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May 11, 2023
Notes from the Pentagon

U.S. lags China, Russia on hypersonic missile capabilities, Air Force general warns

By Bill Gertz
The general in charge of the Northern Command told Congress this week that the United States is falling behind both China and Russia in developing and fielding ultra-high-speed hypersonic missiles.

Air Force Gen. Glen D. VanHerck warned that the U.S. military needs to speed up the outdated process currently used in building weapons.

“The need to move faster is clear. [China] and Russia have already fielded highly advanced hypersonic capabilities, while the United States’ hypersonic program, although accelerating, still languishes well behind our competitors’ efforts,” Gen. VanHerck told the Senate Armed Services subcommittee on strategic forces in written testimony Tuesday.

The four-star general, who is also the commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, said that he’s witnessed “the extraordinary pace at which our competitors have advanced their capabilities to threaten the homeland” in his military career.

As the Chinese and Russian militaries rapidly field threatening missiles and other capabilities, the Pentagon system for building arms, developing technology and hiring people remains stuck in the 1980s, he said.

“As competitors develop greater capability, capacity and intent to challenge the United States, Canada and the rules-based international order, I believe that the greatest strategic risk for the United States stems from our own inability to adapt at a pace required by the changing strategic environment,” he said. “In an era of incredible innovation and technological achievement, inflexible, outdated processes are a greater impediment to success than many of our competitors’ capability advancements.”

The military must abandon the industrial age practices and legacy weapons platforms currently used to better confront adversaries in the digital age, he said.

“If we fail to evolve at the pace demanded by the strategic environment, our competitive advantage will continue to erode,” Gen. VanHerck said.

The Pentagon and Congress must accept the risk of retiring older weapons to better fight and win against advanced and well-armed adversaries.

“Over the last decade, the [People’s Republic of China] and Russia have made extraordinary technological advancements while the [Defense] Department remains encumbered by obsolete capabilities and associated costs,” he said.

The Northern Command needs modern forces that can deter war, and, if needed, defeat adversaries armed with advanced weapons, he said.

Gen. VanHerck said older fighters and command and control systems nearing the end of their life cycles should be retired in favor of next-generation capabilities. Predictable budgets, rather than a process involving uncertain congressional funding and continuing resolutions, are also needed, he said.

Civilian hiring by the Pentagon also needs to be reformed, allowing weapons technology to be built in ways similar to the methods of the civilian tech world, he said.

Gen. VanHerck also commented on the Chinese high-altitude surveillance balloon shot down over the Atlantic in February, calling it “a significant event that shined a light on the PRC’s brazen intelligence collection against the United States and Canada.”

“It was the first time U.S. Northcom conducted an engagement over the United States in our history, and it made it clear that our competitors have the capability and intent to reach the homeland,” he added.

Three other unidentified flying objects shot down days later highlighted the difficulties in detecting and identifying such objects in U.S. airspace. The general said his command learned several lessons from the event.

The current threat environment, the commander declared, is the most complicated and potentially dangerous in his more than 35 years of military service. China and Russia are aggressively advancing their interests through political coercion, cyber and information operations, asymmetric attacks on infrastructure, and the direct threat or actual employment of military force, he said.

China’s military is engaged in what Gen. VanHerck called a “sprint” to deploy advanced cyber warfare tools, maritime forces and hypersonic missiles — all systems with global reach. Beijing’s rapid nuclear forces buildup will expand the current stockpile of around 400 warheads to about 1,500 by 2035, he said.

“While less observable, the PRC’s aggressive efforts to exploit the information technology sector are accelerating an increasing threat to North America,” Gen. VanHerck said.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to use his third term as Chinese Communist Party leader to double down on his nation’s revisionist foreign policy. That policy will include “global efforts to undermine the United States and bolster partnerships with U.S. competitors, including Russia.”

