Defense Secretary Austin to Meet with Red Hill Team in Hawaii

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin will travel to Hawaii to meet with Indo-Pacific partners and get an update on the effort to defuel the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility, a Pentagon spokesman announced Tuesday. While in Hawaii, Austin will visit with Rear Adm. John Wade, who the defense secretary tapped this month to serve […]

A firefighter, attached to Federal Fire Department Hawaii, conducts environmental testing during a spill response exercise at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility on Sept. 22, 2022. US Navy Photo

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin will travel to Hawaii to meet with Indo-Pacific partners and get an update on the effort to defuel the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility, a Pentagon spokesman announced Tuesday.

While in Hawaii, Austin will visit with Rear Adm. John Wade, who the defense secretary tapped this month to serve as the commander of the Joint Task Force – Red Hill, and tour the fuel depot. Austin expects to get updates on the defueling process, Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, Pentagon press secretary, said during a Tuesday briefing. This is the secretary’s first visit to Red Hill since the leak.

“And so this will be the opportunity for [Austin] to provide his secretary’s intent, so to speak, firsthand and get a chance to talk with the task force leadership team,” Ryder said.

Austin leaves Wednesday for his trip, first stopping in California to visit Naval Base Point Loma and Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, where he will meet with sailors and Marines, according to a Monday Defense Department news release.

Red Hill’s defueling, which comes as a result of a November 2021 leak that contaminated water, is one of Austin’s top priorities for the DoD, Ryder said.

Rear Adm. John Wade in 2018. US Navy Photo

Wade, who previously served as the director of operations for U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, is responsible for working with the community, Environmental Protection Agency and the Hawaii Department of Health as he oversees the Red Hill task force, USNI News previously reported.

Austin’s meeting with Wade will be the first one between the two officials since the admiral assumed command of the task force. Outside of the meeting, Wade will typically report to Indo-Pacific Command commander Adm. John Aquilino.

The Navy is currently in the process of defueling the Red Hill fuel facility, which is expected to take until July 2024. In a defueling plan update submitted earlier this month, the Navy decreased the timeline by six months from the original proposal.

The Department of Hawaii previously rejected the original plan due to a lack of specificity. The Navy must submit a closure plan for Red Hill by Nov. 1 to the Hawaii Health Department.

The Navy is expected to start defueling Red Hill pipes with fuel currently in them in October. There are about 220,000 gallons of fuel in one, 170,000 gallons in a second and 690,000 gallons in a third line, equal to about 1.08 million gallons of fuel in total.

Last week the Navy, with onlookers from the Hawaii Health Department and the EPA, conducted an exercise for handling any potential fuel spills while defueling the pipes.

“Demonstrating that our personnel have the ability to quickly and appropriately respond to a release or spill at Red Hill is crucial in our continued effort to safely and expeditiously defuel the facility,” Rear Adm. Stephen Barnett, the commander of Navy Region Hawaii, said in a Navy news release. “We remain committed to working closely with our partners in the Department of Health and Environmental Protection Agency to protect our community and our aquifer.”

SECDEF Austin Names Rear Adm. John Wade to Lead Red Hill Task Force

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin named Rear Adm. John Wade as the commander of the Joint Task Force – Red Hill, according to a Monday statement from Austin. Wade is currently the director of operations, J3, for U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, a role he’s had since October 2020. As the commander of the task force, which […]

Rear Adm. John Wade, commander, Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center (SMWDC), delivers remarks in 2017. US Navy Photo

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin named Rear Adm. John Wade as the commander of the Joint Task Force – Red Hill, according to a Monday statement from Austin.

Wade is currently the director of operations, J3, for U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, a role he’s had since October 2020. As the commander of the task force, which was set up to oversee the defeuling of the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility, Wade will be responsible for working with the Environmental Protection Agency, the community and the Hawaii Health Department, according to Austin’s statement.

The Hawaii Department of Health has been vocal about its displeasure with the Department of Defense since the Red Hill fuel leak in November, which contaminated drinking water. Earlier this summer, the health department rejected the DoD’s plan for defueling the facility, saying it was not detailed enough. In turn, the DoD submitted an update to its plan, shortening the timeline by six months.

“The Department of Defense and the United States Navy remain focused on the health and safety of our military families and the people of Hawaii, and I have confidence that RADM Wade will continue to do everything to protect the population, the environment, and the security of the nation,” Austin said in his statement.

Wade will report to Indo-Pacific Command commander Adm. John Aquilino, who will in turn report to Austin, according to a news release from the combatant command.

