An E-2C Hawkeye, from the "Sun Kings" of Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 116, launches off the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68). Credit: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class. Elliot Schaudt)

Whether you are an auto CEO, a telecom CEO, or, a military leader — it seems that the current common phrase in describing a plan, going forward, is to use the “pillar” analogy.

Everything now, is built on pillars. And as we all know, pillars are strong. They hold up things. They don’t crumble.

It’s a corporate message that portrays cohesion and strength.

Clearly, this is what US Navy Admiral Philip S. Davidson — head of the US Indo-Pacific command — had in mind, when he told the Armed Forces Communications & Electronics Association’s TechNet Indo-Pacific 2021 virtual event, how US forces plan to deal with China.

The “four pillar” plan matches the threat, which is huge, and growing. The problem is how to deal with it within Pentagon budget realities and changing dynamic threats.

The US has enjoyed global military dominance for decades. But in the face of emerging threats, some say a new strategy is in order, USA Today reported.

The Department of Defense (DoD) spends more than US$700 billion a year on weaponry and combat preparedness – more than the next 10 countries combined.

China, the world’s second-largest economy and by all accounts the United States’ biggest competitor, has just a single official overseas military base, in Djibouti, on the Horn of Africa.

Operations Specialist 2nd Class Alyssa Chavez, from Santa Cruz, Bolivia, stands watch in the tactical operations plot aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Brianna T. Thompson-Lee)

The US has an estimated 800 bases, according to data from the Pentagon, and about 220,000 US military and civilian personnel serve in more than 150 countries.

Ergo, some experts say the US military has been operating under a national security strategy that is remarkably unchanged since World War II and thus is ill-suited to newer, more dynamic threats.

The most urgent threats to the US, they say, are increasingly non-military in nature.

Among them: cyberattacks; disinformation; China’s economic dominance; climate change; and disease outbreaks such as Covid-19, which ravaged the US economy like no event since the Great Depression.

The elephant in the proverbial room, is all too obvious: Must America maintain this ongoing hegemonic presence? Are old world strategic justifications still necessary, or just out of habit, as some experts suggest.

It is under this magnifying glass, that Admiral Davidson’s comments, and other US military leaders, will be viewed in Congress.

Pillar No. 1: Increase joint force lethality.

“The fundamental design is an integrated joint force that can deny an adversary’s ability to dominate the sea, air, land, space and cyberspace domains and, in turn, support our ability to control and project in all domains — sometimes periodically and sometimes persistently,” Davidson explained.

The joint force must more fully integrate cyber capabilities, its space forces, its special operations forces and ground forces equipped with long-range precision fires, Davidson advised.

“We also must maintain a strong offense to fight and win should deterrence fail. Our investments in modernization efforts must harness the advanced capabilities provided by a network of leading edge technologies, such as integrated air and missile defense,” he said. 

These integrated air and missile defenses employ multiple sensors and interceptors, distributed across the region to protect not only the homeland and US territories, but also US forces.

Davidson also mentioned the importance of space-based persistent radars to provide situational awareness of Chinese military activities.

Pillar No. 2: Enhance force design and posture in the region.

“Our force design and posture in the region must enable the convergence of capabilities for multiple domains to create the virtues of mass without concentration,” he said.

“This is accomplished by distributing a forward-deployed joint force across the battlespace, in breadth and depth, while balancing its lethality and its survivability.”

Persistent presence through foreign-based and rotational joint forces is the most credible way to demonstrate commitment and resolve to Beijing, while simultaneously reassuring allies and partners, he added.

Pillar No. 3: Strengthen alliances and partnerships.

“Our constellation of allies and partners is the backbone of the free and open international order. And it provides a powerful force to counter malign activity and aggression in the region,” Davidson said. 

Strengthening partnerships is accomplished through training exercises, which help to increase interoperability, information sharing agreements, foreign military sales, expanded military cooperation and international security dialogues, he noted.

Pillar No. 4: Exercise experimentation innovation.

This is not only within the joint force, but with allies and partners, as well, Davidson said. 

“To accomplish this, we are pursuing the development of a joint network of live, virtual and constructive ranges in key locations around the region,” he said.

Other venues for exercise experimentation innovation include ranges and training areas throughout the Indo-Pacom region, as well as throughout the US.

These training sites need to be utilized by allies and partners, as well as the joint force, using the full range of capabilities in all domains, he said.

The latter represents a major shift for the US Navy, which, along with the US Marines, have downgraded the Russian threat to focus on China.

An E/A-18G Growler, from the “Cougars” of Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 139, launches off the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Elliot Schaudt)

Those efforts, which include divesting of the Corps’ inventory of Abrams tanks and shedding 12,000 Marines, has been aimed at reinventing the Corps for operations across the expanses of the Pacific.

According to Breaking Defense, early planning indicates that the Biden administration’s first defense budget might only match last year’s request, marking the second year in a row that the budget request will not keep up with inflation.

If that planning holds up, the top line for the Pentagon’s 2022 budget will likely come in around the US$696 billion the department received in it’s base funding 2021, which was itself just $2.6 billion more than the enacted 2020 budget.

The full budget is now scheduled to be released on May 3.

The Biden administration’s first DoD funding request will be delivered to a Congress already split between an emboldened progressive wing of the Democratic party looking to cut defense budgets, and Republicans and conservative Democrats who say spending must rise significantly in order to stay ahead of the Chinese military buildup.

Sources: Department of Defense, USA Today, Breaking Defense