LONDON • China is beginning to export its own weapon designs, including armed drones, worldwide and is reaching "near-parity" with the West in terms of military technology, according to a new report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).
It said China's official defence budget of US$145 billion (S$206 billion) last year was 1.8 times higher than those of South Korea and Japan combined. It also accounted for more than a third of Asia's total military spending in 2016.
The IISS' annual Military Balance report said that spending in Asia grew by 5 to 6 percentage points a year between 2012 and 2016. Total global military spending instead fell by 0.4 per cent in real terms last year compared with 2015, largely due to reductions in the Middle East.
"China's military progress highlights that Western dominance in the field of advanced weapons systems can no longer be taken for granted," IISS director John Chipman said at a presentation in London.
"An emerging threat for deployed Western forces is that with China looking to sell more abroad, they may confront more advanced military systems, in more places, and operated by a broader range of adversaries," he added.
The report found that "China appears to be reaching near-parity with the West" in terms of air power.
Some key points on China in the latest Military Balance report from the Institute of Strategic Studies:
• Western dominance in advanced weapons systems is no longer assured.
•As China exports more weapons, Western forces face the threat of more advanced military systems, in more places, and operated by diverse adversaries.
•China appears to be reaching near-parity with the West in air power.
•One Chinese air-to-air missile had no Western equivalent.
•It had introduced a type of short-range missile that only a few top aerospace nations are able to develop.
•It is also developing "what could be the world's longest- range air-to-air missile".
•Its military exports to Africa last year "were moving from the sale of Soviet-era designs to the export of systems designed in China".
•Chinese-made armed drones had been seen in Nigeria and Saudi Arabia.
It said one of China's air-to-air missiles had no Western equivalent and that China had introduced a type of short-range missile that "only a handful of leading aerospace nations are able to develop".
It said China was also developing "what could be the world's longest-range air-to-air missile".
The report noted that Chinese military exports to Africa last year "were moving from the sale of Soviet-era designs to the export of systems designed in China".
It said that Chinese-made armed drones had been seen in Nigeria and Saudi Arabia.
The report also noted that European states are "only gradually" increasing their defence spending.
"While Europe was one of the three regions in the world where defence spending rose in 2015 to 2016, European defence spending remains modest as a proportion of the continent's gross domestic product (GDP)," the study said.
In 2016, IISS found that only two European Nato states - Greece and Estonia - met the aim of spending 2 per cent of their GDP on defence.
This was down from four European states that met the target in 2015 - Britain, Greece, Estonia and Poland. Britain's spending dipped to 1.98 per cent of GDP, according to IISS calculations, although that figure was immediately disputed by Britain's Defence Ministry.
But the IISS said it was more important that countries focus on upgrading their military equipment. "This is made more urgent because of the degree to which Western states have reduced their equipment and personnel numbers since the Cold War," it said.