Report to Congress on U.S. Ground Forces in the Indo-Pacific

The following is the Aug. 30, 2022 Congressional Research Service report, U.S. Ground Forces in the Indo-Pacific: Background and Issues for Congress. From the report Since the end of the Second World War in 1945, the U.S. military has maintained a significant and enduring presence in the Indo-Pacific region. In the past, the United States’ […]

The following is the Aug. 30, 2022 Congressional Research Service report, U.S. Ground Forces in the Indo-Pacific: Background and Issues for Congress.

From the report

Since the end of the Second World War in 1945, the U.S. military has maintained a significant and enduring presence in the Indo-Pacific region. In the past, the United States’ strategic approach to the region has varied greatly. From September 11, 2001, until almost the next decade, strategic emphasis was placed largely on global counterterrorism, primarily focused on U.S. Central Command’s (USCENTCOM’s) and later U.S. Africa Command’s (USAFRICOM’s) areas of operation. Starting around 2004, the George W. Bush Administration began to consider strengthening relations with allies in Asia and potentially revising U.S. doctrine and force posture in the region to improve U.S. capabilities.

In 2011, the Obama Administration announced the United States would expand and strengthen its existing role in the Asia-Pacific region. Referred to as the “Rebalance to Asia,” this strategic shift away from counterterrorism was intended to devote more effort to influencing the development of the Asia-Pacific’s norms and rules, particularly as China was emerging as an ever-more influential regional power.

While many view the Indo-Pacific as primarily a Navy- and Air Force-centric region, the Army and Marine Corps have a long and consequential presence in the region and are modifying their operational concepts, force structure, and weapon systems to address regional threats posed primarily by North Korea and China. The Army and Marines each play a critical role in the region, not only in the event of conflict but also in deterrence, security force assistance, and humanitarian assistance operations.

Congress continues to play an active and essential role in Indo-Pacific security matters. The Pacific Deterrence Initiative (PDI), created by the FY2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA; P.L. 116-283, §1251) is just one example of congressional involvement in regional security efforts. The February 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine and its present and future implications for European and Indo-Pacific security will likely increase both congressional interest and action in the near term and for the foreseeable future.

Potential issues for Congress include:

  • the role of U.S. ground forces in the Indo-Pacific region,
  • the posture of U.S. ground forces in the Indo-Pacific region,
  • U.S. ground forces execution of regional wartime missions, and
  • the potential impact of the Ukrainian conflict on U.S. ground forces in the Indo-Pacific region.

Download the document here.

Report to Congress on U.S. Ground Forces in the Indo-Pacific

The following is the May 6, 2022 Congressional Research Service report, U.S. Ground Forces in the Indo-Pacific: Background and Issues for Congress. From the report Since the end of the Second World War in 1945, the U.S. military has maintained a significant and enduring presence in the Indo-Pacific region. In the past, the United States’ […]

The following is the May 6, 2022 Congressional Research Service report, U.S. Ground Forces in the Indo-Pacific: Background and Issues for Congress.

From the report

Since the end of the Second World War in 1945, the U.S. military has maintained a significant and enduring presence in the Indo-Pacific region. In the past, the United States’ strategic approach to the region has varied greatly. From September 11, 2001, until almost the next decade, strategic emphasis was placed largely on global counterterrorism, primarily focused on U.S. Central Command’s (USCENTCOM’s) and later U.S. Africa Command’s (USAFRICOM’s) areas of operation. Starting around 2004, the George W. Bush Administration began to consider strengthening relations with allies in Asia and potentially revising U.S. doctrine and force posture in the region to improve U.S. capabilities.

In 2011, the Obama Administration announced the United States would expand and strengthen its existing role in the Asia-Pacific region. Referred to as the “Rebalance to Asia,” this strategic shift away from counterterrorism was intended to devote more effort to influencing the development of the Asia-Pacific’s norms and rules, particularly as China was emerging as an ever-more influential regional power.

While many view the Indo-Pacific as primarily a Navy- and Air Force-centric region, the Army and Marine Corps have a long and consequential presence in the region and are modifying their operational concepts, force structure, and weapon systems to address regional threats posed primarily by North Korea and China. The Army and Marines each play a critical role in the region, not only in the event of conflict but also in deterrence, security force assistance, and humanitarian assistance operations.

