The USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier with Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyers conducting an exercise in the Philippine Sea in February 2018. Photo: US Navy via AFP
The USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier with Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyers conducting an exercise in the Philippine Sea in February 2018. Photo: US Navy via AFP

The American admiral slated to head the US Pacific Command is planning a buildup of American forces in the region along with closer alliances as part of the Pentagon’s new strategy to counter China.

Admiral Philip Davidson, the nominee for the command job, revealed in little-noticed testimony to a US Senate committee how he will restructure the 375,000 military and civilian personnel, 200 ships and nearly 1,100 aircraft in the region.

If confirmed for the position, a prospect likely in the coming weeks, Davidson said he would “recalibrate” the command in line with the Pentagon’s new national defense strategy.

“This effort entails ensuring the continued combat readiness of assigned forces in the western Pacific; developing an updated footprint that accounts for China’s rapid modernization and pursuing agreements with host nations that allow the United States to project power when necessary,” Davidson stated in written answers to questions posed by the panel.

Davidson did not elaborate on the plans.

But likely improvements in the US military posture are expected to include expanded naval forces with additional submarines and warships, including possibly a second forward-deployed aircraft carrier strike group. New deployments to Asia of advanced warplanes and drone aircraft also are expected, along with regional arms sales to American allies of ships, aircraft, missiles and drones.

Confronting China

“In the future, hypersonic and directed energy weapons, resilient space, cyber and network-capabilities, and well-trained soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and coastguardsmen, will be crucial to our ability to fight and win,” he said.

Current forces in the region do not support Pacom’s defense requirements, Davidson noted.

The comments by the admiral reflect the more muscular policies of US President Donald Trump and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who have made confronting Chinese aggressiveness in Asia and around the world a strategic priority.

In addition to building up partnerships and alliances in Asia, Davidson stated bluntly he will “collaborate with other elements of the US government and our allies to confront regional competitors.”

Based on China’s development of asymmetric warfare capabilities like anti-satellite weapons, cyber weaponry and high-speed hypersonic missiles, Davidson urged Pacific Command to rapidly field its own advanced war fighting capabilities.

“Pacom is heavily dependent on high-end warfare capabilities, including fifth-generation aircraft; munitions capable of penetrating China’s anti-access/area-denial environment; undersea warfare dominance capabilities; and survivable logistics and mission partner networks,” he said.

“With China, the United States should expand the competitive space by investing in next-generation capabilities, for example, hypersonic technology, while simultaneously recognizing that China is already weaponizing space and cyber.”

Hypersonic missiles are weapons that travel at speeds of more than 7,000 miles per hour and can maneuver, making them difficult systems to counter with increasingly sophisticated air and missile defenses.

The United States is readying forces that would be used to counter what the admiral described as “Chinese malign activities,” ranging from the militarization of built-up islands in the South China Sea to anti-democratic subversion through the Beijing development program called Belt and Road.

Military modernization

“China claims that these reclaimed features and the Belt and Road Initiative will not be used for military means, but their words do not match their actions,” he said. “Our defense strategy provides the necessary guidance that will drive our actions.”

The Belt and Road program is part of Beijing’s bid to “shape a world aligned with its own authoritarian model while undermining international norms such as the free flow of commerce and ideas,” he said. Predatory loans and other actions used in the program are indicators China is using its Belt and Road program to coerce states into greater access and influence for China, he added.

On China’s military buildup, the admiral described it as “the most ambitious military modernization in the world.” And on China’s large force of missiles, Davidson said: “The threat to US forces and bases is substantial and growing.”

Specifically, the new US defense strategy outlines two military components that have not been clearly revealed in public. The concepts are part of Mattis’ military reform efforts that seek to produce more lethal and agile global forces.

American military forces are now structured on a post-Cold War posture when the United States was the dominant military power and the main threats were rogue states.

The first new concept is called “dynamic force employment” that seeks to increase military options for responding to conflict, ranging from major wars to regional actions in Asia and Europe.

Key capabilities

The second concept is called the global operating model that outlines how military forces would be structured and used in both pre-conflict global competition and wartime missions.

Key capabilities include nuclear arms, cyber warfare and space warfare arms, advanced command, control and communications, strategic mobility and forces for countering weapons of mass destruction.

The model calls for utilizing four layers described under the phrase “contact, blunt, surge and homeland.”

One key aspect involves contact with competitors that will seek to better position American military forces to compete more effectively against foreign threats below the level of armed conflict.

This is what military analysts call “gray zone conflicts,” like the covert Russian takeover of Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014, and China’s covert militarization of built-up islands in the South China Sea that started in 2013.

Davidson testified that both concepts will guide forces in dealing with China.

“Due to the distances involved in the Indo-Pacific, we cannot rely solely on surge forces from the Continental United States to deter Chinese aggression or prevent a fait accompli,” the four-star admiral said. “Pacom must maintain a robust blunt layer that effectively deters Chinese aggression in the Indo-Pacific.”

To ensure China will be deterred from expansionism or aggression, whether in the South China Sea, East China Sea or against Taiwan, Davidson vowed to regularly assess the military footprint in Asia.

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