A One-Sided Arms Race
China’s military ambitions are boundless.
An offshore defense also rests on questionable operational assumptions. There is no way to project the kind of power we have historically needed in the region from offshore. We need forward bases and the intelligence collected from near-constant patrols of the air and waters around China to shape and influence the region. The forward force in Asia allowed us to project power onto the Asian continent when we fought in Korea and Vietnam and intervened to quiet -China’s intimidation of Taiwan.
With these principles in mind, the Pentagon could take the following steps to redress a balance of power now tilting toward Beijing:
Hardening, dispersal, and diversification of bases. Survivable bases will do much to negate China’s missile threat. Existing air and naval bases in Japan, Guam, and Korea should be hardened and dispersed. The secretaries of state and defense should also launch efforts to find more nations to host bases and naval facilities, as Singapore volunteered to do this past decade.
More stealthy fighters sold to and positioned in host nations. With more hardened bases, we should revive the F-22 line both to export to Japan, South Korea, and Australia and to add to our own aging fleet. There is no aircraft like the F-22 for air-to-air missions, and with China developing its own stealthy aircraft, the days of air-to-air combat are unfortunately not over. The Department of Defense should also commit to the “short takeoff and vertical landing” variant of the F-35. The F-35B, as it is known, which Secretary Gates recently put “on probation,” is exactly the plane most needed as a response to China’s missile force.
A stronger commitment to a long-range bomber. The next-generation bomber program should be accelerated and bought in small blocks as soon as possible. Such a bomber, conceived to have an unrefueled range of approximately 4,000 nautical miles and equipped with stealth technology, would be useful for reinforcing forward operating forces during a time of conflict and for striking targets (such as mobile missile assets) deep within Chinese territory.
More attack submarines and renewed emphases on antisub-marine warfare and offensive mining. Even as China retires antiquated boats, its submarine fleet has been growing. It now has more than 60 subs, all based in the Asia-Pacific region. The U.S. attack submarine program should be ramped up well beyond the current plans for a steady state of 48 boats. The Virginia-class submarines should become the workhorses of the Pacific, primed to conduct antisubmarine warfare, undersea surveillance, and undersea cruise missile launches. As a complement to attack submarines, we must restore our offensive mining capabilities to make Chinese submariners think twice before leaving port.
A regional security headquarters that can coordinate coalition operations. We need a forward-based regional headquarters that can prod allies to work together consistently. Many of our allies have very capable militaries, but they lack collective training, collective planning, and an intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) system that only we can provide. A network of allies operating common, U.S.-produced ISR platforms and sharing intelligence through a regional headquarters will provide military operators with a common operating picture. The ability to watch China at all times and from all angles will immeasurably enhance deterrence.
Commitment to the Marine Corps. Recently announced cuts to the Marine Corps bode ill for maintaining a military edge over China. Though the Marines have been used for many critical missions since 9/11, they have historically played an integral role in the Asia-Pacific theater. They are able to conduct forced-entry operations, amphibious landings, and base seizures. They operate well in what are called “nonpermissive” environments. In most Asian conflict scenarios they would be called upon to be on the ground first.
There are, of course, other programs currently unfunded that would help keep the peace in Asia (e.g., directed energy for missile defense). Many once thought the Gates cuts to defense programs would free up resources for China-related defense investments. Instead, the cuts will weaken defense programs useful in the Pacific without adequate investment in other systems that are badly needed. China’s military modernization program is destabilizing the region. It’s time we woke up to that fact.
Dan Blumenthal is a resident fellow and Mike Mazza is a senior research associate at the American Enterprise Institute.
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