Congress continues to play an active and essential role in Indo-Pacific security matters. The Pacific Deterrence Initiative (PDI), created by the FY2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA; P.L. 116-283, §1251) is just one example of congressional involvement in regional security efforts. The February 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine and its present and future implications for European and Indo-Pacific security will likely increase both congressional interest and action in the near term and for the foreseeable future.

Potential issues for Congress include:

  • the role of U.S. ground forces in the Indo-Pacific region,
  • the posture of U.S. ground forces in the Indo-Pacific region,
  • U.S. ground forces execution of regional wartime missions, and
  • the potential impact of the Ukrainian conflict on U.S. ground forces in the Indo-Pacific region.

Download the document here.

South Korea, U.S. Bond To Tighten Following Recent Election Says U.S. Commander

The top commander in Korea saw encouraging signs for the with U.S. alliance with the election of conservative candidate Yoon Suk-yeol as the nation’s president in the most hotly contested race in Seoul’s history as a democracy. “It seems very promising,” Army Gen. Paul LaCamera said when asked if he expected any changes to the […]

U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Jay M. Bargeron, left, 3d Marine Division commanding general, salutes Lt. Gen. Kim Tae-sung, right, Commandant of the Republic of Korea Marine Corps during a visit to Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Mar. 1, 2022. US Marine Corps Photo

The top commander in Korea saw encouraging signs for the with U.S. alliance with the election of conservative candidate Yoon Suk-yeol as the nation’s president in the most hotly contested race in Seoul’s history as a democracy.

“It seems very promising,” Army Gen. Paul LaCamera said when asked if he expected any changes to the U.S.-South Korea relationship under the new South Korean government. “We’ll have to figure out, see what it looks like in execution.”

“Yoon talks about security as his top priority,” he added.

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday, LaCamera said, “we’ll reach out to his transition team” now as Yoon, Korea’s former top prosecutor, prepares to take over as president in May.

“We look forward to working with his administration to strengthen the U.S.-ROK alliance and take on regional challenges,” LaCamera said.

During the campaign, Yoon consistently criticized President Moon Jae-in for his conciliatory approach to North Korea and China. Yoon called for “strategic clarity” when it comes to enforcing sanctions on Pyongyang for its nuclear and missile programs and in Seoul’s relations with Beijing.

He was quoted during the presidential race as saying, “peace is meaningless unless it is backed by power.”

Testifying beside LaCamera at the hearing, Adm. John Aquilino, commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, said, “the alliance with South Korea is the linchpin” of all others in the Indo-Pacific.

When asked about the resumption of large-scale military exercises with the South Koreans, LaCamera said “my preference is to do as much training as possible at all echelons.”

U.S. Army Gen. Paul J. LaCamera, the Commander of United Nations Command, Combined Forces Command, U.S. Forces Korea, talks with U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Gen. H. Stacy Clardy, III, the III Marine Expeditionary Force Commanding General and Maj. Gen. Bradley S. James, the U.S. Marine Corps Forces Korea Commander, during an outcall at the USFK Headquarters, South Korea, Oct. 26, 2021. US Marine Corps Photo

Former President Donald Trump suspended major combined exercises after his 2018 meeting in Singapore with Kim Jong-un in an effort to speed negotiations on denuclearizing the Korean peninsula and curbing the North Korean’s missile programs.

The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021 complicated resumption on large-scale exercises.

Ballistic missile defense is at the top of the priorities list for the command, LaCamera said told the House Armed Services Committee Wednesday. Following close behind is ensuring that intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets are placed properly to meet changing threats from Pyongyang.

LaCamera said, “we have to make sure we get after the kill web” rather than trading “arrows for arrows” in the event of a missile attack from North Korea.

In part, he was referring to missile defense systems like Patriot and Theater High-Altitude Area Defense [THAAD] already in place in the Republic of Korea.

LaCamera said North Korean leader Kim’s goal in escalating missile tests as recently as Saturday and threatening to resume nuclear weapons testing “is protecting his position in the world.”

Included in the nine tests this year were two involving hypersonic glide vehicles and on intermediate range ballistic missile.

“The threat is real,” LaCamera said.

The challenge in Korea for the United States, he told the House panel, is Seoul “will tell you their economic partner is China; their security partner is the United States.”

The example he used was the split in South Korean public opinion over deploying the THAAD system and angering China.

This stance was the “strategic ambiguity” that Yoon pledged to end.

While his conservative People Power Party holds the presidency for the next five years, Moon’s Democratic Party retains control of the National Assembly.

