While the US is increasingly concerned about China’s buildup in the South China Sea, military-to-military relations are improving and the countries continue to exercise together. This month, US Army Pacific is participating in a disaster response exercise in China. This bilateral exercise shows an increase in cooperation, following other events such as a visit earlier this year by top Chinese officials to American bases such as JB Lewis-McChord, Wash., said Adm. Harry Harris, commander of US Pacific Command. China this year also participated in the Rim of the Pacific exercise, bringing its ships to the Pacific’s largest maritime exercise. However, China also has built seven bases on man-made islands in the South China Sea and pushed to exert its influence on international shipping and overflight in the area. China, this week, said its Liaoning aircraft carrier is operational, and the J-20 stealth fighter jet made its first public appearance earlier this month. These events show that China is using its “economic strength to build a more modern military,” Harris said. (See also: Mischief in the South China Sea from the October issue of Air Force Magazine.)
The Air Force overall reduced its size by 120 aircraft in fiscal year 2021, but kept about the same number of fighter, bomber and attack aircraft, according to data supplied by the service. The F-35 fleet saw the biggest increase while the B-1B bomber fleet saw the largest decline.