Is Our Military Prepared For War?

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Ukraine War Shows the US Military Isn’t Ready for War With China

Providing Kyiv with weapons has depleted the Pentagon’s munitions alarmingly, and defending Taiwan would be far more costly.

“Fools learn by experience,” the very quotable German chancellor Otto von Bismarck once remarked. “Wise men learn from other people’s experience.” It is always better to glean hard lessons from someone else’s war than from one’s own.

Today, the US needs to take a vital lesson from the war in Ukraine — as well as from its own experience, generations ago, in World War II. If America wants to win a potential great-power war with China a few years from now, it had better start rearming far more seriously before the shooting starts.

Historians may one day look back on 2022 as the moment when the free world truly realized that “great-power competition” entails an inherent risk of great-power conflict. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February drove home the threat of autocratic aggression across the democratic world. The crisis that erupted in August, after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan and Beijing responded with its largest show of force in the Western Pacific in a quarter-century, made many US officials fear that the countdown to conflict had started.  

This isn’t some well-kept secret: National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan recently told Bloomberg News that there is a “distinct threat” of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines has characterized that threat as “acute.” In public, the Pentagon now says only that it does not expect an invasion in the next two years.

The impression one gets from conversations around Washington is that many officials believe that a major Chinese use of force against Taiwan — whether an outright invasion or simply a coercive blockade — could come in the next three to five years, once President Xi Jinping is more confident that his fast-modernizing People’s Liberation Army can prevail. Whether the US is ready for the train wreck that so many of its own officials see coming is a different matter.

The Pentagon has been warning for years that China’s military buildup is changing the correlation of forces in East Asia. But the willingness of many legislators, such as Pelosi, to antagonize Beijing for no good strategic purpose shows they do not realize just how alarming the situation has become.

Beijing’s Buildup

China’s military expenditure has historically outpaced economic growth

Source: Bloomberg, Chinese Ministry of Finance, National Bureau of Statistics

Wargames played under fairly favorable conditions indicate that the US might be able to squeak out a victory in a war over Taiwan, albeit at a potentially prohibitive price in manpower and materiel. Wargames played under less favorable conditions typically result in a Chinese victory.

No one really knows what would happen, of course: The war in Ukraine demonstrates that motivation, leadership and other intangibles can make a huge difference. Yet that war also demonstrates that the US might struggle enormously to compensate for losses it suffered early in a conflict with China, and to provide itself — to say nothing of its allies — with the tools of victory.

Modern war is prodigiously costly: It destroys some of the most exquisite, expensive creations modern societies can produce. It consumes epic quantities of missiles, artillery shells and other munitions; it can wreck hard-to-replace planes, tanks and warships in large numbers.

The Ukraine war isn’t a fight between two great powers, but it is a case study in how hard it can be simply to keep fighting in high-intensity conflict: A free-world coalition led by a global superpower has struggled to meet the Kyiv government’s needs without dangerously depleting its own stockpiles.

The US reportedly provided one-third of its overall stockpile of Javelin antitank missiles to Ukraine in the first, most desperate weeks of the fighting. It may take years for Washington and other countries to replenish their armories.

Ukraine, surely aided by US intelligence, has shown an uncanny ability to put High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, and the rockets they fire to devastatingly good use. Yet Kyiv’s requests are increasingly in tension with Washington’s need to assure it has adequate reserves of weapons that figure centrally in its own war plans.

To be sure, there is no better use right now for these weapons than giving them to a fragile democracy that is inflicting an epic beating on a brutal tyranny. The current war, though, is also a flashing red warning signs about how hard it would be to keep US forces supplied if they had to fight a conflict against China.

As Michael Beckley and I write in our new book, “Danger Zone: The Coming Conflict with China,” the opening stages of a US-China war would be shocking in their intensity and destruction. US forces would burn through missiles, torpedoes, precision-guided bombs and other relatively scarce weapons as they tried to stymie a Chinese invasion and break an air and sea blockade of Taiwan.

Losses of ships and planes could be worse than anything the US military has experienced since World War II. According to one recent war game, the US might lose two aircraft carriers and 700 to 900 combat aircraft (nearly half its global inventory). That’s if things go relatively well.

These losses would mount as a conflict dragged on — as any major war between the US and China probably would, since neither side would be keen to concede defeat in a contest for supremacy in the most strategically and economically crucial region of the world.

