...For what it's worth, the USA doesn't have the resources to build F-22s either
Yurt, actually, I'm in complete agreement with you. I've been in the aviation field for a long time now, both for fun and for paychecks. And there was a great article written more than 25 years ago.... Lord, I wish I could find it.... where the writer predicted that the US would eventually come to a point where it could "build a fighter with all of the electronics of the Starship Enterprise, but what good will it do us if we can only afford two of them?"
I think we hit that point starting with the B-2, and have continued it with the F-22 and F-35. Instead of following the American model of WWII... buy the best weapon that you can get in large numbers affordably... we've adopted the German model of WWII, which is to design the finest, most exotic weapons and make do with limited quantities of them (most people would be absolutely shocked if they knew, for instance, just how few tanks the Germans produced in comparison to the Allies. The Germans produced less than 1350 of the legendary Tiger tank, and less than 500 of the King Tiger). I think we saw how that turned out for the Germans. Americans and Russians just kept churning out Shermans and T-34's, and simply overwhelmed them. I'm very much afraid that in any future war with a peer foe (which, for the record, I think is a LONG way off), we might get smeared simply because we don't have enough fighters and ships and tanks and will be outlasted in the field. I think we desperately need large numbers of easy to use and maintain weapons, not 187 F-22's. That's not even enough to guarantee security of US borders, let alone deployment in a Korean or Eurasian war. But not even the greatest economy in the world can afford $183 million per fighter, flyaway (the CBO's estimate of the eventual cost of the F-35). That's simply insane.
The difference is that in WW2 the US Military was made up from draftees and in a generally popular war (its necessity was seen publicly) and the modern military is composed of volunteers and fights conflicts with less public support against vastly inferior forces. The political cost of the large numbers of casualties that good enough technology and attrition tactics would create justifies the high cost of equipment. Also considering the tight manpower requirements keeping each soldier alive as long as possible is necessary to maintain military capability as it is hard to get trained replacements. Quantity only counters Quality when the large numbers of troops are fiercely dedicated and willing to take large numbers of casualties to achieve an objective, and your opponent does not have the reserves to match your quantity.
If America got into a war where quantity mattered again and the draft was re-instituted, we would once again see "good enough" equipment in large numbers. Currently though, the the ability to utterly crush any opponent afforded by the expensive equipment limits nearly everyone from competing in arms races as they cannot afford either the quality or the quantity needed to counter American technology in a direct fight. This in itself has prevented major conflicts since WW2, the wars that have been fought since were comparatively small and localized conflicts.
America currently has a small but expensive military because manpower is harder to come by than money, and spending money to keep soldiers alive is cost effective as they are more difficult to replace than equipment. If a major war were to occur we would likely re-institute the draft, ramp up training and break out the cheaper technology as we could afford the political and military cost of higher casualties.
The problem that China will face if they want to counter American technology is that they will need both good enough technology and large enough numbers to directly oppose America. Both require money and large numbers of troops, Both of which China has. China has the ability to establish a defensively competitive military easily that could make any American military pressure ineffective and be able to locally project power without American interference. China doesn't have to directly compete with America, they simply have to make interference with their goals too costly short of another World War.
America spends so much on weapons because we want to have a big enough stick to prevent wars from developing by easily crushing all conceivable opponents, while China simply has to keep America off it's back long enough to gobble up interesting nearby tidbits.
America's military is currently designed to not be used, by intimidating potential opponents into diplomacy by its sheer superiority. While it can be used, its intended purpose is to prevent war as military action is politically costly in a democratic republic.
China's military is likely to be designed for practical use, with equipment cheap enough to be used up and just effective enough to stop its opponents. China has a political structure that could engage in opportunistic warfare and conquest.
America's military goal is to make war too costly to contemplate. China is becoming rich enough to think about it.