China Caught the U.S. in Manufacturing, High-Tech Weapons Might Be Next

It’s no secret that China (and many other nations) are catching up with the U.S. in education and manufacturing. A quick Google search can reveal the massive gains China’s manufacturing and education sectors have made over the last three decades. Experts have long warned that the slipping far behind it’s industrialized peers in terms of critical education sectors;  science, technology, engineering and math.

The worst part they say; as the U.S. is slipping, China is rising. First, it mastered — some would argue, it still is mastering — basic manufacturing and it has begun investing heavily in higher-end engineering and scientific education, paving the way for it’s rapid gains in high-tech manufacturing. Now, China is starting to turn this investment in engineering and scientific knowledge toward producing high-end military gear.

Just look here, here and here to see how fast the Chinese military is growing. This great technological leap forward owes much of its success to China’s large investment in an education system that produces far more engineers each year than the American university system — something you’ll hear any American defense executive lament. These engineers — with plenty of help from information acquired from America and Europe via espionage, reverse engineering Western gear and partnerships with Western companies — have helped design China’s new crop of fighter jets, anti-satellite missiles, space planes and more.

Chinese engineers have also designed the sophisticated cyber weapons that have stolen reams of information from American defense contractors and the Pentagon to fill in gaps in Chinese weapons designers knowledge. Meanwhile, American companies like GE are partnering more and more with Chinese firms such as COMAC to produce everything from jet engines to cutting edge avionics, as we’ve said above, these partnerships provide China with information on how to catch up with the the U.S.

So while China’s manufacturing and engineering knowledge base might not yet be at the same level as America’s, it’s getting better every day as its engineers take on more challenging projects and learn from their partners at world-class companies like GE.

To learn a bit more about this issue and what can be done to keep the U.S. on top of its game in the face of rising competition from China, DT asked Naval War College Professor, Kathleen Walsh for her take on all this. Here’s her bio, needless to say, she’s got the ear of plenty of decision makers and influencers when it comes to China policy. Click through the jump to read her answers to our questions.

When will China catch the U.S. in terms of high-end engineers capable of designing and building quality, high-tech goods and military equipment?

In terms of sheer numbers, it won’t take long.  Of course, quality is what matters here, and that will
take longer, probably a decade and perhaps much more.  I’m told by industry experts that Chinese engineers coming out of Chinese schools are quite proficient in basic engineering skills, but that they
typically tend to lack the independent initiative and innovative approaches that at least Western multinationals are seeking and tend to be important in advanced science and engineering.  So, I think it will
be some time (10+ yrs) before they’re able to produce similarly advanced, independent engineering as US, with some exceptions possible. But though they might not “catch us,” that is not to say that they won’t
be marginally innovative or adaptive in important ways in the meantime — something we need to be cognizant of.  Of course, our own labor force in this sector is ageing, retiring, and largely comprised of foreign
students.  So I’m not sure this is the right question — us v. them. Perhaps it is what we can continue to do to attract high-quality engineers wherever they come from and however advanced China might
become.  That is the nature of the current competition — growing and attracting the world’s best STEM talent.  We’ve been very good at this since the World War II era; many studies suggest policy reforms are needed to ensure we remain so, on which, in general, I concur.

How soon will China make the leap from partnering/licensing/stealing western designs and tech to innovating its own game-changing technology?

 They are already in the process of doing so, at least in some select areas (info tech sector, especially).  The way I see it, China will continue to engage in all of these activities along the full spectrum of
activities (from stealing/copying through independent innovation) for some time. The earlier stages, of course, help develop the latter, more advanced indigenous innovation capabilities China seeks. Multinational corporations know this, too, and seek to find ways to maintain their edge and advantage. It’s a two-way game.

What are some of the potential roadblocks to China’s rise in these areas?

Education, I think, is a big road block as it is something that is hard to “grow” fast (you can build a university but that is not the same as establishing a high-quality educational institution and faculty). China has some elite schools and faculty, but these are largely (not entirely) found in the eastern cities (Beijing, Shanghai,
Guangzhou and some others). China’s military, defense industry, and researchers are still located in many cases in the Central-Western provinces. So, we’ve seen the military trying to employ (according to State plans) these elite universities for training, recruiting, and partnering as well as in assistance in building more universities in
other parts of the country, as well as greater focus on attracting foreign experts, faculty, and foreign university programs. But this is, by its nature, a long-term solution to a current gap.

