China has been a global hub for manufacturing counterfeit electronics and consumer goods, but as the Asian giant asserts its dominance in the Asian Pacific and beyond, its defense establishment is using the same approach to modernise its vast armed forces. 

Despite its large standing and reserve army, Chinese Armed Forces technologically lags behind US, Russian and NATO forces. China has decided to manufacture ‘counterfeit’ high-end defense technology on a large scale to overcome its existing strategic weakness. According to a recent report published by the US Naval Institute, China is using military espionage and reverse engineering to build a modern army with “cloned weapons.”

Using cyber espionage and by making secret deals with US arms buyers, China has managed to obtain advance US weapons technology. China is reportedly also targeting Russia in its quest for high-end military technology. The Chinese often buy single units of Russian advanced military systems on a “trial” basis and reverse-engineer the weaponry to produce a large-scale Chinese version:

China’s expanding military and growing assertiveness has been bolstered by weapons cloned from the arsenals of other countries. Bleeding edge U.S. aircraft including the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and Northrop Grumman X-47B unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) have Chinese counterparts that are remarkably similar. Some of the technology used in these designs was almost certainly acquired through a vigorous Chinese cyber spying campaign.

U.S. Defense officials have stated that Chinese military hackers undertaking “technical reconnaissance” have succeeded in pilfering highly classified technical documents on a number of occasions. The sensitive technical data that is known to have been compromised is now evident in the latest versions of several Chinese weapons.

Officials also suspect that China has managed to obtain valuable technical advances by making backroom deals with U.S. allies that bought American weapons. It is for this reason that the U.S. decided not to export the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor stealth fighter. [USNI News, October 27, 2015]

China’s new knock off armoury includes US-designed fighter jets, Predator drones, Humvees, tanks and infantry weapons. The country is financing this counterfeit weapons program by selling its knockoff weapons in the international market.

There might be one downside to this Chinese proposition. The US Naval Institute’s report doubted the quality of Chinese counterfeit weapon systems. The report quoted senior naval analyst Eric Wertheim, saying, “I think the big issue with all Chinese weapons – including copies of Western equipment – is that they remain untested in combat.” Considering the sophistication of Chinese operation, it could only be a matter of time before Chinese engineers and manufacturers locate the bugs and smooth out the glitches.

Why go through the trouble and risk of counterfeiting military technology? It could be a question of territorial dominance. Since the days of the Communist China’s founder Mao Tse-tung, China has made territorial claims on Japanese Islands and Indian border provinces.

China wants control over oil-rich Japanese islands located in the east of Chinese mainland. In recent years, the Chinese Navy has aggressively patrolled the neighbouring waters and has even started creating artificial islands to operate as advance air- and military bases in the South China Sea.

To restrict India’s maritime reach, China is busy building naval bases across the Indian Ocean. With the completion of Gwadar Port in Pakistan, China is set to acquire a naval outpost as far out as the Arabian Sea.

These aggressive moves coupled with growing military capabilities, give China control over some of the world’s busiest commercial shipping lanes and strategic bases. And while President Obama has been busy talking “global leadership” on Climate Change and sustainability, China is ‘cloning’ its way to global military dominance.

(Cover Image courtesy BBC News, YouTube screenshot)