were five reinforcing legs to this build-up, starting with state-sponsored industrial and technological espionage that continues today, now often in targeting sensor technology where the United States still has an edge.

To leapfrog ahead of the United States militarily, Selva said the Chinese have been pursuing a strategy of “learning, buying and stealing” from American and foreign companies, thus avoiding research costs and putting that money to use elsewhere.

Where the Chinese found they lagged behind, Work added they applied themselves “to close that technological gap [and] do it as quickly as they could.” The desired end-strength “is outright technological superiority” across the board.

Work said in his address the new national security strategy was correct in identifying China and Russia as major competitors. “This race is one we have to win,” he said.

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Categories: News & Analysis
John Grady

About John Grady

John Grady, a former managing editor of Navy Times, retired as director of communications for the Association of the United States Army. His reporting on national defense and national security has appeared on Breaking Defense, GovExec.com, NextGov.com, DefenseOne.com, Government Executive and USNI News.

  • Jay

    Trump is going to speed this up…with ZTE and others.

    • .Hugo.

      zte is leading in 5g and the u.s. firms are eating dust, that’s why it is targeted.

      • Zorcon, Fidei Defensor

        ZTE, sending our data back to China one byte at a time?

        • Arkius

          So, you’re arguing for a zero sum outcome. Please, tell me how that is done?

          • Zorcon, Fidei Defensor

            I didn’t argue anything. It has been proven that the ChiCom’s put back doors into their hardware and systems. I am no friend to the Chinese. They are an aggressive thief of outside technology. I am no fan of central governments either.

            The Chinese have delusions of grandure and, like the Japanese, will get a itch to try their shiny new toys out.

            I am not saying we do not do the same but the theft of IP is very sleazy to say the least.

          • Arkius

            So you don’t have a solution; you just needed to vent.

          • Centaurus

            He was bent, so to go vent

          • .Hugo.

            let’s see what apple “might” have instead….
            .
            bgrDOTcom/2018/03/16/iphone-x-encryption-broken-graykey-ios-backdoor/
            .
            iOS might have a backdoor that can be used to hack into any iPhone, even the iPhone X
            .
            and since when apple has become a chinese company?
            .

        • .Hugo.

          1 byte is better than nothing that the u.s. is offering. πŸ™‚
          .

  • KazuakiShimazaki

    If there’s only two years left, counting ramp up time it is probably already too late.

  • RDF

    If you think the internet of things is important to a fighting force, you are a lobbyist. Not a military leader.

  • Eric Swank

    Our students are falling way behind in math, science and reading ranked #31 in the world according to PISA the Program for International Student Assessment. It is time that we put the children first and invest in their future instead of the pocketbooks of defense contractors.

    • Hugh

      And consider that China reportedly graduates more than 15,000 PHd degrees each year!

    • David Oldham

      Look at the Nobel prize numbers, once again color me less than impressed with these test jockeys.

      • vlhc vlhc

        And one of them belong to Obama, and half belong to immigrants

        Prizes given by Norway does not build a tech industry

      • .Hugo.

        that’s when china was occupied with domestic unrest, the u.s. should consider itself lucky.
        .

  • John Locke

    It’s not just about investing in the right technologies it’s also about espionage. Seriously, when you go to a product design review at a NAVSEA organization and half the people in the room have thick Chinese accents you can’t help but wonder where the information goes after they get outside the gate.

  • PolicyWonk

    To leapfrog ahead of the United States militarily, Selva said the Chinese have been pursuing a strategy of β€œlearning, buying and stealing” from American and foreign companies, thus avoiding research costs and putting that money to use elsewhere.
    ===========================================
    Its far worse than this. FAR worse: The USA’s own government sold us down the river.

    All anyone needs to do is read the 2008 US National Intelligence Estimate: the conclusion of all 17 US intelligence agencies is that from 2002-2008, the USA simply GAVE the Chinese the largest influx of dual-use technologies in history, by far eclipsing all previous administrations *combined*. All in return for the short-term profits of GOP party donors (thats according to the multitude of editorials written by Patrick Buchanan, who repeatedly implored the administration of George W Bush to cease sending American jobs and manufacturing (along with said technologies) to the Communist Chinese. His efforts, and those of US national security officials, were fruitless.