How can the U.S. remain competitive?

As indicated in my testimony and comments made in that hearing Q&A, I think there has been a tipping
point that affects how the US must answer this question today. That tipping point is tied to the nature and evolution of globalization — which has seen the outsourcing and offshoring of manufacturing, followed
by the same for R&D, and now, I think, of science itself — much of it to China. If science (basic and applied sciences) becomes a truly global endeavor in which China is a major player (as is becoming the case as China invests billions in it and attracts some of the world’s leading scientists, engineers, and innovators to its shores as well, at least for temporary stints in China), then this suggests to me that the US must find better ways to leverage this global trend –and China’s increasingly important role in it— rather than shy away from it or
simply seek to control or contain it (which I think will yield diminishing returns at best and harm our own S&T efforts if we’re not privy what’s going on in China S&T by being involved strategically at least in part). The United States, European Union, and increasingly China (some might include Russia too) are among the few that, in a world of more global science, I think, are likely to continue to invest in a full spectrum of basic science, including frontier science; in a more globalized system where science and its results are more readily
accessible (as it becomes more globally cooperative, outsourced, commoditized, and offshored), smaller countries will likely not feel the need to invest in such themselves — if they can access/buy from others,
except in those areas in which they might have a scientific competitive advantage.  Every country wants to be more innovative and scientifically advanced in order to grow and advance their economy today. I think only
some big countries like the US and China will have the ability to do so, which suggests to me opportunity and a need to be more engaged rather than operating in wholly separate spheres as in the Cold War era. This
approach has its inherent dangers, but the tipping point to me is that the risks of NOT doing so as China becomes more scientifically advanced have begun to outweigh the risks inherent in doing so — and will grow.
As such, I advised that we should be flooding the place (China) with students, scientists, and others to learn more about and be more involved in China’s science and technology efforts as a way to leverage this (their) investment (as they do ours and others’) and, most importantly, serve US national security interests

I must, as you know, add a disclaimer that these are my own personal views and in no way represent
US government, DoD, US Navy, nor Naval War College, which should be made clear in anything made public.

Now, the rise of China and other nations isn’t necessarily a bad thing for the world. Still, if the U.S. wants to remain competitive to a rising China, it must invest more in its education system — part of that also means reforming the immigration system  and ensuring we have a level economic playing field to attract and keep the world’s best minds in our country. We’ve got the size, natural resources, a decent sized population, and for now, brainpower to compete with China, but unless we take a look at the numbers in terms of education, we may not always be competitive in the private sector or the defense arena.

If you want more arguments of how China — and others — are rapidly moving forward while the U.S. risks being surpassed, read this depressing article called Why America Is Slouching Towards Third World Status by Harvard University’s Steven Strauss.







54 Comments on "China Caught the U.S. in Manufacturing, High-Tech Weapons Might Be Next"

  1. Move all our Manufactories out of China that the answer….

  2. Not that hard to catch up when you steal all the information–they would be 30 yrs behind at least if they had to devolop it on their own.The defense contractors and DOD need to tighten up their security if they want to maintain their edge over China.

  3. Posted this in the Kiowa Warrior thread, but…

    Perhaps we should can their JSF engine as retribution.

  4. I have a solution. FREE CABLE for all countries competing with the US. Within 20 years they won't be able to find their own country on a GLOBE!

  5. I find more fear mongering about China is pointless I do agree more investment in education and technology is needed for our population.

  6. It's called greed, the same defense contractors that have robbed America taxpayers blind.
    They flash the flag on their commercials that makes them a patriot. Now every ship that the navy Build is $ billion every aircraft they make, is hundreds of millions of dollars. Where does it end?

  7. Marcellus Hambrick | June 29, 2012 at 6:56 pm | Reply

    Thats what we get when we educate the top Chinese students, transfer technological know how, and sit idly by as high tech jobs sre transported overseas. Since the Clinton administration the US has been extremely lax with high technology transfer and enforcement.

