Photo/IllutrationMilitary delegates arrive for a meeting at the Great Hall of the People ahead of Monday's opening session of China's National People's Congress (NPC) in Beijing on March 4. (AP Photo)

BEIJING--China's defense budget will rise 8 percent to 1.1 trillion yuan ($173 billion or 18 trillion yen) this year as the country is preparing to launch its second aircraft carrier, integrating stealth fighters into its air force and fielding an array of advanced missiles able to attack air and sea targets at vast distances.

The figure released in a report Monday to the National People's Congress is an increase from last year, when finance ministry officials told the Associated Press the budget was rising 7 percent to 1.044 trillion yuan.

Years of double-digit percentage growth have given China the world's second-largest defense budget after the United States, which is in a class of its own with a proposed budget of $716 billion for next year.

But China's defense spending as a share of GDP and the budget remains lower than that of other major nations, Zhang Yesui, a spokesman for the legislature, said Sunday.

Analysts don't consider China's publicly announced defense spending to be entirely accurate since defense equipment projects account for a significant amount of "off book" expenditures.

Much of China's energies have been focused on what is known as anti-access/area denial, or A2/AD operations that seek to scare the U.S. Navy and other forces far from China's shores.

China's navy has been training rigorously on the Liaoning aircraft carrier, which was bought from Ukraine and heavily refurbished. In April, it launched a 50,000-ton carrier built entirely on its own based on the Ukrainian model.

It will join the improved Type 093B Shang class nuclear-powered attack submarine equipped with anti-ship missiles--considered only slightly inferior to the U.S. Navy's mainstay Los Angeles class boats--and the Type 055 guided-missile destroyers at the forefront of China's naval technology.

Such vessels stand to alter the balance of power in the Indo-Pacific where the U.S. Navy has long been dominant and regional rivals such as Japan and India are stepping up their presence. Most navy ships already have anti-ship cruise missiles with longer ranges than those of their U.S. counterparts.

China's navy is also relying on numerical superiority to boost its influence.

All three of China's sea forces; the navy, coast guard and maritime militia, are the largest of their types by number of ships, allowing them to "maintain presence and influence in vital seas," according to Andrew S. Erickson of the U.S. Naval War College's China Maritime Studies Institute.

All three fleets are growing "leaner and meaner" due to a greater emphasis on technical sophistication, Erickson writes, adding that the U.S. also anticipates facing a Chinese submarine fleet twice its number, though less technologically advanced.

In the air, China last month said it had begun equipping combat units with its J-20 stealth fighter jet, the country's answer to fifth-generation jets such as the U.S. F-22 and F-35. No less impressive is China's missile technology, particularly the DF-21D built to take out an aircraft carrier while underway, and a new air-to-air missile with a range of some 400 kilometers that could attack assets such as early warning aircraft and refueling tankers crucial to U.S. Air Force operations.

In a further display of sophistication, China in early February said it successfully tested a mid-course anti-missile defense system, deploying similar technology to that used to destroy a defunct Chinese satellite in 2007.