    The NIE declared that the USA simply gave the ChiComs far more technology in 6 years , than the USSR got in 60 years of Cold War.

    Along with this technology transfer, went the hard-won manufacturing know-how, the machinery, along with the federal and state tax base resulting from all the jobs lost, and a large portion of the US strategic manufacturing base (estimated at ~30%). Adding insult to injury, these are the same 6+ million folks that the GOP claimed were getting “free stuff” from the Obama administration, after their jobs, and US national security, was simply given away.

    That same US NIE declared this not only a massive national security disaster for the United States, but also for other every nation in the Asian Pacific region, as they correctly predicted China would use those technologies (and the massive profits they’d accrue) to quickly expand their military build up, start settling old scores with their neighbors, by/and rapidly escalating their diplomatic belligerence.

    Sound familiar?

    These problem didn’t (and don’t) go away simply because another administration took office, though the technology transfers ground to a halt (comparatively speaking: the slow-down was dramatic – but not complete by any stretch), when Obama took office. In short, the vast majority of the damage had already been done; that pony had left the barn.

    Then, lets add the continuous ignoring/defunding of education in this nation, when the Chinese (and other adversaries) are so heavily focused on exactly that. We have school boards injecting their stupidities and ignorance on our students (for example, small-minded efforts to restrict the teaching of evolution, and sciences), when the focus needs to be on the long-term good of this nation.

    That same NIE, in all fairness, said the the Chinese would eventually eclipse the USA in technology, and global power, through sheer numbers, etc. But, they also said, via these technology transfers, we accelerated our own decline by decades, and the advantage we simply gave away isn’t going away because we want to pretend otherwise.

    The chickens are rapidly coming home to roost. The time for action has long past – but this in no way means we shouldn’t install an all-out effort to regain a good deal of the initiative. That also means, the political BRAVO SIERRA centering on short-term gains and phony populism/posturing *must* stop, and US national security and all that comes with it (fiscal responsibility; strong education system; ceasing technology transfers of dual-use technologies; strong economic management; strong alliances with our allies and diplomatic pragmatism; and ending divisive politics/policies; managing for the long term).

    Our adversaries are playing for keeps and are playing the long game. The USA cannot afford to do any less.

    • AmPatriotSmith

      It’s not populism that’s ruining our country; it’s progressive liberalism that’s the problem

      • PolicyWonk

        Thank you for sharing your lack of knowledge, awareness, and inability to grasp facts.

        Have a great weekend!

        • AmPatriotSmith

          I’m right and you’re wrong, but I really don’t want to discuss politics on this site. I know that we need to work with our allies and not be a total isolationist so we don’t send them into the “arms” of China.

          • PolicyWonk

            Thank for the information. My mother taught be years ago not to argue with folks that have, um, “problems”, as its a waste of time.

            If you have a problem with facts, then no one can help you.

          • AmPatriotSmith

            There is another problem and that is we are too much at each other throats politically to care enough about our country’s future. This scares me. As I see it, Trump is trying to protect the country and the progressives are trying to destroy it and in the process, the country suffers.

  • Michael Lnu

    The Chinese are stealing us blind when it comes to military technology and the traitors at Google would rather work with the Chinese than their own.

    • Arkius

      Do you have a solution?

      • johnb33

        First step, block Google from doing any foreign business by regulating them out of business. That is if they keep refusing to work with the defense dept. for the defense of their fellow citizens. What type of world do they think authoritarian China will run? They are too myopic. Also naive.

        • vlhc vlhc

          haha, great idea, China had a blanket ban on google for almost 10 years now, i dont think they’ll miss anything

          • johnb33

            Doing tech business with them? Or letting google search engine and web related services run on the Chinese internet? Because AI is in a class of its own really.

          • .Hugo.

            ai?
            .
            thevergeDOTcom/2018/2/22/17039696/china-us-ai-funding-startup-comparison
            .
            China overtakes US in AI startup funding with a focus on facial recognition and chips

        • .Hugo.

          sounds more police state to me (the u.s.)…. πŸ˜€
          .