Hill Closer to an FY 22 Budget Deal as Navy Warns Against More CRs; White House Sets Pentagon FY 23 Topline at More than $770B

This post has been updated to correct the status of the latest Continuing Resolution proposal. The third CR for FY22 passed the House last week and is awaiting approval from the Senate. SAN DIEGO, CALIF., – Congressional appropriators are closer to cementing a deal that would finalize the belated Fiscal Year 2022 defense budget, three […]

NASA Photo

This post has been updated to correct the status of the latest Continuing Resolution proposal. The third CR for FY22 passed the House last week and is awaiting approval from the Senate.

SAN DIEGO, CALIF., – Congressional appropriators are closer to cementing a deal that would finalize the belated Fiscal Year 2022 defense budget, three legislative sources confirmed to USNI News on Wednesday.

The sources said the deal for the Department of Defense FY 2022 appropriations bill would be in line with the $768 billion FY 2022 authorization bill signed by President Joe Biden in late December. The FY 2022 spending bill would be about $25 to 30 billion more than the initial request for funds from the White House, the sources told USNI News.

Passage of the bill lingering in conference hinged on balancing a flat defense outlay with a marked increase in domestic spending. A small group of lawmakers had stalled negotiations over the DoD spending bill, prompting two patchwork continuing resolutions, according to legislative sources. The third FY22 CR proposal, passed last week by the House, extends federal government spending until March 11 and is awaiting approval from the Senate. The current CR expires on Friday.

The compromise comes as relations between Russia, China and the U.S. continue to deteriorate as a result of the build-up of Russian troops on the border of Ukraine and mounting Chinese air and naval operations in the Western Pacific in the last several weeks.

Service officials in recent weeks have voiced concern over the potential for a one-year continuing resolution, as lawmakers struggled to reach a spending deal.

Chief of Naval Operations Mike Gilday speaking on Jan. 11, 2022 from his office in the Pentagon. US Navy Photo

“Budgets are on my mind everyday,” Chief of Naval Operations Mike Gilday told reporters on a Wednesday press call.
“I still believe we’re in a critical decade and the Navy is dependent upon stable and predictable funding, funding that supports the military strategy, and our Navy’s navigation plan.”

During a Wednesday panel at the WEST 2022 conference, budget officials for the sea services reiterated concerns over CRs and the effect the stop-gap bills have on readiness and the industrial base.

Rear Adm. John Gumbleton, the Navy’s deputy assistant secretary for budget, said it’s “tactically a very challenging time” right now for the service, as it answers questions for the Fiscal Year 2022 conference bills, while also trying to wrap up the FY 2023 budget submission.

“A year-long CR would be – catastrophic is not too strong a term to use. It truly would be. within our personnel accounts and – it would be a challenge to make payroll,” Gumbleton said.

“Here we are in month five, and so we’ve learned to be good at bad behavior, right. We have spent the last decade of deferring contracts to Q2, and now we’re actually – we are adjusting and evolving to say, ‘actually, let’s move these to Q3 now,’” he added.

Under the CR, Gumbleton said the service is currently trying to find dollars in its weapons procurement account to award one of several weapons contracts the Navy had planned for in the second quarter of FY 2022.

Asked if the potential for a conflict with China in the Indo-Pacific is helping them convince the Pentagon to change the balance of the budget – which is typically split evenly between the Army, Navy and Marine Corps – Gumbleton and his Marine Corps counterpart said the thinking is slowly changing.

“You know, if you can read a map and read a newspaper, the military decisions in a higher-end fight will be decided on, above and below the ocean, influenced heavily from the littorals. So, a 30-30-30-10 construct by tradition of budgeting simply doesn’t square with what I consider a military now,” said Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Christopher Mahoney, the deputy commandant for programs and resources. “Now is there a shift? I think there is, not only from across the river and an understanding that we want it to be an away game. We don’t want it to be a home game and that away game will be led by the naval force.”

Gumbleton described the shift as “moving glacially.”

USS Fort Worth (LCS-3) pier-side at Naval Station San Diego, Calif., on Feb. 15, 2022. USNI News Photo

“It’s inherently a political question both internal to the Pentagon and external to the Pentagon. So I think we’re starting to see slight movement, but measured in millions … not billions,” he said. “So I would say we’re moving glacially.”

Meanwhile, the Pentagon is crafting a last-minute budget proposal for FY 2023 that will top $770 billion – a significant leap from the Fiscal Year 2022, USNI News has learned.

