China has gone from a weak country that struggled to maintain internal order to one of the world's strongest military presences in just a few, short decades. While some of this growth has come from Chinese academics developing top-tier technology, much of it is the result of stealing military secrets from the U.S. and others.
China's military has surged in capability and size in the recent decades, but that rise has come, partially, as a result of stealing, copying, or imitating technology developed by the U.S. and other countries. From drones to ships, here are six of the most recent copies:
1. LCAC / Type 726
A Chinese Type 726 landing craft.
The Chinese Type 726A Landing Craft, Air Cushioned is a near carbon copy of the Navy LCAC, the hovercraft used by the U.S. Navy uses to deliver everything, from bullets to tanks, to bare enemy beaches. The two vessels even have similar capabilities — both can carry 60 tons, but the U.S. LCAC can "overload" to 75 tons.
This is particularly bad news for Taiwan, the democratic island stronghold separated from mainland China by a thin strip of water that the Type 726 can cross while carrying a Chinese main battle tank.
2. X-47B / Star Shadow
A Chinese Star Shadow stealth attack drone at the Singapore Airshow.
(Photo via Gallery Military YouTube)
The Chinese Star Shadow is a promising drone, under development by Star UAV System Co. Ltd. The Chengdu, China-based company is looking at exporting the revolutionary drone that is definitely based on America's existing X-47B. In addition to access to the public photos of the X-47B, the designers could easily have received access to technology taken from a crashed American RQ-170 drone in Iran and papers on stealth technology sent to China by a U.S. spy.
It's unclear whether Star UAV System gained intel as a result of cyber espionage or through the Chinese government, if at all, but the similarities between the X-47B and the Star Shadow are hard to ignore.
3. MQ-1 Predator / CH-4
The Chinese CH-4B long endurance drone bears a strong resemblance to the American MQ-1 Predator drone, and actually has a similar mission... and altitude range... and armament. Yeah, the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation didn't really pull this design out of thin air.
But, they do manufacture it more cheaply, leading to an edge in exports. An answer to the MQ-9 Reaper drone also exists, the CH-5, but it lacks the altitude of the proper Reaper. It can reach a paltry 9,000 meters, compared to the 15,000 meters of the Reaper.
4. Y-20 / C-17
The Chinese heavy lift Y-20 aircraft at the Zhuhai Airshow in 2014.
(Photo by Airliners.net, CC BY-SA 4.0)
Rolling off the line in June, 2016, the Y-20 is slightly smaller and carries slightly less weight than the American C-17, to which it appears to be a close cousin. Despite its relative smallness, it's still a massive transport aircraft capable of carrying Chinese main battle tanks and other gear across the planet.
A former Boeing employee was convicted of selling C-17 technical details to China in 2009, while the Y-20 was still in early development. We're sure that's just a coincidence — right?
5. UH-60 / Z-20
A U.S. UH-60(US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Vernell Hall)
China purchased Sikorsky S-70 helicopters, the civilian variant of the UH-60 Black Hawk, back in the 1980s. Eventually, they wore out, so China created the "homegrown Z-20," which are basically UH-60s. They're so closely related that commentators took to calling the Z-20 the "Copy Hawk."
The helicopter features a fifth blade that's not found on Black Hawks, and the Z-20 is thought to carry slightly more weight than its ancestor, the UH-60.
6. Arleigh-Burke / Type 052
The Chinese Type 052 destroyer is an imitation of the U.S. Navy Arleigh-Burke class. The Chinese Haribing (DDG 112) is pictured above.
(U.S. Department of Defense)
China's Type 052 guided-missile destroyers have large radars, vertical missile tubes that can attack everything from submarines to enemy missiles, and a helicopter hanger, just like the rival Arleigh-Burke class in the U.S. arsenal — and their designs and appearances are very similar.
This is one case, though, where the technology appears to be more imitation than theft. Unlike the drones, the Y-20, and other programs, there's little evidence that China gained direct access to Arleigh-Burke designs or technology. More likely, Chinese leaders observed the capability of the destroyer, tried to steal it, but figured they could approximate much of the system with their own engineers if necessary.
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