Wouldn’t a long war favor the US, with its world-leading economy? Americans who think they know the history of World War II might imagine that the answer is surely yes. After all, America won that conflict by putting its economy on a wartime footing and simply outproducing the world. We often forget, though, what World War II-era mobilization really entailed and why it succeeded. This amnesia distorts our understanding of how a Sino-American war would play out today.

World War II was an existential contest in endurance, and the US won by tapping its unrivaled economic and industrial potential. US factories and shipyards produced the aircraft carriers that laid waste to Japanese forces across the Pacific; the vast armadas of aircraft that won air superiority over oceans, battlefields and even the enemies’ homelands; the tanks and trucks that helped win the war on the ground; and the countless cargo ships that carried the means of victory to theaters around the world.

A few basic statistics make the point. By the end of the war, the US had produced nearly 300,000 airplanes, far more than Germany and Japan put together. In 1944, US shipyards produced 2,247 naval vessels, more than every other country in the world combined. American industry didn’t just supply American forces; it sustained the entire Grand Alliance. Under Lend-Lease, the US shipped its allies (principally the UK and the Soviet Union) more than 37,000 tanks and nearly 800,000 trucks, assets that made a vital difference in battles from Stalingrad to El Alamein. “The most important things in this war are machines,” said Stalin in 1943. “The United States … is a country of machines.”

This superiority in production gave the US and its allies a staying power that their enemies lacked. American troops weren’t always superior to German or Japanese forces in quality, but they eventually wielded such a crushing quantitative superiority that marginal differences in fighting skill didn’t make a difference.

“I cannot understand these Americans,” one German commander in Normandy lamented. “Each night we know that we have cut them to pieces, inflicted heavy casualties, mowed down their transport. But in the morning, we are suddenly faced with fresh battalions, with complete replacements of men, machines, food, tools, and weapons. This happens day after day.”

This may be a very reassuring memory for those who worry about a new era of global conflict. Yet the story of wartime mobilization was more complicated than we remember.

It took years — until late 1943 or even 1944 — for US mobilization to fully hit its stride, because it took time to overcome bottlenecks and raw-materials shortages, to shift from making civilian goods to making tanks and bombs, and otherwise to convert a peacetime economy to wartime production.

Even then, the US could only mobilize so effectively because it had an industrial-age, mass-production economy that was well-suited to making the tools of global war. That economy, moreover, had plenty of spare capacity that could be tapped quickly, because the Great Depression had left so many workers and plants idle.

Above all, the US was able to achieve world-beating production figures during World War II because it didn’t wait until the day of infamy to start mobilizing. That process began well before the nation even entered the war.

US defense spending began to rise dramatically after the Munich crisis of 1938, which put Hitler well on the path to European dominance. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, as well as many congressional leaders, were convinced that the world was becoming too dangerous for America to remain disarmed. US defense spending was well under 2% of GDP in 1938 and 1939; it rose to over 5% by 1941, then soared after US entry into the war.

Dwindling Arsenal of Democracy

Source: OMB

The US Army began preparing for war in earnest in 1939; Congress passed the Two-Ocean Navy Act, which signaled the coming era of American maritime supremacy, in 1940. The first Higgins boat, the flat-bottomed landing craft that allied commander Dwight D. Eisenhower later credited with winning the war, was tested months before Pearl Harbor; Roosevelt approved what would become the Manhattan Project, which developed the atomic bombs used against Japan, when the US was still at peace. America wasn’t ready for war in December 1941. But it was far readier than it would have been had it waited to begin mobilizing until after it had been attacked.

The differences between then and now are glaring. The good news is that the US is starting from a far better position than it occupied in the mid-1930s: The American military is, in aggregate, the best in the world. Yet it would be a serious mistake to assume that, if war comes, the US can effortlessly outproduce its enemies once again.

The US still has the globe’s leading economy, but this time its likely adversary, China, serves as the workshop of the world. Beijing possesses a roughly 3-to1 production advantage in shipbuilding, for instance, which would come in very handy after both sides lose lots of vessels in the opening weeks of a war. The economist Noah Smith has even estimated that, “While Russia itself can’t manufacture the materiel for a protracted local conflict with Europe, China can manufacture enough to sustain both itself and Russia” in a global fight against the democratic world.

The US defense industrial base is also significantly weaker than it once was. The number of major US military contractors has fallen dramatically since the end of the Cold War, making it far harder for the Pentagon to scale up production quickly in a crisis.

