Shadow Government

Keeping a closer eye on China

Over the weekend, the Taipei Times reported that the United States will soon begin operating high-altitude, long-endurance RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) out of Guam. When operational, these drones will monitor Chinese forces opposite the Taiwan Strait. Ultimately, they will replace the U-2 and RC-135 aircraft that conduct reconnaissance in the west Pacific. ...

FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

Over the weekend, the Taipei Times reported that the United States will soon begin operating high-altitude, long-endurance RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) out of Guam. When operational, these drones will monitor Chinese forces opposite the Taiwan Strait. Ultimately, they will replace the U-2 and RC-135 aircraft that conduct reconnaissance in the west Pacific.

The Obama administration deserves credit for such efforts to keep a close eye on Chinese military modernization. Although the term "transformation" has fallen out of favor in Washington, it has not in Beijing. China is deploying a range of capabilities aimed at blunting U.S. military power in Asia, including the DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile, a large family of precision-guided ballistic missiles, anti-satellite weapons, and cyber warfare capabilities. As Jacqueline Newmyer writes in a thought-provoking article in the latest issue of The Journal of Strategic Studies, Chinese strategists believe that the so-called "revolution in military affairs" offers Beijing a historic opportunity to alter the military balance with the United States. Having concealed its military buildup for years, the Chinese leadership has become increasingly open and bellicose in discussing its ability to inflict damage on U.S. forces.

The deployment of Global Hawks to Guam offers more than just an opportunity to monitor Chinese military deployments; it also holds with it the possibility of new methods to enhancing security and strengthening deterrence in Asia — something that should appeal to an administration that has favored multilateral approaches.  The United States’ Asian allies are all concerned about Chinese military modernization, and about U.S. staying power in the face of a rising China. They are also interested in purchasing or developing high-altitude, long-endurance UAVs like the Global Hawk. The door would thus appear to be open for bold action: What if the United States spearheaded a multinational effort to field a constellation of high-altitude, long-endurance UAVs and share the data produced by their sensors to establish a common picture of the west Pacific? With some vision and bold action, U.S. drones could become the core of an Asian allied airborne reconnaissance network. Such a network could increase transparency in the region. Having many eyes watching the region could also represent a powerful deterrent to Chinese aggression, whether across the Taiwan Strait or in the South China Sea.

The deployment of UAVs to Guam is a good move. With a bit of boldness and creativity, it could yield much more.

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