The Pentagon is planning to begin building up key military installations in the Pacific theater early in 2022. The purpose behind the move is to counter and deter China. The build up and improvements will affect Andersen AFB and US Navy facilities on Guam as well as a number of installations in northern Australia which US forces operate from. Infrastructure improvements are at the top of the list with the overall goal to make these locations able to absorb larger numbers of troops, aircraft and supplies in the event of a crisis. The origins for the decision to build up and improve these installations stem from the Global Posture Review, the end result of months of analysis and investigation by the service branches and numerous government agencies to recommend changes to the postures and deployments of US forces in theaters worldwide. The recommendations for the Pacific region did not stop at infrastructure updates. The GPR also strongly recommends the US increase cooperation and planning with allies in the region, as well as increase the number of combat-ready assets in theater.
How much impact the GPR recommendations will have if implemented is anyone’s guess at this point. With China’s recent saber-rattling and its progress made in hypersonic weapon testing, all eyes are on the Pentagon and White House. One concern among defense analysts and former DoD officials is that the GPR’s findings are a matter of being too little, too late. The People’s Republic of China is obviously gearing up for a future war in the region. These measures have been underway for some time now. The US response has been rather slapdash. Part of the reason for this is the absence of a solid doctrine for fighting a potential war in the Pacific against China. In the past decade every effort to craft such a doctrine has withered on the vine due to political indifference or the simple fact that the doctrine was inadequate. From Air-Sea Battle to its successor JAM-GC, the Pentagon has been a day late and a dollar short.
Quite honestly, the current situation in the Pacific seems to resemble Europe in 1939. Once again, we have a nation-state building up its military and preparing for war in front of the entire world. The world has taken note of the developments but the regional and global powers have done little to challenge China’s actions and intentions, and will fail to do so until the shooting starts. By then, as history has shown us countless times before, it will be too late. As for the US military in late 2021, its resemblance to the British and French militaries in the summer of 1939 is astoundingly close. Stale doctrine, low readiness and indifferent senior officers combined to bring about disastrous defeats on the battlefield from late 1939 through 1940.
I pray that I’m incorrect, but it appears we are going down a similar road at present.
China is demanding answers from the United States over a US nuclear-powered fast attack submarine’s collision with an undersea object in the South China Sea. Last Saturday, the USS Connecticut struck an underwater object of unknown origin while cruising in the SCS. Eleven sailors sustained injuries, though none were serious. Even though the attack boat sustained some damage, she remains fully operational and is expected to arrive in Guam within the next few hours.
A spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry told a media briefing that China concerned. “The US as the side involved in this incident should inform the relevant details including the location, purpose of this navigation, details of the accident and what did the submarine run into and whether any nuclear leakage has taken place and whether local maritime environment was harmed,” he said. He also pointed to the US policy of conducting freedom of navigation exercises in the South China Sea as a culprit.
China’s reaction is unremarkable and fully expected. It serves as nothing more than fluff and an opportunity to castigate the increased US military presence in the South China Sea. Beneath the surface….pardon the weak pun…..it is a different story. The fact that the US Navy publicly revealed the incident involving Connecticut, as well as its location at the time, is a message in and of itself. Washington wants Beijing to know US fast attack submarines are prowling in waters adjacent to China. More significantly, the US wants the world to be aware of this too.
As the sub reaches Guam, critical questions demand answers. First and foremost being; just what did Connecticut collide with? Navy officials have said off the record they do not believe China caused the incident. So that removes the possibility of the sub colliding with material in place for the construction of man-made islands, or ASW netting. It also completely rules out the chance that Connecticut struck a Chinese submarine. Hopefully, as the weekend goes on, answers will become known.
There’s another realm to this incident which demands further discussion and that is the effect it could have on the Taiwan situation. I’ll present some thoughts on that over the weekend.
The People’s Republic of China has adopted a somewhat sanctimonious position regarding the militarization of the South China Sea. It is perfectly acceptable for Beijing to transform the sea into a veritable lake for Chinese military forces, and to construct islands for the sole purpose of using them to project military power. Yet when other regional powers, or the United States wishes to sail warships, or fly combat aircraft over the SCS, it is nothing short of a provocation aimed directly at China. There have been a number of instances in the past few years when US Navy ships have conducted freedom of navigation exercises in the area, or US aircraft fly in close proximity to Chinese military bases there. Each one has prompted a sharp diplomatic response from Beijing.
This week the US military conducted flights in the vicinity of the South China Sea. B-52s from Andersen AFB in Guam transited the airspace as part of regularly scheduled exercises, according to the Pentagon. With the US and China embroiled in a tit-for-tat trade war, and tensions between the two nations heightening, the flight is likely to be seen by Beijing as a response to its decision not to allow the USS Wasp to dock in Hong Kong. That decision was made in response to the US placing punitive sanctions against the Chinese ministry’s Equipment Development Department (EDD) for China’s purchase of Russian fighter planes, and SAM (surface-to-air missile) systems.
China has complained about the sanctions, and considers the US action an attempt to undermine its defense capabilities. China is likely viewing the situation in the wrong context. Russia is the real target of the sanctions. They’re aimed at punishing Moscow for a host of activities aimed against US interests ranging its military intervention in the eastern Ukraine, to the attempts at interfering with the 2016 US presidential election.
North Korea’s abrupt walk back from its plan to bracket Guam with ballistic missile is being viewed by some foreign policy analysts and diplomats as a positive step in the continuing US-North Korea standoff. Respectively, the collective hope is that Kim Jong Un’s move will present an opportunity for the US, Japan, and South Korea to explore a diplomatic avenue and lower the temperature on what is still a volatile situation. In an outward sense, the pause is a constructive step as it offers a cooling period for Washington and Pyongyang following last week’s exchange of heated rhetoric. What becomes of it remains to be seen, though it is not reasonable to assume North Korea will use the opportunity to defuse the situation.
There is concern that Kim’s about face could be a calculated move to lower the scrutiny and pressure his regime is contending with. Every tool that he used on the Obama administration with considerable success has failed to budge the Trump administration from its position. Threats of launching a missile strike directly on the United States never provoked anything more than a bomber flyover, and a call for strategic patience during the later years of Obama’s presidency. From the time Kim Jong Un took power until Barack Obama left the White House the United States did not take any decisive action against North Korea either diplomatically, militarily, or on the sanctions front. Things have been different with President Trump, to say the least.
Perhaps Kim needs time to conjure up a new strategy that will put North Korea back in a position of strength. Or, more ominously, maybe he is deliberately lowering tensions as he prepares to lash out at the United States in another form. There is growing speculation in US military and intelligence circles that the North could choose to launch a cyberattack rather than a volley of ballistic missiles. North Korea is one of the most notorious cyber villains in the world and has been behind cyberattacks on US companies before. It could use a cyberattack to harm not only individual US companies or government agencies, but the US economy as a whole.
At any rate, North Korea’s announcement today changes little for the moment. Pyongyang’s intentions with regards to Guam have been altered, but it still possesses nuclear weapons, and long range ballistic missiles able to reach US territory. That is the core of the standoff with the United States. Threats to launch missiles in the vicinity of Guam, and sardonic rhetoric are nothing more than window dressing for the moment.