For decades, US government officials of successive Administrations, along with most of the media and the punditocracy, have been minimizing and vastly understating the threat that China posed, and continues to pose, to America’s national security, while shamefully appeasing Beijing, giving in to its demands, refusing to defend the US economy and American interests, cutting America’s defense, and throwing Taiwan and Chinese dissenters under the bus.
But that appears to be over now.
The DOD has just announced that in August it established an office tasked specifically with devising methods of combatting access-denial weapons (of which China is the most prominent and biggest user), and has concurrently unveiled a concept (strategy) aimed at defeating those weapons and their users, called AirSea Battle, a joint concept of the USAF, USN and the USMC (which celebrates its 236th birthday today – Happy Birthday, Marines!).
The ASB concept relies primarily on long-range strike weapons operating from beyond the horizon, from the CONUS, and the core weapon system of that strategy will be a next generation bomber type.
Bill Gertz writes in the Washington Times that:
“The Air Sea Battle concept is the start of what defense officials say is the early stage of a new Cold War-style military posture toward China.
The plan calls for preparing the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps to defeat China’s “anti-access, area denial weapons,” including anti-satellite weapons, cyberweapons, submarines, stealth aircraft and long-range missiles that can hit aircraft carriers at sea.
Military officials from the three services told reporters during a background briefing that the concept is not directed at a single country. But they did not answer when asked what country other than China has developed advanced anti-access arms.
A senior Obama administration official was more blunt, saying the new concept is a significant milestone signaling a new Cold War-style approach to China.
During the Cold War, U.S. naval forces around the world used a strategy of global presence and shows of force to deter Moscow’s advances.
“It is a very forward-deployed, assertive strategy that says we will not sit back and be punished,” the senior official said. “We will initiate.”
The concept, according to defense officials, grew out of concerns that China’s new precision-strike weapons threaten freedom of navigation in strategic waterways and other global commons.
Defense officials familiar with the concept said among the ideas under consideration are:
• Building a new long-range bomber.
• Conducting joint submarine and stealth aircraft operations.
• New jointly operated, long-range unmanned strike aircraft with up to 1,000-mile ranges.
• Using Air Force forces to protect naval bases and deployed naval forces.
• Using Air Force aircraft to deploy sea mines.
• Increasing the mobility of satellites to make attacks more difficult.
• Launching joint Navy and Air Force cyber-attacks on Chinese anti-access forces.”
Some of these recommendations were made by CSBA analysts such as retired USAF Colonel Mark Gunzinger almost a year ago. Gunzinger even wrote a detailed study of the long-range strike weapons needed for the emerging new threat environment, including a new bomber type, a Prompt Global Strike System, a new joint UCAV, a new cruise missile type, and a new type of Airborne Electronic Attack aircraft. Some of his proposals, as we see, have been accepted by the DOD.
And as Bill Gertz has noted, setting up this office is a firm, public rebuke to those intra-government bureaucrats who, for over 2 decades, have been minimizing and understating the Chinese threat, even as that threat has been growing and continues to grow, with Chinese military spending growing by double-digits every year.
Among these was retired Navy RADM Eric McVernon, also known as “Eric the Red” because he frequently rigged “war games” by minimizing China’s military prowess so that the Blue Team (the US team) would always win.
Last year, the initial version of the QDR didn’t even MENTION the Chinese military threat, although the final version was amended.
His influence appears to have been curbed now, thanks to a number of DOD officials, chiefly Office of Net Assessment Director Andrew Marshall and his colleague Michael Pillsbury, both of whom have previously served in the Reagan Administration. Marshall was the one who, together with Gen. James Mattis, made sure the QDR would, in its final form, mention the Chinese military threat.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that the hard work is over. Quite the contrary, this was merely the first step. And there are some veteran experts on China’s military prowess who believe that the step made by the DOD is insufficient. Says one such expert Richard Fisher:
“It’s late in the game. A Pentagon office focused on China’s military challenges in Asia or beyond will be insufficientThis challenge will require Cold War levels of strategic, political and economic policy integration well beyond the Pentagon’s writ.”
All true, and I intend to develop, in due time, some blueprints of proposals of such integrated policies. But the DOD has at least recognized China as a military threat.
Of course, that, by itself, is not enough. This office and the ASB concept must now be followed up with specific policies, specific programs, and adequate funding. Otherwise, the ASB concept will remain just that – a concept. That scenario must be avoided.
But at least the Pentagon has made the first step by officially recognizing China as a military threat. And that is a sea change.