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How China established its own version of DARPA

China has established a new agency to develop advanced weaponry for China's changing military force.


The Scientific Research Steering Committee, established earlier this year but revealed to the public this week, is modeled after the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which strives to "make pivotal investments in breakthrough technologies for national security," according to DARPA's website.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is the American military's futuristic research lab. Now China has established its own. (Photo: DARPA)

The new agency falls under the control of the Central Military Commission, which is chaired by Chinese President Xi Jinping, according to the South China Morning Post. Since he took power a few years ago, the president has been putting the military through an intense modernization program designed to strengthen the quality of the armed forces while reducing quantity. China is investing heavily in its aviation and naval forces, as well as its strategic support and rocket forces.

"As everyone knows, the internet, global positioning systems, stealth fighters, electromagnetic guns, laser weapons as well as ­other advanced technologies – most are DARPA-related," CCTV, a Chinese state broadcaster, said in a recent broadcast revealing the new weapons development agency.

"We should make greater efforts to promote scientific technology in our army if we want to win the competitive ­advantage," Chinese state media added.

The crew of a Chinese navy patrol plane. (Photo from People's Liberation Army)

The new agency, together with the CMC Science and Technology Commission will spearhead technological innovation for the military, such as the development of electromagnetic cannons and elite stealth fighters.

"The PLA sees technological innovation as a core aspect of military competition and seeks to draw upon DARPA's model to achieve comparable successes," Elsa Kania, an independent military analyst, explained to  the Financial Times. China has been spending more on its military while cutting thousands of personnel. The Chinese defense budget is expected to hit $150 billion this year and soar to $220 billion by 2020. American defense spending still vastly outpaces China, but the latter is rapidly closing the gap.

The Scientific Research Steering Committee will pursue a path of "civilian-military integration," which suggests that the program will bring private companies into the fold to develop new technology for the military.

China has made several major technological breakthroughs in recent months. The Chengdu J-20 stealth fighter entered active service in March. The rising Asian giant launched its first independently-produced aircraft carrier in April and an indigenous guided-missile destroyer in June.

China exhibited its new combat drone at a recent international air show. (Photo from Globalsecurity.org)

Last week, a Chinese company, a leader in unmanned systems, announced that the new CH-5 combat/reconnaissance drone is ready for mass production.

China has not reached technological and military parity with the U.S., but its capabilities are improving as it seeks to establish itself as a superpower.