The two most important ways to deter China

“China, China and China. US Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said these are his top three priorities. While he admits being flippant, Kendall nonetheless mentioned China 29 times in his recent speech to the Air Force Association.

The stimulus threat posed by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) will largely be deterred by two major strategic efforts: accelerating the commissioning of advanced capabilities and deepening interoperability with allies and partners.

Progress has been made on both fronts, but in the words of Air Force Chief of Staff CQ Brown, we must “accelerate change – or lose.”

China has become much more formidable in recent years, stepping up its modernization efforts. On the conventional side, China has invested in precision weapons with increasingly long ranges, ranging from hundreds to thousands of kilometers, capable of striking any American or allied asset anywhere in the world. .

Today, China has a growing arsenal of anti-satellite, anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles, as well as advanced cyber and electronic warfare capabilities, not to mention a hypersonic weapons program in full swing. expansion.

If China is to be deterred, then we need to deploy the kinds of advanced capabilities in the Indo-Pacific that can actually mitigate the threat. To quote Secretary Kendall again: “To achieve effective change, we have to keep an eye on the ball. For me, that means focusing on bringing meaningful military capabilities into the hands of our operational users. “

Given the need for advanced and relevant capabilities in the hands of today’s combatants, the logic leads to a two-part conclusion: first, to modernize our legacy forces, and second, to accelerate the commissioning of the next-generation capability. available today.

While the growth of the B-21 bomber program and the continued progress of the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program are essential, we look forward to these programs coming to fruition. In fact, it will take at least five more years before the B-21s come into service; bringing the highly ranked NGAD into service is surely further than that.

The F-35 is the only advanced air capability in production today that can be deployed on the front lines today, both by the United States and by our allies and partners. But we still lack a sufficient number of fifth generation aircraft given the current threat from the PRC.

In competing with China, the United States has a key advantage: like-minded allies and partners with like concerns. The more the United States can work together with its allies and partners to deter the PRC, the better. Two developments are particularly remarkable in this regard: The Quad and AUKUS.

The Quad, made up of Australia, India, Japan and the United States, increases its activity through air and sea exercises. The leaders of the four countries recently met in Washington, pledging to work together on a number of “soft power” initiatives in the Indo-Pacific.

AUKUS, which includes Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, made headlines for the transfer of nuclear submarine technology to Australia. While this is an important capability, AUKUS is also committed to “significantly deepening cooperation on a range of security and defense capabilities”.

These efforts to work more closely together include recent exercises between various members of the UKUS and Quad. We have seen Australian F-35 pilots training in the United States and American and Japanese forces training in Australia. United States Marine Corps F-35B pilots were deployed to a British aircraft carrier to conduct cross-sectional operations on United States aircraft carriers, and American ships formed an important part of the carrier’s battle group. British planes. Marine Corps aviators also flew their F-35s from a Japanese ship in a recent test phase.

This unprecedented level of interoperability with allies and partners – combined with highly advanced common capabilities such as the F-35 – is the most effective and fastest way to create a powerful deterrent in terms of engagement. and capacity, thwarting China’s hegemonic ambitions in the Indo-Pacific. .

America and her allies must accelerate change. Otherwise, where we still maintain a military overmatch with the PRC today, we will have parity at best tomorrow. Deterrence will be weakened and the likelihood of conflict increased, as will the uncertainty of its outcome.

With China’s continued frenzied military build-up, accelerating change is a national security imperative. As for next year’s defense budget, the White House, Pentagon and Congress should fully fund the placing of the most advanced capabilities in the hands of our fighters and the deepening of interoperability with our fighters. allies and partners.

Scott Swift served 39 years in the US Navy and retired as a Four Star Admiral. During his career he served as Commander of the Seventh Fleet, Director of the Naval Staff and Commander of the Pacific Fleet.

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