Beijing is likely to reduce military spending growth slightly this year, even though the People's Liberation Army will carry out more live-fire drills and increase combat training, experts said.
Li Jie, a researcher at the PLA Navy's Military Academy, estimated the defence budget, expected to be announced by the National People's Congress on Wednesday, would show a slower rate of growth compared to the past few years.
"I believe the increase in the PLA military budget will be lower than last year's 10.7 per cent given the massive slowdown of gross domestic product growth in more than 20 provinces," Li said.
"Growth will still be in the double-digits because all PLA combat units have spared no effort in war preparation drills."
All seven PLA military commands have simultaneously started a series of all-weather practice flights and live-fire drills since Beijing announced its first air defence identification zone in November in the East China Sea.
Beijing and Taipei both claim the Diaoyu Islands. They are controlled by Japan, which calls them the Senkakus. Since becoming chief of the PLA in his capacity as chairman of the Central Military Commission in November 2012, President Xi Jinping has repeatedly stressed the need for the PLA to be ready for real combat.
Li added that the PLA also needed funds to replace old weaponry, including obsolete jet fighters, warships and submarines, in addition to paying for new weapons research and development projects.
"The renovation of armaments is part of the army's modernisation that was scheduled many years ago, which could not be cut," he said.
China's defence budget grew by 11.2 per cent in 2012 and by 12.6 per cent in 2011. However, in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis, it was cut to 7.5 per cent in 2010, the smallest increase in two decades. The official defence budget rose by 10.7 per cent to 720 billion yuan (HK$912 billion) last year, although many military experts believe that actual spending is much higher - for example, the cost of the aircraft carrier projects is not included in that budget.
Shanghai-based military expert Ni Lexiong said Xi would not allocate the PLA a too significant increase in spending because he was keen to build what he called his "new type of great-nation relationship with the United States".
Ni said a growth rate of about 10 per cent would probably be announced "in order to take care of the feelings of the US army, which has been suffering budget constraints since 2012".
He added: "In fact, the PLA's ongoing cost-cutting campaign ordered by Xi since last year will provide a certain funding resource for the army." State media reports said the PLA had confiscated at least 27,000 apartments and houses due to irregularities in ownership, and 25,000 unnecessary vehicles as part of Xi's campaign against waste and extravagance over the past year.
Antony Wong Dong, a Macau-based military observer, said unusually rapid inflation on the mainland would be another key reason for the army to maintain double-digit spending growth. "Xi's anti-corruption campaign in the army offended senior military officials, who lost many privileges," he said.
"To strike a balance and keep up the army's morale, [Xi] needs to offer them a certain level of spending increases to protect the benefits of grassroots and middle-level officers."
Overseas media reports said China's two shipbuilding giants were now building the country's two home-grown carriers - one at the Dalian shipyard, Liaoning, and the other at Shanghai's Changxing Island.