But if the goal is to assess the growth of Chinese military might, Dorsett contends, looking at China’s new military hardware misses the broader picture. The real issue is how well all the different Chinese military elements knit together, much as the U.S.’ do. “I don’t see China with those capabilities right now,” Dorsett says. “I see them delivering individual components, individual weapons systems, those things are being developed. But until they acquire that proficiency, the question is how competent are they going to be.”
What’s more, China’s true “game-changing capabilities” are more likely to be in the area of laser blasts, cyberattacks and “counter-space capabilities,” Dorsett says: “That’s a greater concern from me than some of the other hardware-driven or kinetic capabilities that they’re developing.” Chinese defense theorists argue that space-fired lasers can blunt the U.S.’s conventional naval power, and last year, China reached parity with the U.S. in annual space-bound rocket launches. Then there’s China’s hacking proficiency, which Washington eyes very attentively. But Dorsett declined to say that China has an advantage over America in any of these areas, merely that they’re moving aggressively — like the U.S. is — to develop them.