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Global military spending reaches record high in 2020 – here’s how much the report says

Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) Type-39B submarine. (Chief Mass Communication Specialist Peter D. Lawlor/U.S. Navy)
March 01, 2021

Nations around the world spent $1.83 trillion on their militaries in 2020, according to a report released Thursday by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), an increase of 3.9 percent over 2019 and a record high to date.

The IISS’ annual Military Balance report summarizes military capabilities and the defense economies of 171 nations over the past year. According to an editor’s introduction for the 2021 report, the U.S. and China accounted for two-thirds of the total increase in global military spending for 2020.

The U.S. accounted for about 40.3 percent of that spending, with the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for the U.S. amounting to $738 billion.

By comparison between the U.S., the IISS report estimated China spent $193.3 billion on its military in 2020, according to the Stars and Stripes. China’s spending amounts to about 10.5 percent of the total global spending for 2020. China increased its spending by $12 billion over the previous year, for an increase of about 5.5 percent on its military over its 2019 spending of about $181 billion.

China and other Asian countries aiming to keep China’s military expansion in check saw some of the largest defense spending increases in 2020. China’s military spending was greater than the military budget increases in all of the other Asian states combined.

The IISS report on China’s 2020 military spending raises questions about its spending transparency. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimated China’s 2019 military spending at $261 billion.

“Beijing is apparently intent on achieving primacy in its littoral areas,” the IISS report said. “The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) maintained an ‘over-the-horizon’ presence, with China’s maritime paramilitary forces taking the lead and using facilities on Chinese-occupied features in the Spratly Islands as forward operating bases in the South China Sea.”

The IISS report further stated China is expanding its naval shipbuilding, including with the completion of its second of the new Type-075 helicopter landing dock ship, as well as its eighth Type-055 cruiser and 25th Type-052D destroyer. China’s second aircraft carrier is currently undergoing sea trials while its third aircraft carrier is under construction.

“China also continues to develop its hypersonic systems, though it remains unclear whether its DF-17 HGV has reached initial operating capability,” the report said.

The IISS report also noted China’s air force is continuing to improve its aircraft technology, including a modified H-6 bomber observed carrying what the IISS believes was a large air-launched ballistic missile. China is also developing a new replacement bomber.

China’s air force is also fielding more J-10C, J-16 and J-20 fighter jets and increased its number of Y-20 heavy transport aircraft. The IISS said China has doubled its number of heavy transport aircraft in the last four years.