MELBOURNE, Australia ― The nominee to be the next chief of the U.S. forces in the Pacific has called for an increase in U.S. forces from all three services stationed in the vital region, adding that China is now effectively able to control the South China Sea and challenge the U.S. presence in the region.
In his testimony at last week’s Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing, Adm. Philip Davidson also said he will work to recalibrate U.S. force posture in the Indo-Pacific region to align with the recently released 2018 National Defense Strategy, an effort he said “entails ensuring the continued combat readiness of assigned forces in the western Pacific (and) developing an updated footprint that accounts for China’s rapid modernization.”
Davidson, who has been nominated to take over U.S. Pacific Command, or PACOM, also said the strategic and operational environment outlined in the NDS clearly identifies the importance of developing and fielding a force posture that is capable of “countering Chinese malign influence in the region,” while describing actions in the South China Sea such as the One Belt One Road Initiative as China executing its own deliberate and thoughtful force posture initiatives.
Due to the distances involved in the Indo-Pacific, Davidson stressed that the U.S. cannot solely rely on surge forces from the continental United States to deter Chinese aggression or prevent a fait accompli. He also said PACOM must maintain a robust, blunt layer that effectively deters Chinese aggression in the Indo-Pacific.
However, he added there is insufficient forward-deployed and rotational forces from all three services in PACOM’s area of responsibility, or AOR, and the current force structure and presence does “not sufficiently counter the threats in the Indo-Pacific.”
He specifically noted that PACOM only has a quarter of its required intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability in its AOR, although he declined to go into further details of the ISR shortfall, instead saying “the shortfalls are identified and have been highlighted in PACOM’s regular contacts with the Joint Staff.”
Additional requirements for the AOR include command-and-control capabilities, as well as the “integration of long-range, high-speed, lethal, survivable and precision munitions capabilities in ships, submarines, patrol craft, land-based formations, bombers and fighters.” These, combined with robust numbers of fifth-generation platforms and the necessary tankers and transports, will provide U.S. forces an advantage in a denied environment in the near term, the officer explained.
Davidson also touched on the continuing effort to field a new generation of weapons such as the Conventional Prompt Global Strike long-range hypersonic weapons, which he said “will help meet military requirements in PACOM” by expanding the competitive space and by taking on adversaries in areas where the U.S. possesses advantages and adversaries lack strength.
Still, he cautioned that China has already been doing the same by weaponizing space and improving its ballistic missile technology and cyber capabilities.
The state of follow-on forces to be deployed to the AOR in the event of a conflict was also an area of worry, with Davidson expressing concern about the manning, training and equipping of U.S. follow-on forces. He emphasized that continuing resolutions, delayed appropriations and sequestration stemming from the budget impasse directly impacts the size and speed of a military response.
Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News. He wrote his first defense-related magazine article in 1998 before pursuing an aerospace engineering degree at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia. Following a stint in engineering, he became a freelance defense reporter in 2013 and has written for several media outlets.