China To Set Up Its Own “DARPA”

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China is no small fish in the weapons exports pool, but its military technology is still lagging behind its competitors. To overcome this, China is taking steps to set up a new agency tasked with  military technology research and development, modeled after the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

DARPA has been responsible for nearly all groundbreaking research into military hardware made in the US in the last half century. If a technology seemed impossible just a few years ago, and today is in active use, chances are DARPA helped make that happen. The legendary agency’s reputations proceeds long before it. It is no wonder then that China wishes to emulate this model now that it seeks to raise itself to a level with its western rivals.

The Chinese government will be spending some $147 billion on defence this year. How much of it will go to R&D is a state secret. The United States, by contrast, spends an average of $570 billion a year on defence. Most of this goes on operations, maintenance and personnel. Research, however, is not an insignificant component of US defence spending.

It’s difficult to calculate how much exactly does the US spend on defence research, due to the convoluted nature of funding and the secrecy behind these projects. From figures we have, however, we can see that the US Department of Defence (DoD) spent nearly $70 billion on research, development, test, and evaluation (RDT&E) in 2013. This is nearly half of China’s entire defence budget, and Washington has more ways to pay for research than straight through the DoD.

We can’t draw too many comparisons here, but the picture that emerges from these figures is one where the Chinese “DARPA” will have to strive for a long time to match the accomplishments of its US counterpart, if it ever can.