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Aug 10, 2023
Notes from the Pentagon

Lawmaker denounces joint Chinese, Russian warship patrol near Alaska

By Bill Gertz
The Chinese and Russian navies recently dispatched 11 warships to waters off the coast of Alaska in what one of Alaska’s senators called “aggression” by Beijing and Moscow.

The Navy sent four destroyers and a torpedo-equipped P-8 maritime patrol aircraft to shadow the warships that earlier sailed close to Japan following joint Chinese-Russian war games in the region, U.S. defense officials said.

“The incursion by 11 Chinese and Russian warships operating together — off the coast of Alaska — is yet another reminder that we have entered a new era of authoritarian aggression led by the dictators in Beijing and Moscow,” said Sen. Dan Sullivan, Alaska Republican.

Mr. Sullivan said in a statement that the joint naval patrol highlights his past efforts to press the Pentagon and successive administrations to deploy more Navy, Coast Guard and Marine Corps assets to Alaska.

Despite the dispatch of U.S. forces to the area near the warships, the U.S. Northern Command and joint U.S.-Canadian North American Aerospace Defense Command played down the warship operation. The command provided few details in a statement Sunday on the exact location of the naval task force or the American forces that responded.

“NORAD and U.S. Northcom actively monitored the Russian and Chinese combined naval patrol that operated near Alaska last week,” a command spokesman told Inside the Ring. “Air and maritime assets under our commands conducted operations to assure the defense of the United States and Canada. The patrol remained in international waters and was not considered a threat.”

Mr. Sullivan said he received a classified briefing on the warships and noted that a similar operation was conducted off the Alaskan coast last year. During that operation, a single U.S. Coast Guard ship was in the area.

“Given that our response was tepid, I strongly encouraged senior military leaders to be ready with a much more robust response should such another joint Chinese/Russian naval operation occur off our coast,” Mr. Sullivan said.

The senator said he was “heartened to see that this latest incursion was met with four U.S. Navy destroyers, which sends a strong message to [Chinese President] Xi Jinping and [Russian President Vladimir] Putin that the United States will not hesitate to protect and defend our vital national interests in Alaska.”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Alaska’s other Republican senator, said the classified briefing on the warships that passed through U.S. waters in the Aleutian Islands was very detailed.

“This is a stark reminder of Alaska’s proximity to both China and Russia, as well as the essential role our state plays in our national defense and territorial sovereignty,” she said. “Incursions like this are why we are working so hard to secure funding and resources to expand our military’s capacity and capabilities in Alaska, and why our colleagues must join us in supporting those investments.”

Mr. Sullivan said in a television interview that the joint task force was “unprecedented” in size. The warships left waters near Alaska last weekend after spending about two days in the 200-mile U.S. economic zone.

“I think we’re going to see more of this and we need to be ready for it,” he said.

Beijing’s official military publication, PLA Daily, stated in a report Monday that the joint naval patrol was part of annual military cooperation between China and Russia.

The naval operations near Alaska were a response to what the People’s Liberation Army said was increasing “close-in reconnaissance” of China by the U.S. military in the South China Sea and other areas near China.

“If the U.S. and European countries can carry out the so-called ‘freedom of navigation operations’ and close-in reconnaissance in the South China Sea and waters around Russia, why cannot China and Russia navigate freely in the open sea?” the PLA Daily asked.

The Chinese Communist Party-affiliated Global Times reported that the United States should expect more of those types of naval operations in the future.

“In the future, the Chinese Navy could conduct more far sea patrols like this, either alone or together with other countries. The Americans should get used to it,” retired Chinese Air Force officer Fu Qianshao told the Global Times.

Adm. John Aquilino, commander of the Indo-Pacific Command, said last month that the joint Chinese-Russian naval patrol was being watched closely and could end near the Aleutians.

The four-star admiral said both nations’ “exercises have increased, their operations have increased. I only see the cooperation getting stronger, and, boy, that’s concerning. That’s a dangerous world.”

Admiral: Taiwan war will be Xi’s downfall
The United States needs to use all forms of influence to prevent China from going to war over Taiwan, according to the admiral who until recently headed the Office of Naval Intelligence.