    • AmPatriotSmith

      We have a lot of traitors in the government. It’s loaded with corruption, the likes of which I’ve never seen before. Instead of worrying about illegal aliens, we need to focus on our security on the border and our intellectual property, otherwise we lose

  • David Oldham

    The Chinese can only advance as fast as they steal the technology from us. Not sure how they go ahead of us with that paradigm. Sure they may here and there come up with a slight advance on their own and they will be blown out of proportion by the children who cry wolf but their military has not been tested in many years and found wanting then so color me less than impressed with the rhetoric/propaganda.

    • vlhc vlhc

      And China’s railgun and hypersonic tech are both leaving the US in the dust, maybe the US can catch up by being better at “stealing” its own tech

    • .Hugo.

      the u.s .stole from britain and germany too to advance.
      .
      the u.s. military has not been tested with any post-ww2 major military power either. when was the last time it fought a sea/air battle with a major and capable military power?
      .

      • Americanboi

        When has Russia, or China last fought a sea/air battle with a major and capable military power?

        Everyone likes to point out that the U.S. has never fought a major power, neither has those other guys.The U.S. military might not be tested, neither has Russia’s, China’s, Britain’s etc.

        • .Hugo.

          correct, that’s why the u.s. has really nothing to brag about, and that’s why it has never dared to touch ussr/russia. today we are only seeing the chinese military repelling intruding u.s. vessels with no resistance from the americans. πŸ™‚
          .

          • Americanboi

            nope not really, the u.s keeps a constant amount of u.s vessels in the south china sea, and in the pacific in that region.

            Now, tell me, how does china “repelling” u.s. vessels non-militaristically, prove that the united states is weak?

            And as the number 1 military in the entire world, our air force and navy to prove that, means that we nothing to brag about?

          • .Hugo.

            of the u.s. has kept a constant amount of vessels in the scs, actually since when it has not after ww2?
            .
            but none has dare to touch a chinese vessel repelling its intruding navy. πŸ™‚
            .
            when challenged and intercepted, it was always the u.s. navy turning back or leaving the area, while the chinese law enforcement stayed behind and continued to demonstrate chinese sovereignty in the chines scs territory, i.e. a complete failure of fonops, and you want to call that “not weak”? sure, very convincing. πŸ˜›
            .
            you can always brag about the position, but your so-called “number 1” military in the world can’t even defeat the non-ranked rebels in the philippines and afghanistan. and whenever china or ussr/russia was involved, you could not win either. e.g. korea, vietnam, syria.
            .
            simply said, your “number 1” military is only good at bullying much weaker and smaller countries. πŸ™‚
            .

          • Americanboi

            Would you rather the U.S. actually attack a Chinese vessel, and start a war just to prove how strong we are?

            Korea we won, and Vietnam we abandoned, it was less public support for Vietnam. I’m going to assume that you know that public support for a war is vital for if it continues or not(but I wouldn’t put it past you if you didn’t)

            And in Afghanistan and Philippines, we aren’t just fighting A rebel group, we are fighting an ideology(s) that anyone can convert to, whether it’s Muslims turning to Jihad-ism, or people becoming communists. It’s not as easy to fight that kind of fight. And as of recently the U.S. has been pretty successful in taking care of ISIS.

            Finally, as for the U.S. “bullying” smaller countries, China and Taiwan, Russia and Crimea, Ukraine, and Georgia? Look, bro, your arguments are clearly and seriously flawed. Respond with something more substantial plz πŸ˜› πŸ˜€ :)…

          • .Hugo.

            no, i don’t want to see any vessel to attack anyone. only you said the u.s. is “no.1”, not me. and i pointed to you how your beloved “no.1” has lost wars. πŸ™‚
            .
            korea: you did not win as you have failed to destroy the north after stopping its invasion to the south. china has warned you not to cross the border, but you ignored that warning and even bombed chinese border towns, so you’re pushed back all the way from the chinese border to the 38th parallel. and today your president has to say hi to fat boy kim. πŸ˜€
            .
            vietnam: you lost public support when you could not win the war, then you lost everything.
            .
            afghanistan: everyone can see you have won some battles but you lost the war.
            .
            philippines: for over 40 years you have failed to help the philippines to clear the muslim and communist rebels, even when you have the larges bases there.
            .
            .
            and yes, the u.s. could only bully much smaller or weaker countries, e.g. grenada, panama, iraq, afghanistan, libya. when facing china it could not win. e.g. korea, northern vietnam, even tibet. when facing ussr/russia it could not win either. e.g. crimea, ukraine, syria.
            .
            yes, i can see flaws, unfortunately they are from you. πŸ™‚
            .
            .

