Elisabeth Bumiller – New York Times January 8, 2011
The Pentagon is stepping up investments in a range of weapons, jet fighters and technology in response to the Chinese military buildup in the Pacific, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Saturday on the eve of his visit to Beijing.
Despite billions of dollars in proposed Pentagon budget cuts that Mr. Gates announced this past week, he said that the Chinese development of its first radar-evading fighter jet, as well as an antiship ballistic missile that could hit American aircraft carriers, had persuaded him to make improvements in American weaponry a priority.
“They clearly have potential to put some of our capabilities at risk, and we have to pay attention to them, we have to respond appropriately with our own programs,” Mr. Gates said.
At the same time Mr. Gates doused China’s proud rollout this past week of its new stealth fighter jet, the J-20, saying that even though it was a matter for concern, there “is some question about just how stealthy” it is.
Mr. Gates made his comments to reporters before arriving Sunday night in Beijing, where he is on a three-day visit for talks with Chinese generals and President Hu Jintao that are meant to promote a more open and stable relationship between the American and Chinese militaries.
It is unclear what effect Mr. Gates’s comments will have on the talks, which are occurring a week before President Hu is to meet with President Obama in Washington.
The American weapons that Mr. Gates was referring to included investments in a new long-range nuclear-capable bomber aircraft, which the Pentagon had stopped developing in 2009, as well as a new generation of electronic jammers for the Navy that are designed to thwart a missile from finding and hitting a target. At a Pentagon briefing on Thursday, Mr. Gates said that the jammers would improve the Navy’s ability to “fight and survive” in waters where it is challenged.
Mr. Gates was also referring to continued investment in the Joint Strike Fighter, the Pentagon’s newest radar-evading fighter jet.
The Pentagon provided no estimate on Saturday of the total cost of the three programs or others meant to counter the Chinese buildup in the Pacific.
Although Pentagon officials say that China is a generation or more behind the United States in military technology, Mr. Gates said he has been worried about the Chinese buildup in his four years as defense secretary. And acknowledged that the Pentagon and intelligence agencies had underestimated how quickly the Chinese could act.
“We’ve been watching these developments all along,” Mr. Gates said.
“I’ve been concerned about the development of the antiship cruise and ballistic missiles ever since I took this job,” he added. “We knew they were working on a stealth aircraft. I think that what we’ve seen is that they may be somewhat further ahead in the development of that aircraft than our intelligence had earlier predicted.”
Mr. Gates said he hoped his talks with Chinese leaders would reduce the need for more American weaponry in the Pacific. He also said that if Chinese leaders considered the United States a declining power because of the financial crisis, they were wrong.
“I’ve watched this sort of cyclical view of American decline come around two or three times, perhaps most dramatically in the latter half of the 1970s,” Mr. Gates said. “And my general line for those both at home and around the world who think the U.S. is in decline is that history’s dustbins are filled with countries that underestimated the resilience of the United States.”