The U.S. military needs a more focused war plan specific to China, especially after China’s recent declaration of an air defense zone over the East China Sea, a group of defense analysts told a prominent House subcommittee Wednesday.
As part of the Pentagon’s overall defense strategy to pivot to the Pacific, the U.S. should buy more Virginia-class attack submarines, prioritizing long-range anti-ship missiles, carrier-based drones, and missile defense technology, the analysts told the House Armed Services’ Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee.
Seth Cropsey, a senior fellow at The Hudson Institute, told the subcommittee that the U.S needs a detailed war plan for China in the event that conflict arises.
“Chinese leaders are ambitious and they are moving toward great power status. The U.S. is not taking this possibility as seriously as it should,” said
Much of the hearing was focused on how the U.S. can counter-balance Chinese strategic moves to deny access to certain areas in the region through the use of long-range missiles, guided missile destroyers and submarines. In particular, the analysts said China have sought to control waterways, choke points and restrict access to key islands and territories in the region.
China has already provoked tensions in the region by declaring an air-defense zone in the East China Sea. U.S. leaders flew two unarmed B-52s through the area shortly after the announcement. However, the White House has also asked civilian U.S. airliners to alert China when their aircraft fly through the zone.
“While Naval modernization is a natural development for any sea-faring nation such as China, it is clear the modernization is emboldening the Chinese government to exert their interests by bullying their neighbors and pushing back the United States in the Asia Pacific region,” said Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., chairman of the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee.
If China succeeds in restricting access to or controlling its near seas, that would present “major implications for U.S. strategy and constitute a major challenge to the post World War II international order,” said Ronald O’Rourke, specialist in Naval Affairs, Congressional Research Service.
Chinese defense spending has increased from an estimated $45 to $60-billion annually in 2003 to $115 to $200 billion today, said Jim Thomas, vice president and director of studies, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
This includes investments in ships, long-range missiles, fighter jets and submarines, he explained. Unlike the U.S. which maintains a global posture, the Chinese military can spend all of its funds on regional counter-intervention, Thomas said.
The Chinese military has as many as 100 land-based strike fighters equipped with sophisticated avionics, sensors and advanced air-to-air missiles, he testified. Thomas also mentioned China’s DF-21D long-range ballistic missile, a weapon with a maneuverable warhead able to attack large surface combatants at ranges up to 930 miles.
“A decade ago China was reliant upon Russian assistance in its armaments, but is now increasingly shifted toward indigenous design and production. It is rapidly building up a modernized submarine force and its advanced guided missile destroyers represent a major improvement in fleet air defenses,” he told the Subcommittee.
These defenses are designed to protect aircraft carriers and help China push its Naval perimeter further off the coast, Thomas added. China also has an armada of small, armed fast-attack craft which could make it difficult for foreign forces to approach to within 200 nautical miles of the Chinese coast, Thomas testified.
Being able to thwart or spoof command and control and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance networks needs to be a key part of a counter-China defense strategy, Thomas emphasized as well.
Andrew Erickson, associate professor at the U.S. Naval War College, testified that the U.S. should do more to deny China the ability to seize and hold off-shore territory. This includes developing anti-ship cruise missiles such as the recently tested Long Range Anti-Ship Missile as well as long-range surface to air missiles, he said.
Erickson said offensive mine warfare could also provide key elements of the strategy. Most of all, however, Erickson emphasized that the U.S. should use its undersea technological advantage to deny China the ability to seize territory.
He stressed that the Navy should maintain its current pace of building two Virginia-class attack submarines, called SSNs, per year.
“It is therefore essential to ensure the present two-a-year construction rate of Virginia-class, nuclear-powered attack submarines. These SSNs are ideal for denying China the ability to hold and re-supply any forcefully seized islands. Given China’s ongoing limitations in anti-submarine warfare and the inherent difficulty of progressing in this field, China could spend many times the cost of these SSNs and still not be able to counter them effectively,” Erickson.
Rourke also told the Subcommittee that the U.S. might want to consider acquiring three Virginia-class submarines per year, citing the importance of the platform.