          • Americanboi

            Alright, who would you say the no.1 military power is?

            Korea – we intervened because the North Koreans tried taking over the entire Korean peninsula, and we stopped them, that’s a win in my book.

            Vietnam – We weren’t losing, we were winning, more casualties were on the Vietcong(or communist side) rather than our side. We abandoned it because of lack of public support to see our men go and fight and die in a war. And our soldiers lost morale after that as well. Take into account we were literally in a cold war with Russia and the looming threat of nuclear war, it was enough to pull out. No one, not even Russia could win in a nuclear war.

            Afghanistan, please tell me how we lost the “war” even though the only people we are at “war” with is ISIS. We are fighting terrorism, and Islamic terrorist acts have been heading down. So what are you talking about? We invaded Iraq twice, and we still won. Are we losing yet?

            As for the Philippines, we aren’t actively fighting the rebels, the Philippine military is. So how are we “losing” a war we aren’t actively fighting in.

            Other than Korea, all of those times when we “faced” China wasn’t on a direct conflict, not enough to prove that the U.S. couldn’t beat it. Same with Russia, we haven’t been directly in combat in Ukraine, we’ve just been sending arms, and Crimea was not part of NATO and we did not need to be involved other than condemning the act. And in Syria? When have we actually lost to Russia at all in Syria? Please inform me πŸ™‚

            Finally, the combat that we are fighting isn’t a easy win or lose situation. You can’t fight and kill to eradicate beliefs and ideals. What you can do is stop people from acting on those ideals, and the United States has been “winning” in that.

            And your definition of us bullying those countries. That’s a bold opinion to make and state it as fact. Really that’s your major flaws in your argument, us “bullying” countries, come on man, do better than this..

          • .Hugo.

            i don’t report to you, i don’t have to answer in the way you want me to. call whatever “no.1” you like. πŸ™‚
            .
            korea – you did invent and stop the invasion (that’s a u.n. decision). but after that you invaded north korea (not a u.n. decision) and china warned you not to do so. you were pushed back all the way from the chinese border to the 38th parallel, that’s a failure to destroy the north in my book too. even trump has to shake kim’s hand today. πŸ˜€
            .
            vietnam – you were not winning either, you just dragged on and your troops degraded and continued to get killed, that’s why you lost public support and eventually you lost the war. again, even trump’s government has to recognize the vietnamese communist government today. πŸ˜€
            .
            afghanistan – you lost control of the country you have invaded and destroyed, and your troops are still being killed today. you try to pull out now and leave the mess behind, and you call that a win? that’s glorious, haha….
            .
            philippines – you have provided direct military assistance for the past 40 years, and either you or the philippines can defeat the rebels. they can now negotiate with the government on almost equal terms. oh what an achievement —– of the rebels! πŸ˜€
            .
            you could not defeat china directly in korea, and you could not even defeat an enemy supported by china to fight you in other places, so i just don’t know what you are trying to defend here.
            .
            we can all see how russia has overwhelmed you in europe, that’s why all you can do is economic sanction.
            .
            you tried to topple a legitimate government in syria, and russia has crushed your plan.
            .
            so let’s make it clearer for you, directly or indirectly, when china or ussr/russia is involved, the u.s. cannot win. πŸ™‚
            .
            and to the exact opposite, the u.s. has been fighting and killing to eradicate beliefs and ideals since the day of its independence. the u.s. has been at war 93% of the time since 1776, it has invaded or attacked at 70 countries, most were smaller and weaker ones too. are you trying to tell me grenada or panama was on par with you now? πŸ˜›
            .

          • Americanboi

            Okay, I might end it here, but not with out a response.