  8. academic patriot | June 29, 2012 at 8:26 pm | Reply

    It is hard to get US students interested in STEM degrees, especially advanced degrees, when all of the high money STEM jobs are in finance, and American industries prefer to buy cheap scientists/engineers/programmers from India and China with H-1 visas. With a PhD in mathematics, over forty refereed publications in math/stats/management, advanced training in statistics and physics, I have always made less than the B grade masters students that I send to jobs in industry get for their starting salaries. After 25 years post PhD and now managing a department of ten, I still make less than $75K, and until five years ago, less than $65 K. Starting salaries for business faculty at my school are over $110 K. You tell me what I should tell my bright students about where to aim.

  9. Stephen Russell | June 29, 2012 at 8:45 pm | Reply

    Blame our Public Ed system & Chinese spying alone for Rise & US Tax code, trade policies since the 70s.

  10. This is pin pointing perfectly at the education system that's just a mess. No kid left behind making it non-motivating to actually get the education needed for universities is one. Zero tolerance to the point the teachers don't allow sunscreen to be applied on sunny days is another massively bad problem. Then the US has a population of a hell lot less than China and if China raises their education system to the level of the US was a decade ago – look out!

    There's a couple immediate issues and one long term issue and together is tilting the odds in Chinas favour in the future and I'm talking about the next decade imho.

  11. Espionage and copying still the main source of chinese military tech advancements. Even Russian military tech isn't safe.

  12. it's simple….the US, Japan, and Germany have placed their most high-tech manufacturing factories in China, due to lower labor and logistics,…it would be dumb to assume the Chinese would not assimilate the tech that is sitting in their back yard.

  13. I still doubt China can out maneuver us on technology. Most of their jets are copies. And most copies don't work at 100% level. Although they are good on math and science. They do invented the abacus.

  14. China will win. That does not mean we have to lose. We should have more joint projects with our allies. Some of their weapons are better, look at the Meteror AAM or the planned Perseus antiship missile.

  15. You want this, you want that but you don't want to pay taxes (face palm), and then you won't do shit about the greedy corporate fatcats that send all the jobs overseas. And as you sink deeper into the mire, you refuse to listen to potential solutions that smack of "socialism".

  16. China military = BE VERY AFRAID ( since 2 November 1950 Korea ).

  17. Keep guessing.

  18. The most important thing is that we continue to pay our defense contractors more to screw up and drag out weapons development than we do if they come up with good, reliable weapons on-time and on-budget. Let's never change that system, because it is working out so damn well for China.

  19. Go china go well done :P

  20. We aren't going to solve education issues in the this nation without leadership. It doesn't require more money and the focus shouldn't just be on raw numbers for test scores. I'd say the biggest obstacle falls right back on the partisanship that grips DC.

    The right can't promote things like advances in aircraft and weapon systems or they are demonized as war mongers. The left can't promote innovation in renewable energy production without being assailed as wasting money on fairy tale tech. The Obama admin sees space as a wasteful extravagance in tough times. The Republicans see $ committed to large public infrastructure projects like high speed rail as welfare pork. Both sides ran willy nilly into free trade agreements without a thought to what that would do to the manufacturing base and the skilled hands on tech associated with it. Neither side is terribly innovative in pushing for support for new thinking in where we put higher education $. The Republicans won't support wind and solar energy innovation. The Democrats won't support advances in existing tech like clean coal and leveraging our vast oil shale reserves. Then everyone stands there and wonders why our young people don't have a clue and no direction in life. Our leader aren't giving them any.

  21. You know, if the Chinese are so friggin smart, why does their new stealth jet (which likely isn't really all that stealthy) use Russian engines? Quite frankly most of the technological innovation in the world was created in the U.S. The Chinese, like the Japanese in the 80s, are great at copying but poor at innovating.

  22. BS flag! (My previous post was deleted for reasons unknow. Can't handle the truth?)

    China can only "catch us" if we stop creating and being innovative. All they have demonstrated to date is an exceptionally dangerous ability to steal our technology and an adept ability to copy it but they have not demonstrated any innovation.

