Since the 1990s, China has dramatically improved its military capabilities on land and sea, in the air, and in space. Recently, China has begun to project its military power beyond the Pacific Ocean by deploying a flotilla of small warships in December 2008 to the Gulf of Aden to aid in international efforts to fight Somali piracy. Historically, the United States is most concerned about the possibility of a conflict between China and Taiwan, though tensions between the two have lessened since 2008. But looking decades ahead, U.S. military planners clearly see the potential for China to develop as a “peer competitor.” The U.S. Defense Department’s 2008 report on China’s military power says “much uncertainty surrounds China’s future course, in particular in the area of its expanding military power and how that power might be used.”
But experts say China is still decades away from challenging U.S. military’s preeminence. Its ground forces field 1980s vintage armor and suffer from significant shortcomings in command and control, air defense, logistics, and communications. Its air force, too, lags behind those of Western powers, though China flies about one hundred top-end Russian Su-27 warplanes and has contracted to purchase newer Su-33s, which are capable of carrier-based operations. China plans to build aircraft carriers domestically, but currently has none under construction.