Rear Adm. Mike Studeman, who will retire from the Navy at the end of the month, said in an appearance at the Hudson Institute this week that a conflict over Taiwan also would lead to the end of President Xi Jinping‘s rule in China.

“I agree that we need to be looking at all forms of influence that will prevent a combat environment or a crisis that will in fact be devastating for the globe, not just for China, not just for Xi Jinping,” Adm. Studeman said.

If Mr. Xi “tries to go after Taiwan, ultimately what will ensue will lead to the downfall of the chairman and the [Chinese Communist] Party secretary,” he said. “And I think he underestimates this.”

Mr. Xi has declared that Taiwan must be taken by China by 2049 to achieve a rejuvenation of the nation. “He has unilaterally set out to change the status quo and has started to build a capability to do that,” Adm. Studeman said.

Adm. Studeman said that based on an analysis of the correlation of forces between China and the U.S. and its allies, there would be no real winner in a Taiwan Strait war. Clear thinking and correct evaluation of forces and goals are needed to prevent a war, he said.

The war could be set off by some type of miscalculation that would then spiral into higher levels of military conflict and would be “catastrophic,” he said.

Preventing a war with China requires strong military capabilities, and the Pentagon is building long-range strike weapons that will allow the U.S. to win the conflict, he said.

American forces also require information power to help shape the environment.

“You don’t stop your adversary from doing something,” Adm. Studeman said. “You want to shape it so they don’t take the most extreme action.”

The military has set up “red lines” that if crossed will require flowing forces to the western Pacific.

China‘s actions have been the most destabilizing element of the current environment, he said. “Everybody’s concerned,” Adm. Studeman said. “Everybody west of the international dateline is highly attuned to assuring that China doesn’t miscalculate.”

China has been conducting provocative military operations around Taiwan that analysts say appear to be preparations or practice for a future attack.

Administration hit for weakness on missile defense
The U.S. military needs to shift its sensor networks used to detect enemy missiles from land to space to counter growing threats posed by hypersonic missiles and advanced cruise missiles, according to a new think tank report.

The Biden administration, however, has failed to aggressively bolster missile defenses against these new threats, according to a report made public this week by the National Institute for Public Policy.

“There is a growing warfighter requirement for integrated space sensors, not simply to meet the newest missile and space threats but also to replace increasingly obsolete terrestrial sensors,” the report states.

The report, “Space Sensors and Missile Defense,” was written by space and missile defense expert Steve Lambakis.

The report notes the progress in fielding missile defenses against attacks by lesser powers such as North Korea and against regional missile threats to American forces and allies. But new hypersonic missiles fielded by both China and Russia are capable of evading both missile defense sensors, largely located on the ground, that are the key element in countering them.

Missile defenses can deter attacks, provide options in a crisis, and provide some protection if deterring a conflict fails.

“Against increasingly diverse threats, the effectiveness of the U.S. missile defense system will hinge on the agility, persistence and precision of its sensors — especially the space-based sensors that allow the system to reach its highest performance capacity,” the report concludes.

Statements by Pentagon policy officials suggest the administration supports better missile defenses.

“Yet it is not clear that the Biden administration is committed to the advancement of the nation’s missile defense capability, let alone the full deployment of missile tracking sensors in space,” the report said.

The Pentagon‘s 2022 Missile Defense Review was published as a section of the National Defense Strategy rather than a separate report. It called for placing “less emphasis” on missile defenses, the report said.

Instead, strategic nuclear and conventional retaliatory capabilities, passive defenses, and a strategy called “missile defeat” — destroying missiles before launch — are given major attention in the strategy.

Advocacy for missile defenses by the administration is “underwhelming,” the report said.

Instead, the review relies heavily on non-missile defense elements for defending against missile attacks.

“It offers no vision for enhancing missile defense, either through system or technology investments or consideration of different basing modes — moving some missile-defense capabilities to space, for example,” the report said.

Current advanced sensors in development include the Missile Defense Agency’s Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor satellites and the Space Force system called Tranche missile-tracking satellites.

The administration is also intensely focused on space arms control that defense officials say is being used politically by both China and Russia to limit U.S. space capabilities.

“The arguments for space arms control could unduly restrain important sensor developments, particularly since those sensors could be used to help improve space domain awareness and execute counterspace operations,” the report said.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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