A source familiar with the White House budget deliberations told USNI News that the total topline for the Department of Defense would be $773 billion. Reuters first reported the topline would go above $770 billion.

Pentagon spokesman Capt. Mike Kafka would not comment on preliminary budget work and referred USNI News to the Office of Management And Budget. OMB did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

For the Navy, the extra funds could affect proposals for the service to continue a campaign of retiring ships before the end of their expected service lives. The service shed the first two Littoral Combat Ships and proposed decommissioning a significant portion of its guided-missile cruiser fleet. Several defense officials have told USNI News that the Navy had considered shelving some, if not all, of the Freedom-class LCS and the oldest Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers to keep up readiness of the current fleet and invest in new capabilities like hypersonic weapons and unmanned systems. However, the increased topline for the Pentagon gives the Navy more resources to preserve force structure while still pursuing new capabilities.

“You have to be a realist with respect, with respect to budgets,” Gilday said.
“We’re in a foot race with China and we need to move fast, we need to build capacity fast, we need to build capability, mature capability fast.”

SECARMY Wormuth Pitches Army’s Next Role in the Western Pacific

The Army wants to shift its posture in the Western Pacific from a heavy concentration in the Korean peninsula to a more dispersed force throughout the theater, without stationing more soldiers in the Indo-Pacific, Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said Wednesday. “We want to be flexible” in meeting the challenges from China from the Himalayas to the East […]

Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth visits the Army’s current largest housing investment with USAREUR-AF Commander Gen. Christopher Cavoli, SETAF-AF Commander Maj. Gen. Andrew Rohling, and USAG Italy Commander Col. Matthew Gomlak in Vicenza, Italy Oct. 29, 2021. US Army Photo

The Army wants to shift its posture in the Western Pacific from a heavy concentration in the Korean peninsula to a more dispersed force throughout the theater, without stationing more soldiers in the Indo-Pacific, Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said Wednesday.

“We want to be flexible” in meeting the challenges from China from the Himalayas to the East and South China seas with the just over 100,000 soldiers in the region, she said in an online Center for Strategic and International Studies forum.

Among the challenges in the region: “Japan is worried about the Senkakus [islands Beijing claims it owns]; “China’s very aggressive actions to Taiwan” and the danger of “miscalculation in the South China Sea” in Beijing’s territorial disputes with nations there.

Wormuth highlighted the Army’s on-the-ground relationships with allies in building interoperability and adding capabilities to their security, the service’s role in providing air and missile defense and delivering necessary supplies to widely dispersed forces.

The Army also provides a Quick Reaction Force to a combatant commander to respond to a crisis.

A key player in this role of building closer relationships with allies and partners is the Army’s sustainment brigades, designed to better handle the flow of necessary supplies into a theater, she said.

Wormuth said that in many Indo-Pacific nations their armies are the senior service and training with them in cyber, space and long-range fires operations were important for future regional security.

In answer to a follow-up question on the Army’s role in a potential regional conflict, Wormuth said the service would play an “enabling role air and maritime forces.” As an example of this, she added, “there has to be a way to distribute fuel … and provide command and control,” network security, as well as air and missile defense to spread out forces over huge distances and the Army does that.

Offensively, the Army would be providing precision long-range fires and hypersonic missiles, as well as ground combat forces, Wormuth said. This included the service’s ability to counterattack if the United States homeland was attacked.

She added that stationing these weapons in the first island chain off the Chinese coast would depend on negotiations with allies over deployment on their territory.

On tensions with China over the future of Taiwan, she said the most important thing is “we work collectively to deter war.”

When asked about the Army’s support to India in its ongoing border dispute with China, she said it is providing cold weather gear and sleeping bags immediately. “We are providing some protective support … when they have asked for it.” Wormuth added that past agreements with New Delhi included the sale of Apache AH-64 attack helicopters and Chinook CH-47 heavy lift helicopters.

“We will look for opportunities to cooperate with India” in the future, Wormuth said.

Looking to the future of integrated deterrence, “we [in the Army] have developed a concept of multi-domain operations,” which she said the service is now turning into doctrine for operations.

The recently concluded Project Convergence 2021 exercise in the Arizona desert provided all services the opportunity to test high-speed connectivity over a spread-out battlefield, Wormuth said. She said this year the exercise experimented with 100 new technologies, specifically looking at operations to counter Anti Access/Area Denial defenses.

One facet of China’s modernization efforts for the past 20 years, Wormuth said, was to counter the United States’ ability to project power as it did in the two Gulf wars and Afghanistan. Among the steps Beijing has taken is the development of hypersonic missiles capable of circling the globe and long-range anti-ship missiles, in addition to fielding the largest navy in the world and the largest air force in the Indo-Pacific.

