America’s massive military machine is slowly turning in a new direction — China is now the number one concern of the Pentagon and the US Joint Chiefs.
As such, almost every US service is reshaping itself for a possible fight in the Pacific.
The rapid growth of China’s military — especially its navy and the development of new, lethal weapons such as hypersonic “ship killer” missiles — has sent shockwaves around the world.
Some American military leaders also see Taiwan as potentially the most immediate flashpoint for a potentially catastrophic US-China war.
“We have indications that the risks are actually going up,” Adm. Philip Davidson, the most senior US military commander in the Asia-Pacific region, told a Senate panel last month, referring to a Chinese military move on Taiwan.
“The threat is manifest during this decade — in fact, in the next six years,” Davidson said.
China is now a super power nation to be reckoned with, and will only grow stronger with time.
MQ-9 Drone tested for island-hopping missions
The US Air Force’s principal hunter-killer drone, used for counterterrorism operations for more than a decade, is expanding its sea legs.
The service is finishing up another Agile Reaper exercise with the Navy and Marine Corps this week, during which it has tested how quickly airmen can launch, recover and rearm the MQ-9 Reaper for its next mission, according to officials from the 49th Wing at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico.
These exercises are readying crews to use fewer personnel and less equipment at forward-deployed locations as the MQ-9 takes on more maritime missions for the next dynamic conflict, officials said.
During the second Agile Reaper exercise, a follow-on from the first held last fall, the Air Force has practiced enhanced maritime surveillance missions and moved toward close-air support strike to back up Marines going ashore, said Col. Ryan Keeney, commander of the 49th Wing.
The exercise was conducted out of Naval Air Station Point Mugu and San Clemente Island in California.
“This time, we also brought our weapons load crews, so both weapons and ammo airmen along with inert [Hellfire missiles], to see, essentially, if an aircraft landed, how quickly could we get it from there, fully rearmed and launch back off again.
“So [we were testing], ‘Can we have multiple launch and recovery sites that give us options for agility with turning aircraft and getting back airborne?'” he said last week.
C-17 Globemaster IIIs transported personnel and ground station and communications equipment, while pilots at Holloman operated three MQ-9s for the duration of the exercise.
Marine Commandant Gen. David Berger said via Twitter this month that his service will double the number of unmanned squadrons flying the Reaper.
“Forward-deployed Marines flying MQ-9 will be the eyes and ears of the Joint Force,” he said.
Hypersonic weapons coming to Zumwalt destroyers
The Navy is set to debut its first at-sea hypersonic missiles aboard one of the service’s three Zumwalt-class destroyers in four years, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said.
Rather than have the Navy’s first weapons capable of traveling Mach 5 of faster fire from guided-missile submarines “by 2025,” as previously planned, Gilday said that the Zumwalts would be the first platform to field hypersonics during an event at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
“Fielding hypersonics on the Zumwalt-class destroyers will be an important move forward [to] turn that into a strike platform,” he said.
Announced in 2017, the Navy is converting the trio of Zumwalts — USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000), USS Michael Monsoor (DDG-1001) and the under-construction Lyndon B. Johnson (DDG-1002) — into a blue-water strike platform from one designed to operate in the littorals and support forces ashore with guided rounds from dual 155mm guns.
Gilday didn’t specify the weapon, but USNI News understands Gilday was referring to the Common Hypersonic Glide Body (C-HGB) developed for the Army, Air Force and the Navy.
The weapon is being developed for the conventional prompt strike (CPS) mission that aims to have a conventional weapon strike a target anywhere in the world with little notice.
“Our biggest R&D effort is in hypersonics — to deliver that capability in 2025 on a surface ship and then on Block V [Virginia-class] submarines,” he said.
For the defense of ships, Gilday is pushing for the rapid development of directed energy weapons to counter the missile threat for hard-to-hide surface ships.
He cited the Chinese drive to develop anti-ship ballistic missiles and new satellites as the driver to develop weapons that would take advantage of the power generation capability in the service’s latest ships.
The Marine Corps bolsters its senior ranks
The Marine Corps’ junior enlisted ranks make up nearly half of the force, with most leaving the service after just one four-year term. Now, leaders say, they need to change the service’s personnel models to build up more senior ranks as Marines face new threats.
Small units — including infantry squads — need to be led by a staff sergeant, Commandant Gen. David Berger wrote in a new update to his 10-year force design plan.
Putting staff noncommissioned officers in those roles will be a big cultural change for the service, which pushes leadership and decision-making far down the chain of command.
Marine leaders “will develop options for improving and sustaining the quality, maturity, and experience of small unit leader tactical skills and decision-making along with a pathway toward ensuring each squad or small unit within the infantry and reconnaissance communities is led by a Staff Sergeant,” Berger wrote.
Corporals and sergeants currently lead infantry squads. The change is one of many facing the Marine Corps as the service reorganizes for a possible fight with China.
“You can’t accelerate experience and maturity,” Lt. Gen. Eric Smith, deputy commandant for Combat Development and Integration, said last week.
“If we’re going to be operating in a disaggregated environment where you have 75 Marines throughout the first island chain — at times under duress, in competition and in crisis — you need that really seasoned, mature decision-making capability.
“There is an age component to that.”
Marines’ responsibilities are changing quickly as the military emerges from decades of fighting insurgents in the desert to gearing up to face off against Chinese or Russian forces. Marines will be operating in small teams, largely independently.
They’ll be using high-tech unmanned technology and will be responsible for defending, from land, Navy ships’ ability to maneuver at sea.
Maj. Gen. Jason Bohm, the head of Marine Corps Recruiting Command, said in December that Berger’s plan for the service means more emphasis on cyber and information missions, electronic warfare and unmanned systems.
“What we’re looking for is people that have a lot of self-discipline, self-confidence — who are flexible, adaptable problem-solvers,” Bohm said.
“We’re focused on continuing to find that smart elite warrior,” he added.
Sources: Military.com, USNI News, Business Insider