Gen. VanHerck also told lawmakers there are reports that China has sent Russia goods with potential military applications in the war in Ukraine, actions he described as “more than symbolic.”

He also disclosed that Russia employed its new “Killjoy” air-launched hypersonic missile in combat against Ukraine.

Taiwan ambassador on U.S. trade talks
Taiwan hopes to conclude a bilateral trade agreement with the United States, and is also eyeing a tax accord to help businesses avoid double taxation, Taiwan’s unofficial ambassador to the United States said in an interview this week.

Hsiao Bi-khim, officially known as Taiwan representative, the security relationship with the United States remains Taipei’s top priority. But trade and economic relations are also growing in importance, Ms. Hsiao said in the interview with correspondents from The Washington Times.

“We’ve been through a quite successful round of negotiations and hope to, in the near future, start working on what will eventually grow and expand into a broader trade agreement,” she said.

In August, the diplomatic offices that conduct diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Taiwan announced plans for closer trade and economic ties. The two sides have been negotiating on 11 trade areas, and negotiations are underway on easing trade controls, improving regulatory practices, developing strong anti-corruption standards, increasing agriculture trade, and easing discriminatory trade barriers.

Ms. Hsiao also said one important goal of the talks is to conclude a tax agreement.

“Taiwan is the only top 10 trading partner of the United States that does not have a tax agreement which allows our two sides to avoid double taxation,” she said. “This is critical to the success of our businesses, especially those who are looking to expand and invest in the United States.”

Lack of a tax treaty or tax agreement has made it difficult for businesses from Taiwan to persuade shareholders to support investment in the U.S. market.

“As you’re aware, Taiwanese companies are supporting some of the largest investment projects in American history in the semiconductor sector,” she said, in a reference to the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. semiconductor plant being built in north Phoenix.

Ms. Hsiao said the semiconductor industry is a large ecosystem that involves more than a single firm, TSMC. The sector includes suppliers, testing companies, packaging, materials and chemicals used in the semiconductor ecosystem.

“So, we are trying to find or to create the policy mechanism to support our businesses that are looking for expansion and new market opportunities as well as investments,” she said.

China sends warships around Japan
Amid heightened regional tensions, China recently dispatched five warships near Japan, according to the joint staff office of Japan’s Defense Ministry, including two guided-missile destroyers, a cruiser, a frigate and a support ship.

The warships were photographed sailing some 30 miles off the northeast coast of Japan’s Hokkaido, the large northern island. The naval vessels have been circling the Japanese islands for a week in a show of force.

The naval presence follows sharply stepped-up Chinese naval operations around Taiwan, in what U.S. officials have said are activities designed to intimidate Taipei.

The Japanese identified the warships as the PLA Navy’s Guiyang and Qiqihar, along with the fleet oiler Taihu, spotted Friday near Rebun Island near Hokkaido. A day later, the Chinese cruiser Lhasa and frigate Zaozhuang were seen in the same area.

In a provocative move, all five ships conducted a passage through La Perouse Strait, a waterway that separates the northern Japanese island from Russia’s Sakhalin Island. The warships then sailed into the nearby Sea of Okhotsk. The Japan Maritime Self Defense Force fast attack craft Wakataka and P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft monitored the Chinese naval operations.

In a related development, the PLA Navy intelligence-gathering ship Kaiyangxing was spotted around the main Japanese island of Honshu, the Japanese military office said late last week. The spy vessel was seen sailing about 18 miles southwest of Cape Tappi before sailing through the Tsugaru Strait separating Honshu and Hokkaido.

Earlier this month, the PLA sent the destroyer Baotou and frigate Xuzhou about 50 miles northwest of Uotsuri Island, part of the disputed Senkaku Islands that are under Japanese control but claimed by China. The Chinese warship activity near Japan was first reported by the USNI News.

For many years military experts claimed such operations by China‘s navy were not a concern. Now large Chinese naval activities designed to coerce and threaten regional states are routine.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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