In one of the most candid assessments by any senior U.S. government official in years, Mr. Shanahan identified Beijing’s aggressive military buildup, systematic theft of technology, subversion of the rules-based international order and coercive global activities as key worries.
Over the past 20 years, Chinese military spending grew from $20 billion annually to $170 billion in 2018 with actual spending even higher. The levels are approaching those of the United States, he said.
“Accounting for purchasing power and the significant portion of our military budget going to pay and benefits, today, China’s defense spending approaches that of the United States,” he said in prepared testimony.
The Chinese military is investing in asymmetric weapons, more lethal forces and new strategic capabilities, such as hypersonic missiles.
“If deployed to overwhelm U.S. or allied combat power at initial stages of a conflict, these capabilities could seek to achieve a ‘fait accompli’ that would make reversing Chinese gains more difficult, militarily and politically,” Mr. Shanahan said in testimony to the House Appropriations defense subcommittee. The hearing focused on the Pentagon’s $750 billion budget request for fiscal 2020.
China has conducted numerous tests of a hypersonic glide vehicle known as the DF-ZF and also is building space-warfare forces and has extensive cyberattack capabilities.
China’s technology theft for military gain is “staggering,” the acting defense chief said, noting that “every Chinese company is at risk of being either a witting or unwitting accomplice in China’s state-sponsored theft of other nations’ military and civilian technology.”
For example, China’s cybersecurity law requires private companies to provide technical support and assistance to security organ. “Any U.S. or allied company that works with Chinese companies, without proper safeguards, thus opens itself to theft as well,” he said.
China’s telecommunications giant Huawei Technologies, under federal indictment in the United States, was cited as a key example.
“Huawei exemplifies the Chinese Communist Party’s systemic, organized and state-driven approach to achieve global leadership in advanced technology,” Mr. Shanahan said. “With initiatives like the Digital Silk Road, Made in China 2025, and Thousand Talents Program in play, which spur companies and individuals to carry out its bidding, China aims to steal its way to a China-controlled global technological infrastructure, including a 5G network.”
Globally, China is seeking to increase the reach of its overt military and coercive activities, including in the South China Sea. “Between 2013 and 2018, China increased its air and sea incursions into the [South China Sea] twelvefold,” he said. “Within those five years, it also increased deployments of offensive and defensive weapons systems to the SCS by the same order of magnitude.”
China also is interfering with freedom of navigation, the Pentagon chief contended. “China habitually threatens this freedom, using both conventional military force projection and ‘gray zone’ or irregular warfare activities,” Mr. Shanahan said.
The near collision between the warship USS Decatur and a Chinese warship near the Spratly Islands was one incident.
China has unfairly tilted the playing field in its favor, and that has serious implications for the U.S. military advantage.
The Pentagon is working to outpace Chinese military modernization to deter conflict or to win decisively should conflict occur, as well as protecting U.S. and allied advanced technology from Chinese theft. The American military also will keep the Indo-Pacific region free and open through alliances and partnerships.
GENERALS: MORE F-35 FUNDING
A group of 128 generals and admirals wrote to Congress this week to urge appropriators to increase funding for the F-35 jet fighter, the sole fifth-generation aircraft in production.
“With China and Russia aggressively ramping up efforts to improve and modernize weapons, maintaining air superiority is essential to countering emerging threats both at home and abroad,” the generals stated in a “100-star” letter to House and Senate defense committee leaders. “Maintaining a competitive edge in the skies means our military must advance both capacity and capability of our fighter force with continued procurement of the world’s most advanced fighter, the F-35 Lightning II.”
Such letters by former military leaders often reflect the ideas and thinking of active-duty leaders who are limited in lobbying for defense programs.
Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Dave Deptula, who was among the signers, said the letter shows that a large number of experienced military leaders offered a common-sense assessment.
“In the Air Force, we currently have a mix of about 82% fourth-generation fighters and only 18% fifth-generation fighters,” Gen. Deptula told Inside the Ring. “To succeed against the top priorities of the national defense strategy, we need more fifth-generation fighters — F-35s. We don’t need to add to the 82% side of the equation with new old fourth-generation fighters, like the F-15EX.”
The F-35, the world’s most expensive jet at a cost of $94 million to $122 million apiece, has the cutting-edge technologies that will ensure air power superiority over states like China and Russia. The fiscal 2020 Pentagon funding request seeks money for just 78 F-35s, even though Congress appropriated funding for 93 aircraft last year.
The generals also urged Congress not to take money from F-35s in order to buy older, fourth-generation fighters that they said have “little operational relevance in a near-peer conflict.”
“Winning in the modern battle space requires stealth, advanced sensing capability, coalition interoperability, cybersecurity and ability to connect in a multidomain conflict,” the general stated. “The F-35 delivers on all these capabilities above and beyond any other fighter in the U.S. inventory or around the globe. It is the most advanced multi-role fighter — delivering unmatched lethality, survivability and connectivity.”
Limiting funding to 78 F-35s would produce a “capability gap” that older jets cannot meet.
Instead, the generals urged authorizing and funding 60 F-35As — the Air Force version, along with 22 F-35Bs, the vertical takeoff and landing version for the Marine Corps; and 20 F-35Cs, used by the Navy. Those figures represent a total buy of 102 jets and increase of 24 aircraft over the Pentagon budget request.
“This increase will reestablish the original F-35 production rates that in the past years have been tamped by sequestration era budget caps resulting from the Budget Control Act,” the general said. “The U.S. must start buying the F-35s in larger quantities to reach the minimum 50% of fifth-generation fighters in the time frame required to meet the emerging global threat.”
According to the letter, Marine pilots have been using F-35s for successful strikes in Afghanistan, and the Air Force logged a 28-1 kill ratio during the Red Flag exercise in Nevada. Navy F-35s were recently declared to be in the initial operational capability status.
“Our three U.S. services and numerous [allies] are now flying more than 380 aircraft at 17 locations around the world,” the general said. “To maintain air dominance and further decrease F-35 costs, it is vitally important that we continue to increase our nation’s only fifth generation stealth aircraft in production.”
Among the signers were four Air Force chiefs of staff: retired Gens. T. Michael Moseley, Michael Ryan, John Jumper and Merrill McPeak. Retired Adm. Thomas Haward former chief of naval operations, and retired Gen. James Amos, former Marine Corps commandant, also signed.
Most signers were Air Force and Marine Corps generals.
• Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @BillGertz.
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