Wormuth said the Pentagon wants to “avoid this second Cold War framing” in designating China as a “pacing competitor.”

“We need to have channels of communications with the Chinese government,” she said.

Guam Needs SM-6 Missile for Hypersonic Defense, Navy Admiral Says

Guam “would absolutely need” the Navy’s SM-6 missile for its defense against a hypersonic missile attack, the program executive for Aegis ballistic missile defense said Thursday. Rear Adm. Tom Druggan called the SM-6 “our leading defense capability for hypersonic missile defense.” It is “a fantastic missile, just absolutely great missile” because of its versatility. Speaking […]

Launch of a SM-6. US Navy Photo

Guam “would absolutely need” the Navy’s SM-6 missile for its defense against a hypersonic missile attack, the program executive for Aegis ballistic missile defense said Thursday.

Rear Adm. Tom Druggan called the SM-6 “our leading defense capability for hypersonic missile defense.” It is “a fantastic missile, just absolutely great missile” because of its versatility.

Speaking at the United States Naval Institute’s maritime security series at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, he added that “we really need HMD [hypersonic missile defense]” for Guam.

Druggan was speaking days after Russia successfully destroyed one of its older satellites in a missile test, scattering more than 1,500 articles of debris in space. Meanwhile, China over the summer performed a hypersonic missile test that U.S. defense officials have recently described as concerning.

Although he would not detail his recommendations to Congress on Guam, Druggan said one question that needs to be answered is whether it is worthwhile to have a “multi-mission ship [like an Aegis destroyer] tethered” to the island. This would be similar to what the Navy does from Rota, Spain, in providing European defense.

Druggan, whose current post is at the Missile Defense Agency, explained that having one ship assigned to the missile defense mission actually meant having at least two others on schedule to replace it when it comes off station for necessary maintenance. This has an impact on overall Navy operations because the Aegis destroyers can be assigned to a host of missions other than missile defense.

In terms of manpower, Druggan said that if three destroyers were involved in meeting the ballistic missile requirement, then that would involve about 900 sailors. If it were Aegis Ashore on a rotational basis, he said that would require about 100 sailors to meet the mission.

Former U.S. Indo-Pacific Command chief Adm. Phil Davidson earlier this year said building Aegis Ashore on Guam would “free up” three Navy destroyers for other tasking.

“The Guam defense system brings the same ability to protect Guam and the system itself as the three DDGs it would otherwise take to carry out the mission,” Davidson said at the time. “We need to free up those guided-missile destroyers, who have multi-mission capability to detect threats and finish threats under the sea, on the sea and above the sea, so that they can move with a mobile and maneuverable naval forces that they were designed to protect and provide their ballistic missile defense.”

Other questions remain over what kind of missile defense is needed for Guam, with its large air base and naval facilities, in terms of denying North Korea, deterring China and denying China.

“With each one of those [threats], you come up with a different set of options,” Druggan said.

Among the options under consideration, Druggan said “Aegis is an acceptable alternative” because it addresses ballistic, cruise and hypersonic missile threats. It’s also integrated with other air defense systems and networked with sensors globally and in space.

“We’re doing it 360 degrees; we do it reliably with the right level of firepower; we’re doing it at the network level” at sea and on land, he said.

He called it a “robust capability.”

Another “rich and valid discussion to have” is “where would we put launchers” for cruise missile defense, for instance. He asked rhetorically whether a naval missile designed for cruise defense over water is optimal for defense over an island like Guam, or should it be an Army system that can operate over land and some water.

Other considerations specifically for Guam include should Aegis Ashore get installed, whether its configuration with a single deck house containing all capabilities – like what is now operating in Romania and under construction in Poland – would be survivable in an all-out attack.

The threats in Europe that Aegis Ashore is defending against are coming from Iran, particularly. Druggan noted the systems there are not designed to counter Russia’s missile arsenal.

Posing the follow-up question to himself, Druggan asked “do you want to disperse it or do you [want] it mobile?”

When asked about progress on Aegis Ashore in Poland, he said the project is “behind schedule,” but has “good momentum now.”

“We’re not going to wait” until construction is complete before setting up and testing systems as was done in Poland, Druggan said. “We’re working parallel” to the continued building.

In the recent past, the Army Corps of Engineers overseeing the project said it withheld payment to the Polish contractors unless they brought the work back on schedule and to budget.