There isn’t much spare capacity in this system, or in US manufacturing more broadly: America lacks even the basic building blocks, such as adequate machine tools and a trained labor force, that it would need for wartime mobilization. As Mark Cancian of the Center for Strategic and International Studies writes: “America’s defense industrial base is designed for peacetime efficiency, not mass wartime production, because maintaining unused capacity for mobilization is expensive.”

As a result, the US could find itself in a terrible position after just a few months — even just a few weeks — of fighting. It might struggle to replace the precision-guided, long-range munitions that would be crucial to striking Chinese ships in the waters around Taiwan without having to venture into the teeth of China’s anti-ship missiles and air-defense systems. The loss of large numbers of ships or planes might make it difficult to win a protracted war in the Western Pacific; even if Washington did prevail, those losses might leave the military crippled for years.

Short of war, too, weaknesses in the defense industrial base create serious problems. There is lots of talk in Congress and the executive branch about rapidly arming Taiwan with more anti-ship missiles, drones and other capabilities that can turn the Taiwan Strait into a deadly gantlet. Yet it is not clear where those weapons will come from, absent significant increases in production levels — or a decision to plunder the stocks that the US itself would need if a conflict erupted.

US officials recognize the problem. Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks has been at the forefront of the effort to scale up production where it is needed most. The Army is laying plans to redouble the manufacture of ground-launched rockets and artillery rounds. The Pentagon is looking to buy more Javelin and Stinger shoulder-fired missiles. It’s not clear, though, that the problem is being solved.

Expanding production capacity is not a simple matter, especially when supply chains are snarled and key components are in short supply, in part because of the Covid pandemic. Yet at some level, the issue is ultimately one of money.

The defense industry will build new production lines, or expand existing ones, if it has a reasonable expectation that the money will be there to support new investment in facilities and personnel. But if it doesn’t, it won’t. Right now, the signals from the US government are mixed.

It’s not as though Washington is incapable of alacrity: The Pentagon has performed minor miracles in getting weapons to Ukraine as quickly as it has. Yet President Joe Biden’s administration doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to increase the defense budget. Both of Biden’s budget requests so far have represented real-dollar decreases in Pentagon outlays.

Although Congress, for its part, has been willing to bump those budgets, inflation is eating away at the Defense Department’s buying power. And because the Biden administration has emphasized R&D and future capabilities in its early budgets, the loser has typically been procurement — buying capabilities that exist today. If the US waits any longer to get serious about rearming for a conflict that its own officials warn is coming, it will have waited far too long.

China isn’t making this mistake. As Beijing’s propaganda outlets issue chilling threats about what will happen to its enemies if conflict occurs, its shipyards and factories are spitting out warships and munitions at an astounding rate. The arsenal of autocracy may soon be ready for war. Will the arsenal of democracy be up to the challenge?

U.S. Needs to Push Allies to Prepare for a Potential Conflict with China, Panel Says

Over the next few years, the United States will likely press allies like South Korea harder to be ready for a conflict with China that may arise over Taiwan’s future, a leading scholar on global affairs at Johns Hopkins University said Tuesday.

The United States will struggle to win a war with Beijing without support from allies, said Hal Brands, speaking at a Wilson Center event on China, the Republic of Korea and the United States.

China’s current effort to modernize its forces should be complete in 2027 or so, while the United States continues to rely ”on a small number of bases, aircraft carriers and other large, expensive and highly vulnerable platforms,” Brands said. The United States probably does not have enough long-range, precision-strike munitions even for a short conflict.

“The bad news is the military situation is likely to get worse,” he said.

Brands said although the unity of response among European Union members, NATO and the United States came as a welcome surprise following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, what is actually needed in the case of China is to show they are willing to act together before military force is applied.

In his contribution to the center’s latest monograph, “Between the Eagle and the Dragon,” Brands wrote, “a war in which China confronts the combined military power of the United States, Japan, Australia, and Taiwan is different than one in which it confronts just Washington and Taipei. In some cases, it is a matter of strategic real estate” from India across the entire Pacific.

Allies and partners could provide needed industrial base capacity in areas from shipbuilding to ammunition production, as well as economic and technological punishment on China, he said.

Allies might also hesitate in showing their support against China if Beijing invades Taiwan because China is the largest trading partner, Brands said.

Yet, “the possibility of a coalition response is the best way to deter” an aggressive China, he said.