    Shut down cyber espionage and China's sprint will become a crawl.
    Predict I will get tons of negatives or be deleted (again) because i'm not jumping on the "we have to spend more on education" train (we already spend ten times as much as the Chinese for a third of the population) and those that bow at the altar of Chinese greatness and get offended by the truth.

  23. Are we talking primary or secondary education? I think it'll be awhile before China could match the US on secondary education, that takes a lot of time and effort. As for primary education, passing the US isn't that difficult. This nation's primary education system, particularly in regards to math and science, is absolute trash.

  24. Does help that if you are smart at all you get called intelectually elitist. Who wants to be smart when the world has turned into middleschool jokes picking on the nerds?

    Everyone can screw themselves over, I have my solar and wind system, lots of land, mostly wooded, with wells, natural springs, pond, orchard, berry patches and melon fields. No one wants to listen to the smart ones about energy and job loose there is nothing I can do about that, but I am not going to let there mistake screw me.

  25. China is not far from us, but it will reach our technology, if we continue buying their products, sending them jobs, and sink our country.
    Buy products that are made in US/EU/JP, Everything that is our allies.. otherwise… we are screwed up!

  26. Auyong Ah Meng | July 2, 2012 at 4:35 am | Reply

    I understand some posters mentioned the quality hardware of the US military.

    Remember please Stalin's refrain "Quantity has a quality all its own".

    They don't need to have the best…just close enough and backed up with numbers in large quantities…one wil stil go down.

    This is not good..

  27. Yeah but they don't have Area 51 with anti-gravity propulsion UFO craft! Or do they?

  28. That explains why no ROTC engineering majors are getting flight slots! They need the engineers to manufacture the next generation of defense.

  29. BRIC Together | July 2, 2012 at 10:30 am | Reply

    Its not bad.
    America must be destroyed.
    World only will achieve the peace, when US and NATO burn to death.

  30. The world would be better under the Comintern, amirite?

  31. So, you are saying the teachers union does not tolerate unqualified teachers in it's ranks? These unions harbor these ineffective teachers, which is detrimental to the education system.

  32. Bric-which I suppose means born and raised in china. Hope you're not writing these emails in the US. It's amusing how people love to critique the US,yet come and take advantage of our secondary education and the luxuries of life. America won't be destroyed by China-it can only be destroyed by itself.That won't happen in our lifetime.

  33. Then how do you explain the stuff they steal, copy and make is JUNK?

  34. This is pure agitprop from the military / indistrial complex. They know big cuts are coming now that the nation is insolvent, and they want to shield themselves from the inevitable.

    But here's a question: Are the defense contractors really so inefficient and wasteful that a nation with a military bidget ONE-TENTH of ours can catch them so easily?

    Maybe if they didn't take 20 years and fifty billion dollars to design a single aircraft, they wouldn't be in this mess.

    Oh well. Expect cuts.

  35. Pat Buchanan wrote extensively about the selling out of American manufacturing to the communist Chinese from 2002-2008, while bemoaning the transfer of many hard-won dual-use technologies and manufacturing techniques in return for short term profits and/or campaign donations from lobbyists. Added to that is the loss of high-paying American jobs and the loss of the tax base. Buchanan predicted all these very events being written about today.

    Too bad the administration couldn't be bothered to listen. This is why the money in politics and lobbying system is rotten to the core, and causing the selling out of American National Security.

    What a shame.

  36. /Yawn Enough of the Chinamongering.

  37. Jet engine advances in terms of 'this is an afterburner' – yes, I agree that's easy. But the things that make advanced jet engines difficult to make (metallurgy and manufacturing techniques) are no less complex than electronics. Single-crystal metal structures, for example, took one of the world's most accomplished materials labs half a decade to get right. I assure you that you can't build one in a machine shop – or rather you can, provided you're looking for subsonic ME262 performance and don't mind losing a few aircraft to catastrophic structural failure.

  38. James Thomas | July 3, 2012 at 6:26 pm | Reply

    I believe that America is going to have to bring more manufacturing back to America in order for it it explore more options on how to progress. Once people in America have a chance at jobs and can explore innovations, we can become better.