With a history dating back into the 1970s of “build little, test little, learn more,” Druggan sees Aegis as “a perfect place” to introduce machine learning and artificial intelligence into Navy practice. He added that with this experience, sailors to captains on Aegis vessels are culturally comfortable with systems that can operate from manual control to auto special.

But in all cases, accountability rests with the commander and would, in Druggan’s opinion, remain so when operating with artificial intelligence and machine learning. “Warfighters want a vote [on what to do in combat as part of their ethos]. …That’s ground to be plowed,” he said.

He added, “it is the CO who is accountable for any weapon that leaves; and so when we get to AI, we can’t blame the algorithm for the mishap. It’s not in our military ethos, not in our warrior ethos” to believe otherwise.

Sea Services: More Assertive Posture Against China Will Require Presence, Strong Alliances

The U.S. Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard say they need to begin acting more assertively to push back against gray-zone operations China is already conducting today. That means having more forward forces to deter, to document malign behaviors and to support partners as they protect their territory, according to service leaders. The three services […]

USS Chung-Hoon (DDG-93) sails in the South China Sea on May 10, 2019. US Navy Photo

The U.S. Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard say they need to begin acting more assertively to push back against gray-zone operations China is already conducting today. That means having more forward forces to deter, to document malign behaviors and to support partners as they protect their territory, according to service leaders.

The three services released a new strategy today, Advantage at Sea: Prevailing with Integrated All-Domain Naval Power, after 11 months of work determining the best way to push back against Chinese behavior already taking place as well as prepare for greater crisis or conflict should it occur.

“We have to have a force that’s not just focused on that high end, and we have to act in the day to day, because people with adversarial approaches to that freedom of access to the global commons, to that rule of law, are looking to push until there’s resistance. And we haven’t offered that as much in the past,” Rear Adm. James Bynum, the acting deputy chief of naval operations for warfighting development, told USNI News today during a media roundtable on the new document.
“This is a recognition as much as anything that we have to act in the day to day to shape the global environment and maintain that access. I think that’s one of the pieces of, at least, why this is tri-service. It’s because of the partners and the authorities and the capabilities and the things that the Coast Guard can bring in the day to day is key to this.”

Rear Adm. Pat DeQuattro, the Coast Guard deputy for operations, policy and capabilities, said during the call that the Coast Guard has more than 60 bilateral relationships with countries across the globe, and that a key part of their responsibility under the new strategy would be to bolster those relationships and agreements to focus more on the top-tier threats to global security – China, primarily, but also Russia, according to the strategy, as well as Iran, North Korea and transnational crime and terror groups – and how to push against those countries as they try to erode norms and infringe on other countries’ rights and territories.

“We need to be consistent with global rules-based order. And so that we’re not only speaking on behalf of U.S. laws and regulations, but we’re really leading on behalf of the global community as you call out coercive behavior that is against norms. Additionally, to do it in close coordination with our partner nations: we are not the only one in the South China Sea region or in the [U.S. Southern Command] area of responsibility that recognizes and then vocalizes their concerns for that type of behavior,” he said of Chinese violations of fisheries laws and other natural resources.

The launch of the Type 75 big-deck amphib in Shanghai on Sept. 25, 2019. PLAN Photo

Strengthening international agreements to better deal with China could be as simple as bringing in a new partner who hadn’t worked with the U.S. before for a basic search-and-rescue assistance agreement, or it could be growing partnerships into sailing together under a common maritime force commander.

Maj. Gen. Paul Rock, the director of the strategy and plans division at Marine Corps headquarters, said during the call that “when we talk a more assertive competition posture, I think your imagination immediately leads to standing face to face with somebody and daring them to cross a line sort of thing. I think that there’s a lot more depth to the ability to compete on a daily basis, to include building a network and reinforcing a network of capable allies who feel assured that we got their back and they got ours and are willing to expose malign influences and themselves expose what the adversaries might be doing.”

Just today, he said, several global news outlets reported on the fact that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) declined to participate in the virtual Military Maritime Consultative Agreement Work Group and Flag Officer Plenary session with U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, which was scheduled to take place earlier this week. Rock said the MMCA focuses on basic safety in the maritime domain and is not meant to be political; instead, he said, China tied its appearance to several political complains and refused to attend. Calling out this behavior, which INDOPACOM did in a news release, is one way to begin pushing back against not only Chinese behavior but also Chinese information warfare and propaganda.

