The Quad: Creating a Defense Tech Alliance to Stand Against China

By Stew Magnuson

iStock illustration

This is part 1 of a 4-part special report on the Quad.

When it comes to the undeclared Technology War between the United States and China, there is a lot for Americans to be worried about.

Beijing seems to have the advantage in several key areas which is causing a great deal of consternation in Washington.

The U.S. rival has become adept at industrial espionage and is stealing billions of dollars worth of intellectual property.

China has a command economy and long-term vision on where it wants to be in regards to technology development. It doesn’t have to contend with hyper partisanship and delayed budgets.

The nation is cornering the markets on raw materials, particularly strategic minerals needed for advanced technologies.

And it has a seemingly unending pile of money to invest in emerging technologies that may give its military — and economy as a whole — a winning edge.

But there is one thing the United States has in abundance that China is sorely lacking: friends and allies.

U.S. military leaders often say that the United States does not go to war alone — it fights alongside friends and allies.

This special report is devoted to the notion that the military research-and-development community must adopt the same approach. It must form partnerships with allied nations to develop the cutting edge technologies needed to stand against China’s goals of hegemony in the Indo-Pacific.

And while this is a defense magazine, our editorial stance has been that it’s myopic to look at the rivalry with China solely through the lens of military technology. China has clearly stated goals to advance the development of a host of commercial and dual-use technologies that it could employ to dominate both battlefields and commercial sectors, thus making it a global leader and economic powerhouse, potentially leaving the United States and its allies behind.

Past issues have looked at the U.S.-China rivalry by sectors: maritime technology, artificial intelligence, hypersonics and strategic minerals, to name a few.

This special report looks at members of “the Quad,” which has the potential to grow into a military research-and-development alliance that could compete with China and its vast wealth and human resources.

The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue is a group of four nations — the United States, Australia, Japan and India — who gather to discuss mutual interests — namely “a shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

After being dormant for a number of years, the four nations, along with some interested parties known as the “Quad-plus” — Vietnam, New Zealand and South Korea — met in Washington, D.C. in September.

A joint statement released after the meeting mapped out where the four nations intend to cooperate in technology.

One of the Quad’s first orders of business is to fund the production of vaccines to tackle the COVID-19 crisis by establishing a new manufacturing facility in India.

Next, the four countries will cooperate on clean energy solutions.

“We are mapping the supply chain of critical technologies and materials, including semiconductors, and affirm our positive commitment to resilient, diverse and secure supply chains of critical technologies, recognizing the importance of government support measures and policies that are transparent and market-oriented,” the statement said.

Other areas of technology cooperation include the sustainable use of space and the sharing of satellite-based remote sensing capabilities to monitor climate change.

And in direct competition with China, the Quad intends to advance the deployment of 5G telecommunication technologies — an area in which Chinese companies have dominated.

In the defense realm, the four parties affirmed their commitment to partner in cybersecurity.

The Quad also intends to get involved in the “war for talent” by providing fellowships for 100 graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. 

It also established a framework for further technology cooperation: the Quad Principles on Technology Design, Development, Governance and Use “that we hope will guide not only the region but the world towards responsible, open, high-standards innovation,” the statement read.

Meanwhile, much has been made of China surpassing the United States in the 2021 annual research-and-development expenditures forecast, which includes government, university and private sector spending. The current estimate has China spending some $621.5 billion in 2021 on R&D across a plethora of emerging technologies that will shape the economies of the next century, according to research firm Statista.

A close second is the United States at $598.7 billion.

However, add the three other Quad nations’ expenditures to the U.S. figure (see chart), then the four nations will far outspend China.

When thinking about other Indo-Pacific nations that are highly motivated to compete with China — Taiwan, South Korea and Canada to name a few — then the balance looks much less in favor of Beijing.

The picture, however, is more complicated than it seems as every one of the aforementioned nations is a trading partner with China, which invests in R&D in all of their economies, including the United States.

There are potential pitfalls. All four Quad members have bureaucracies with policies that might work against international cooperation — especially when it comes to sharing sensitive defense information.

The United States, for example, has strict International Traffic in Arms Regulations that can hinder joint or multinational programs.

All four are motivated to build their own economies and provide jobs for their citizens. Australia, for example, is attempting to build its indigenous defense industry and rely less on foreign partners such as the United States.

Japan — after playing the role of the world’s leading commercial technology innovator throughout the 1980s — is trying to lift itself out of a two-decade slump. Recent changes in policies have allowed it to enter the global arms market.

India — the only nation actively skirmishing with China on a land border — is interested in upgrading its military technology, but hasn’t completely left its Cold War-era reliance on Russian-made arms behind, which irks the United States.

China does have alliances. It’s Belt and Road Initiative is seeking to bring developing nations — and their vital raw materials — under its sphere of influence. Further, China has become adept at creating monopolies and making other countries dependent on its supply base.

It would be nice if the Quad nations put their heads together to build a better jet engine, for example. But it wouldn’t do them much good if China controls all the world’s cobalt.

This special report looks at possible avenues of cooperation between the Quad nations and what hurdles they must overcome. What can U.S. defense contractors offer the other three nations, and what do they bring to the table?

The stakes are high as the winners of the Technology Wars will dominate both the battlefields and the economies of the future.

Part 2: U.S., Japan Set to Enhance Cooperation on Military R&D

Part 3 - India Manages Diverse Arms Sources for Military Modernization

Part 4 - U.S., Australia Increasing Tech Transfer to Take on China

Topics: Global Defense Market

Comments (1)

Re: Creating a Defense Tech Alliance to Stand Against China

The US has poisoned the well of cooperation with allies over the last 30+ years by misuse of ITAR. It has had the secondary effect of weakening the US Defense supply chain in that our revenues are limited to US customers while companies in allied nations can grow their businesses from dozens of friendly nations.

Steve Alonso at 1:12 PM
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