A new report on the Middle Kingdom's growing military capabilities could lead to a war ... over defense spending.
- By Robert HaddickRobert Haddick is managing editor of Small Wars Journal.
The Pentagon’s new China report and the coming budget war.
Last week, the Pentagon released its annual report on China’s military power. Although required by Congress, many administration officials no doubt view the report as an annoyance and needlessly provocative. Yet few can claim that the Pentagon, assisted by the interagency process, didn’t take the project seriously. This year’s edition was as detailed and comprehensive as any yet published. Even more notable, Barack Obama’s administration did not hesitate to increase the U.S. government’s level of alarm over Chinese military modernization. As he briefed the Pentagon press corps on the report, Michael Schiffer, deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia, asserted that China’s military investments are "potentially destabilizing to regional military balances, increase the risk of misunderstanding and miscalculation, and may contribute to regional tensions and anxieties."
Equally alarming, the report discussed growing debates among China’s policymakers about whether China should assume a more assertive "great power" status, backed by its expanding military power. The report noted that until recently, China’s security strategy followed former paramount leader Deng Xiaoping’s advice to maintain a low profile and focus on internal development. Today, China’s growing nationalism, renewed attention to regional disputes, and concerns about access to global markets and raw materials over sea lines of communications have opened internal debates about whether China now needs to discard Deng’s long-standing advice.
The U.S. government has hoped to influence these debates inside China. The Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) in 2006 explicitly stated an intention to "shape the choices of countries at strategic crossroads." The 2010 QDR restated a commitment to enhancing deterrence, notably for "large-scale conflicts in environments where anti-access weaponry and tactics are used." These missions were clearly aimed at China, with a goal of dissuading Beijing from challenging the U.S. strategic position in the Western Pacific.
The report noted that between 2000 and 2010, the Chinese government increased military spending at a 12.1 percent annual rate, accounting for inflation. Recently, military programs have included progress on China’s first aircraft carrier, first stealth fighter, new submarines, more amphibious shipping, new surface-to-air missiles systems, and further additions to its substantial inventories of land-attack ballistic and cruise missiles. The report concludes that China is preparing to extend the reach of its naval and air power beyond its regional waters and into the Indian Ocean and the central Pacific area.
The 2006 and 2010 QDRs aimed to influence China’s debate about its national security strategy. That debate remains unsettled. But the continued rapid expansion of China’s military power reveals that Chinese leaders believe such an investment will eventually provide useful leverage. U.S. military power in the Western Pacific is not "shaping the choices" as it hoped to in 2006. China’s leaders have not concluded that it is futile to challenge the U.S. military position in the region as the QDR reports hoped would be the case. This increases the odds of a clash over an area that both China and the United States and its allies in the region regard as economically and politically vital.
To persuade China that challenging the status quo is a waste of its resources, the United States needs to permanently increase its naval and air power in the region, while also reassuring China that the status quo is no threat to its interests. But with Pentagon spending facing a 5 to 10 percent cut over the next decade, something else is going to have to pay for such an expensive expansion in naval and air power. That something is the U.S. Army, which may be making plans to cut 10 or even 15 of its 45 active-duty brigade combat teams.
The Army, Navy, and Air Force have maintained a decades-long truce over money by agreeing to a roughly constant distribution of the Pentagon’s pie. The rise of China’s military and the demands that will place on naval and air power during a time of shrinking budgets is about to void that interservice treaty. This year’s report on China’s military power may spark a long-simmering budget war inside the Pentagon.
Naval aviation starts planning for when the money runs out
The U.S. Army is not alone in planning for the looming cash crunch. This week, Robert Work, the undersecretary of the Navy, directed the Navy and Marine Corps to draw up three plans to save $5 billion, $7.5 billion, and $10 billion over the next five years from their tactical aviation forces. Work’s missile was aimed at the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program, which includes a short-takeoff, vertical-landing "B" model designed for the Marine Corps and the aircraft carrier-based "C" model for both the Navy and Marines. Work directed the services to consider reducing the total purchases of both aircraft or canceling one of these models completely.
To make up for the shortfall of stealthy F-35s the Navy and Marine Corps have been expecting, the services would instead purchase more of the non-stealthy and much less expensive Boeing F-18 E/F aircraft, which has been in production for many years. Work also suggested using money freed up from canceled F-35s to accelerate development of long-range, carrier-based, unmanned combat aircraft, a technology that leaps over the F-35.