In other instances, though, simply calling out China isn’t enough, the officers said – with adversaries like China and Russia proving adept at getting out ahead of incidents and spinning the narrative in their favor, the U.S. can’t just say they behaved badly, they need to have proof. That will mean having more advanced sensors – and having them fielded in numbers in strategic locations – to document aggression by Chinese flotillas, or Chinese military auxiliary ships disguised as fishing vessels infringing on territorial waters, or other actions that occur regularly today but go unpunished.

The strategy documents notes, “together with international and whole-of-government efforts, the Naval Service will detect and document our rivals’ actions that violate international law, steal resources, and infringe upon the sovereignty of other nations. We will provide evidence of malign activities to U.S. and international officials to expose this behavior and increase the reputational costs for aggressors. Forward naval forces, leveraging our complementary law-enforcement authorities and military capabilities, will stand ready to disrupt malign activities through assertive operations. Our expanded efforts will refute the false narratives of our rivals and demonstrate the United States’ commitment to protecting the rules-based order.”

Rock told USNI News during the call that “we have recognized as an institution, as a Naval Service, that we have competitors who are heavily invested – in their strategy, their operations, their tactics – in operating in the gray zone, below the level of armed conflict. And we can either cede that ground to them, or we can try to adapt the naval force to be able to compete more effectively – even if that competition is something as simple as exposing their malign behavior through a more capable sensor or platforms or whatnot and show the world what’s going on so folks can see the truth with their own eyes.”

All three officers spoke about the need to be present to make this strategy work, both so they can deter the bad behavior and also so they can support allies and partners as they increasingly stand up to bad actors, too.

Rock acknowledged that prioritizing this work over other demands from combatant commanders is easier said than done, but he said this document lays down a marker that the joint force needs to allow the Naval Service – the collective of the Navy, Marines and Coast Guard – to focus on this day-to-day competition so the United States doesn’t find itself unable to catch up or unable to access strategic maritime locations if tensions were to increase.

Additionally, they spoke about investments to support a force that can compete in gray-zone operations and also win in a fight.

USS Montgomery (LCS-8) conducts routine operations near Panamanian flagged drillship, West Capella, on May 7, 2020 in the South China Sea. US Navy Photo

“Consistent with recent Force Design and Force Structure Assessments, the Naval Service is going to develop capabilities and forces that we will provide to the joint force and fleet commanders to give them the ability to deter adversary aggression, counter gray-zone competition, and win in conflict if deterrence fails,” Rock said.

“You need to look no further than the ongoing Chinese and Russian modernization efforts that focus on overcoming our advantages created by our traditional power projection and forcible entry capabilities for justification as to why we can’t just keep doing what we’ve been doing,” he continued.
“Our adversaries responded to our obvious military advantages and adapted their operational and strategic approaches as well as their anti-access and area-denial capabilities to counter us. The Naval Service must regain and maintain the initiative,” and that includes investments in long-range anti-ship weapons, undersea warfare weapons, unmanned platforms in all domains, increased cyber and electromagnetic spectrum capabilities, and more.

The Marine Corps has been out in front of this effort, earlier this year announcing it would divest of legacy capabilities like tanks and law enforcement battalion capabilities to free up resources for new capabilities and new formations that would be agile and lethal.

Bynum said the Navy would have to “take risk in that near-term operational footprint to buy those resources for investing and developing that future force.”

Ships from the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group and the America Expeditionary Strike Group transit the South China Sea on March 15, 2020. US Navy Photo

“It’s really, where can we take risk or eliminate missions to go after those things that will make that integrated all domain naval power force the one we need for the future?” he said, adding that work was ongoing to identify operational requirements that could be taken away to free up resources to focus on building readiness and lethality for this priority mission under the new strategy.

He reiterated that the strategy will be hard to implement if the Naval Service can’t follow through with increased presence in priority areas.

Part of being more assertive, he said, is attitude; the other part is posture.

“Are we positioned to be where we need to be with the requisite forces with enough training, power and visible presence to deter malign intent?”

It’s unclear how the combatant commanders and the incoming Biden administration will feel about this strategy’s pitch for prioritizing global deployments, but it’s clear that the sea services’ leadership are all in on the plan.

“As sailors, we are on the leading edge of great power competition each and every day. Sea control, power projection and the capability to dominate the oceans must be our primary focus. Our forces must be ready today, and ready tomorrow, to defend our nation’s interests against potential adversaries at any time. This strategy helps us do exactly that,” Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said in a statement today.