  39. Look at all that defense contractors have done for us. We used to have a 600 ship navy when the Navy designed their own ships. Now they can't keep 300 little crappy ships afloat. We used to be able to send men to the moon when NASA designed its own rockets. Now we can't send men to the space station without hiring a ride from the Russians. Our biggest enemy isn't China or Russia. We are our own biggest enemy.

  40. "A quick Google search can reveal the massive gains China’s manufacturing and education sectors have made over the last three decades."

    Quick Google searches are overrated- China still makes a lot of junk- we just have to keep and eye on them.

  41. It'so stupid to say that chinese need 10 years when the tecchnology is changing in minutes . There are invented predictions , and are false . 10 years or ten minutes , the only that need sombodu for to learn is money and a good teacher and things for practice.
    Ten years , don't lie . We are not fool people . You need to seek again for the bright minds in the Universities like in teh ancient time . Come back to the MIT time .

  42. Accordingly tyo Wall Street Jornal the next tech innovation centre will be in China.

    Goodbye Pax America.
    Wake up and read Pax Americana Wall Street Journal about the progress of Chinese technology and wake up from your delusion and dreams at the following web sites
    China to Over Take Silicon Valley.

  43. jordan Shwarts | August 13, 2012 at 4:53 pm | Reply

    one man per prison or jail gets out to a hut shack 1000 miles of the dirt road. 4000 foot strap or 3000 foot strap-locktite new clothes from the store and a picture standing in desert to give to friends tray comes with a locked lid the one scared of murduree or been there to long gets this privlige quitest spot on the map the prison warden will escort the man deliverd by the courts to the new sector one man per prison. Hospital is a lock up biulding to dont forget!! HE wants out!!!!

  44. We know we are ahead and it will stay there as long as we keep checking backgrounds..

  45. There is not going to be war between superpower, every decision maker know this except fools who got fed distorted news everyday. Yes, both side will leak their weapon innovation to keep the fund coming, that is the real game, not nuclear war.

  46. the chinese are no longer, a russian toy they are the superpower. both eco-and military. they have an army and now an air force and a navy. there stealth program i think is going to take time, like the u.S program did. and billions of dollars or yen. no dis respect to china

  47. timothy pickard | April 4, 2013 at 1:28 pm | Reply
  48. We need to focus on intelligence natural intelligence not so called book smarts. Focus on the people our gov writes off as ADD or OCD.,both of which when interested in something can't be outshines. But in other areas were there is no interest others pass..look for bright light not just steady dimly lit bulbs that stay lit but only move at the same speed in everything. Inspire some1 with add an watch them build given that they have an inert intelligence that out distances even their ability to "properly" articulate their thoughts…like myself.

  49. I don't see any problem.China and India have everything to loose if war breaks out which if a major conflict would go nuclear very quickly therefore everybody looses.
    However if they carry on as they are they will soon become on top of the world.
    The USA is bankrupt it's people are only interested in shooting each other and as the UK before it are now fast becoming has Beens .
    China has nukes if they have any sense they will stamp hard on the muslim idiots and they are in a prime position to leap way ahead of all competition in technology and manufacturing.

  50. Espionage is normal and the superiority of espionage make one competitive. Now when you say American companies set up manufacturing in china. manufacturing does not give a clue about planning and upgrading the machinery. Reverse engineering is very expensive and tedious job. They have to rebuild and repair a thousand time and meanwhile they may be learning even superior solution if they are smart. Besides reverse engineering by a poor country is impossible. 1982s India would not be able to reverse engineer Samsung three. Running the country by smart investing give the country edge on his counter part. For example if India can launch a 5 ton satellite for 50 million dollar then they will wipe out rest of the competitors. So the competes have a choice to merge with Indian industry or invest in a science to develop an even cheaper technology. Siting in the basement and coughing out racial slur is garbage.

  51. If the us military/NASA would get the Chinese our of their back pocket on technological programs and keep "how too" manuals stored in a safe place the Chinese would still be in the stone age. But of course what would our defense establishment do if there was no one to compete against….

  52. Jake Rotchild Washington | September 22, 2014 at 7:52 am | Reply

    China will stay down!chinese wont challenge us bcos it could be a massive destruction for them and it will draw damage in the world. And we wont our lies hit the damage also.

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