            Not going to lie you kind of stumped me here, although I’m taking everything that you are saying with a grain of salt. Most of these conflicts happened in the past, things change. But, if you can tell where the U.S. and the USSR or China were in direct conflict, military against military. I’ll secede, and you’ll win this debate. Not indirectly, where your entire argument depends on, and by the way the Chinese did not use their actual military force to fight the Americans in Korea, they used their “Volunteer” army. Which weren’t, for the most part, military disciplined soldiers. And as for the past 93% percent, yeah we won most of them, except for Korea, Vietnam, Syria etc. according to you.

            But, only some of the times that we have been at “war” for the past 93% of the time, that’s simply incorrect, we have been at a state of combat maybe, for the most part. But we haven’t declared war in Vietnam or Korea, congress never did. SO, technically we weren’t at war, but we were in combat. Just to clear that up.

            And as for me telling you Grenada or Panama was on par with us? That’s an absurd jump in logic, I never said that any of those countries were on par with us militarily. I have no idea where you got that from.

            As for Afghanistan, us pulling out and leaving that mess behind, because it isn’t worth it, you call that a loss? I never said it was a victory, considering we are still in Afghanistan, and their military never managed to completely kick us out, that really isn’t a loss either, like you claim. We still dominate in the air, and on the ocean. And once the Pentagon starts getting the U.S. military to start focusing on conventional adversaries, Russia and China, we are going to dominate on land once again. I hope you realize, in Vietnam, Syria, Afghanistan, and the middle east in general. We have been using Conventional forces to fight and unconventional war, those don’t mesh well. It’s hard to fight guerrillas with soldiers. That’s why most nations(if not all) cannot outright succeed in fighting those types of fights.

          • .Hugo.

            as you are still making mistake, or simply still try to frame china, let’s read some proper definition of china’s people’s volunteer army of the korean war:
            .
            (wiki)
            “Although all units in the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army were actually transferred from the People’s Liberation Army (the official name of the Chinese armed forces) under orders of Mao Zedong, the People’s Volunteer Army was separately constituted in order to prevent an official war with the United States. ”
            .
            so military against military, the u.s. was pushed back all the way from the chinese border to the 38th parallel and failed to destroy north korea.
            .
            for ussr, the u.s. simply didn’t dare to touch it (and thought it could beat china but failed). πŸ˜€
            .
            and of course you “won” most of them when most of them were far smaller and weaker than you. you brought war onto them did not mean you were not at war either. don’t try to play with words here as the u.s. indeed conducted major military operations and got places destroyed and many people killed in both korea and vietnam.
            .
            right, so grenada and panama were smaller and weaker countries that you have bullied. that’s very clear now. πŸ™‚
            .
            and in afghanistan, you invaded and created a mess and you still can’t clean it up, and now you say it’s not worth it. wow what a great statement to the innocent afghans and the dead u.s. servicemen! πŸ˜€
            .
            and you still dominate which air and which ocean? i really don’t see that in my part of the world. you air and sea domination can’t even help the californian fire fighters to put down the wildfires in your homeland.
            .
            chinese fought you in a conventional war in korea, and you could not even defeat the poorly equipped “volunteers” without much air and sea support and with so little armor. as compared with today’s chinese army, your army equipment is not even advanced anymore. πŸ˜›
            .

  • john

    China is realistically a decade or more behind in stealth technology. The US looks like it will be the first to 1MW lasers also. Once those bad boys hit the field good luck attacking a CSG.

    • .Hugo.

      1mw lasers? oh sure, let’s see how soon you can charge it up and how rapid it can fire to face massive waves of chinese missile attacks (not to mention jamming and decoys)…..

  • vlhc vlhc

    Americans are collectively living in denial. China have 4x population, 10x more STEM grads, have one of the worlds most intellegent population, and exports more brainpower to the US than anyone else. There is no physical and biological way for the US to maintain tech superority, theres only the question of how far and how fast it falls behind, how to manage its military stradegy when it does, and if China keeps a gruge and take revenge after they return to being the “middle kingdom”

    • .Hugo.

      the key is how to coexist and work with china, but not to containing and confront it.

  • Gerry Wright

    Thousands and thousands of mainland Chinese came to this country to receive college degrees and the University Crowd loved it because it meant big bucks and big salaries, oh well.