WASHINGTON – The Marines are returning to practice amphibious landings.
The Army is looking for newer, “high-intensity conflict” weapons. The Air Force wants to develop a “penetrating capability” as part of a new “concept of operations.”
The reason for this flurry of activity at the Pentagon comes from some of the first words uttered by Patrick Shanahan when he became acting Defense Secretary: “China, China, China.”
Shanahan has repeatedly asserted the primacy of China in the Pentagon gameplay, along with Russia, and the service leaders have heard and are responding.
The most recent was Army Secretary Mark Esper, who told Pentagon reporters Tuesday he is seeking permission to shift funds from equipment used in counter-insurgency operations to “what I need to penetrate Russian or Chinese air defenses.”
Specifically, the would be a new attack/reconnaissance aircraft to penetrate Russian or Chinese air defenses and long-range artillery “to hold at bay Chinese ships,” Esper told reporters.
Earlier this month, the Navy sent the USS Wasp into the South China Sea with a large number of Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters. It is part of a new “lightning carrier” concept to provide more options in a battle against China, Pentagon officials said in interviews.
The Marines plan to deploy a new amphibious combat vehicle by 2021. In March, Marines rehearsed moving from ship-to-shore with new amphibious tactics.
Esper said he and other Army officials are briefing their counterparts on the changes. That includes Adm. Philip Davidson, commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, on Army plans to rotate troops on expeditionary deployments throughout the Pacific theatre.
Davidson commands all U.S. forces in the Asia-Pacific region. He has long sounded the alarm about the rising military threat from China in the South China and East China Seas.
“We need urgent change at significant scale to address the challenges, strategic competition with China,” Davidson told the Senate Armed Services Committee in February. “Our military advantage and deterrent edge in the Indo-Pacific is eroding. The Chinese Communist Party leadership in Beijing senses weaknesses. They are testing our resolve.”
On Monday, Beijing sent warships, bombers and reconnaissance aircraft to conduct “necessary drills” around Taiwan. In response, Taipei scrambled jets and ships to monitor the Chinese forces, according to news reports.
The U.S. has no formal ties with Taiwan but agreed to supply the island with weapons and related materials to defend itself.
The maneuvers around Taiwan come as China continues to militarize islands in the South China Sea that are claimed by a number of nations. The U.S. and other nations sail ships through the waters to assert freedom of navigation rights, to which China protests.