Can the U.S. Meet the Challenge of the Evolving Pacific?

By Robbin Laird

Dr. Malmgren has underscored in his analysis of alternative futures for the PRC in the 15 years ahead, that there is no inevitability of the dominance by the PRC in the Pacific.  Much of this depends on what the U.S. is capable of doing and does and how the U.S. and its allies work together to shape an effective engagement policy with China.

There is no preordained outcome of China emerging as the dominant superpower in Asia.  China’s starting point is too fragile.  The key question is whether the U.S. abandons interest and involvement with Asia, or instead has a policy of engagement and encouragement of a growing web of mutual interests across the Pacific in which China can prosper without ability to seek, much less achieve, domination.

See: Can the PRC Dominate the Pacific in the Next 15 Years?

But will this happen? It will if current trends continue.  Strategy without means is hollow indeed.  And to this extent President Obama is a good representation of the where the American political elite are heading the country in the global competition – out the door.

The absence of strategic thinking is not limited to the Obama Administration.  The Republican opposition in the Congress seems hell bent on maintaining the U.S. in Afghanistan until every last power projection dollar can be spent.

But the Administration deserves special praise.  It is excellent in articulating aspirations for the future; rather less good in putting together the new capabilities necessary to meet those aspirations.  The President is an especially significant practioner of alchemy whereby words turn into capabilities by magic.

The Administration has undercut in many ways the capabilities, which the U.S. could deploy to benefit itself and its allies.

First, the F-22 was cancelled precisely when the plane was being produced for under $90 million dollars.  Australia and Japan were clear candidates for this plane.

Second, the Administration seems in no hurry to put the F-35 into action, with a rapid expansion of a test regime, and phantom cost support numbers.  They are clearly not supporting a rapid roll out of the plane no so central to the U.S. and its allies, notably in the Pacific. There is clearly no sense of urgency and continued commitment to build 4th generation aircraft, which even the Indians, do not want.

Third, there is no urgency as well with regard to shaping connectivity between the F-35, F-22 and Aegis.  The Aegis and F-35 programs and their integration are at the heart of any meaningful coalition military strategy.

We are facing a moment of the transition in warfare as significant as the shift from the battleship to the carrier in the Pacific.  This transition for the United States although argued for by military visionaries only came about by the decisive blow from Japan in 1941.

The Operation Drumbeat syndrome can be a powerful amnesia to generational change in military systems.

Fourth, OSD has put the modernization of the F-22 onto the back burner.  Although Secretary Gates warns now (or why Gates II would fire Gates I) of creating a hollow force, he is a clear architect of such a strategy.

The inability to link the F-22s and F-35s with MADL – the key connectivity linkage – will do more to undercut the meaning of buying these aircraft than virtually any action that any adversary of the United States could do on its own.

Fifth, the Administration is cutting USCG capabilities in the Pacific – two cutters this year – and perturbation on the offshore patrol cutter acquisition and God forbid—if we were to buy as many icebreakers as the Chinese are building!

And now comes the GAO.  In a strategic vacuum, the power and influence of GAO analyses has grown exponentially.

The GAO can comment on virtually anything, but can not build anything, deploy anything or do anything remotely like a strategic analysis of the situation in which the U.S. finds itself.

As I commented in an earlier piece, given the GAO culture, if the GAO were around in World War II we would not have built Liberty Ships, and have lost the war, but no mind, the GAO mindset would have been satisfied. November 1, 1941 Bulletin: Liberty Ship Production Stopped

So what do we have in honor of Memorial Day, and persons like my Father who fought in the Pacific, a GAO warning that we might spend too much to be in the Pacific in the years ahead!

If politicians use the GAO warnings about correlating cost with a strategy this is a good thing; a strategy would be useful to have and to debate.

But the trouble is that GAO reports are not used as inputs for strategic debate, but rather simply as excuses not to have them.

DOD is also transforming its military posture in Japan, Okinawa, and Guam but has not estimated the total costs associated with these initiatives. Based on an October 2006 Government of Japan budget estimate study for realignment costs and limited cost information developed by DOD, GAO identified approximately $29.1 billion—primarily just construction costs—that is anticipated to be shared by the United States and Japan to implement these initiatives. DOD officials stated total cost estimates for its initiatives were not available because of the significant uncertainty surrounding initiative implementation schedules. The Senate Appropriations Committee recently directed DOD to provide annual status updates on posture initiatives in Korea, Japan, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands. If DOD is fully responsive to the Committee’s reporting direction, these updates should provide needed visibility into initiative cost and funding requirements.

GAO: Comprehensive Cost Information and Analysis of Alternatives Needed to Assess Military Posture in Asia

Not to put too fine a point on it, how about a little visibility into the real capabilities we need even to have a strategy.

Rather than eviscerating the air and naval power so necessary to U.S. engagement in the Pacific, where is the Congressional effort to focus on ends and means?  Or are we to believe that God simply will bless the Americans as they move forward into the Pacific Century?

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