The Marine Corps’s F-35B is the most technically complicated of the JSF variants, and this January its serious development problems forced then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates to put the plane on two-year probation pending cancellation. But the entire JSF program (including the "A" model designed for the Air Force) has been troubled, with unexpectedly complicated software among the many causes of delays and cost overruns. In a marketing battle between two giant Pentagon contractors, Boeing has presented plans to further upgrade its F-18 design to close the gap between the performance of this legacy aircraft and the F-35.
For the Navy and its big aircraft carriers, the stealthy F-35C will give it much better ability to penetrate and defeat sophisticated adversary air-defense systems in the dangerous opening days of a war, compared to the non-stealthy F-18. Once enemy air defenses have been destroyed, F-18s and other non-stealthy aircraft would presumably operate on more equal terms with stealthy aircraft.
But as we saw in March at the start of the air campaign in Libya, the Navy also has the option to use cruise missiles to take down an integrated air-defense system. In the first few days of that conflict, the Navy fired over 200 Tomahawk land attack cruise missiles from submarines and surface ships at Libya’s air defenses and cleared the way for non-stealthy NATO aircraft to freely operate over the country.
Canceling the Marine Corps’ short-takeoff, vertical-landing F-35B would seem to put a troubled airplane out of its misery. But unlike with the F-35C, the Marine Corps can base the F-35B on its 10 large-deck amphibious assault ships, doubling the number of aircraft carriers available for less demanding contingencies. Canceling the F-35B would mean forgoing this flexibility in the future.
The winding-down of the large ground campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, combined with the rising naval and air challenge from China, should rationally result in a reallocation of defense resources from ground combat power toward naval and air power. But should this reallocation occur, it should not spare the Navy from making some long-needed reforms to its own plans. Work’s request to fashion alternative plans for naval aviation is an opportunity to make some smart trades that will preserve flexibility and options while also accelerating the development of new technology that stands a better chance of success against future adversaries. It shouldn’t take a budget crisis for that type of reform to happen.
Yochi Dreazen is a Managing Editor for News at Foreign Policy. He is also writer-in-residence at the Center for a New American Security. His book about military suicide was published by Random House's Crown division in 2014.
Prior to joining Foreign Policy, Dreazen was a contributing editor at the Atlantic and the senior national security correspondent for National Journal. He began his career at the Wall Street Journal and spent 11 years at the newspaper, most recently as its military correspondent. He was born in Chicago, and later attended the University of Pennsylvania. At Penn, he edited the award-winning daily campus newspaper and graduated Magna Cum Laude in 1999 with degrees in History and English. He was hired by the Wall Street Journal immediately after graduation. Dreazen arrived in Iraq in April 2003 with the Fourth Infantry Division, and spent the next two years living in Baghdad as the Wall Street Journal's main Iraq correspondent.
Dreazen has made more than 12 lengthy trips to Iraq and Afghanistan and has spent a total of nearly four years on the ground in the two countries, mostly doing front-line combat embeds. He has reported from more than 20 countries, including Pakistan, Russia, China, Israel, Japan, Turkey, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia.
In 2010, Dreazen received the Military Reporters & Editors association’s top award for domestic military reporting in a large publication for a series of articles about military suicide and the psychological traumas impacting veterans of the two long wars. His writing has appeared in the Washington Post, Smithsonian, Tablet and the New Republic and he appears regularly on TV and radio programs such as NPR's Diane Rehm Show and PBS' Washington Week with Gwen Ifill. Dreazen gives frequent lectures about journalism, the wars and current events to both civilian and military audiences.
Dreazen lives in Washington with his wife, Annie Rosenzweig Dreazen, and their beloved Golden Retriever, Charlie.| The Complex |
Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.
A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.
Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C.| The Cable |
Kevin Baron is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy, covering defense and military issues in Washington. He is also vice president of the Pentagon Press Association. Baron previously was a national security staff writer for National Journal, covering the "business of war." Prior to that, Baron worked in the resident daily Pentagon press corps as a reporter/photographer for Stars and Stripes. For three years with Stripes, Baron covered the building and traveled overseas extensively with the secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, covering official visits to Afghanistan and Iraq, the Middle East and Europe, China, Japan and South Korea, in more than a dozen countries. From 2004 to 2009, Baron was the Boston Globe Washington bureau's investigative projects reporter, covering defense, international affairs, lobbying and other issues. Before that, he muckraked at the Center for Public Integrity. Baron has reported on assignment from Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, the Middle East and the South Pacific. He was won two Polk Awards, among other honors. He has a B.A. in international studies from the University of Richmond and M.A. in media and public affairs from George Washington University. Originally from Orlando, Fla., Baron has lived in the Washington area since 1998 and currently resides in Northern Virginia with his wife, three sons, and the family dog, The Edge.| The E-Ring |