In his keynote address, noting that China “is critical to every single country” in the Indo-Pacific and the United States, Edgar Kagan, senior director for East Asia and Oceania at the National Security Council, said, “it’s not a zero sum game” when it comes to Washington’s competition with Beijing. Every country “has to figure out how to have better relations with China” while preserving their independence.

Using South Korea as an example, Elizabeth Economy, senior advisor for China in the Commerce Department, said there’s some interest in Seoul political circles about being more responsive when it comes to Taiwan and China’s increasing threat to re-unite the self-governing island with the mainland by force.

But that willingness to help is tempered by recalling Beijing’s response to Korea’s deployment of the American-made “Theater High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD) system. China, seeing the system as a potentially offensive weapon, imposed wide-ranging embargoes on Korean manufacturers of electronics and auto manufacturers.

Ships from the U.S., Japan and Republic of Korea conducted a trilateral ballistic missile defense exercise in the Sea of Japan, on Oct. 6, 2022. US Navy Photo

Seoul is also cautious when antagonizing Beijing because China is an ally of North Korea, Seoul’s most immediate threat with large conventional forces and nuclear weapons.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, despite assuming an unprecedented third term as president and head of the Communist Party, is facing new challenges as 2022 comes to a close, said Jude Blanchette, a China specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Xi’s most recent “Zero-Covid” lockdowns have sparked widespread public anger and protests.

The lockdowns are continuing to slow an economy that is built on exports. Many manufacturing plants are again closed to stop the pandemic’s latest surge, making it difficult for China to get its economy moving again domestically and rebuild supply chains to restore foreign trade, Blanchette said.

“It’s difficult to predict what China might do” even a year ahead, Blanchette said.

Meg Lundsbarger, a former senior official at the International Monetary Fund, said Xi and the party must adjust to China’s aging population and its needs, but she doubted Beijing’s ability to shift to a consumption-based economy that would require.

Xi and the party leadership weren’t in “a good place to navigate” these domestic concerns at the same time as foreign investors are pulling back or out of China, she added.

But Blanchette added, Xi “is not going to change his world view,” starting with insisting on domestic control and China as a global power.

Kagan saw encouraging signs in closer cooperation among Washington, Seoul and Tokyo on security and economic issues that would have been difficult to predict 10 years ago.

He saw a “real opportunity” for the United States and Korea in “aligning our technological innovation” efforts and diversification of manufacturing and the supply problems by being less reliant on China which resulted after COVID-19 reached pandemic proportions.

US military “setting the theatre” for war with China

In a remarkably frank interview with the Financial Times yesterday, the top US Marine general in Japan declared that US-NATO successes against Russia in Ukraine were a product of advance planning and preparations—“setting the theatre” for war in military jargon. That was exactly what the Pentagon was doing in Japan and Asia, he explained, in preparing for conflict against China over Taiwan.

A US Marine launching a Javelin shoulder-fired anti-tank missile during the Resolute Dragon 22 exercise last year. [Photo: Cpl Scott Aubuchon/US Marine Corps]

“Why have we achieved the level of success we’ve achieved in Ukraine?” Lieutenant General James Bierman asked rhetorically. A big part of it, he explained, was that after what he termed “Russian aggression” in 2014 and 2015, “we earnestly got after preparing for future conflict: training for the Ukrainians, pre-positioning of supplies, identification of sites from which we could operate support, sustain operations.”

“We call that setting the theatre. And we are setting the theatre in Japan, in the Philippines, in other locations.” In other words, the US is setting a trap for China by goading it into taking military action against Taiwan in the same way that it provoked Russia into invading Ukraine following the US-backed coup in 2014 that toppled a pro-Russian government.

Lieutenant General James Bierman is commanding general of the Third Marine Expeditionary Force (III MEF) and of Marine Forces Japan. Significantly, the III MEF is the only Marine crisis response force permanently stationed outside the US. In other words, Bierman and his Marines would be on the front line of any US-led conflict with China.

As the Financial Times explained, the III MEF is “at the heart of a sweeping reform of the Marine Corps.” Its focus is being shifted from the “war on terror” in the Middle East to “creating small units that specialise in operating quickly and clandestinely in the islands and straits of east Asia and the western Pacific to counter Beijing’s ‘anti-access area denial’ strategy.”

The US plans for war against China—known as AirSea Battle—envisage a massive air and missile assault on Chinese military bases and strategic industries supported by warships and submarines. The Pentagon has been increasingly concerned about China’s military abilities to defend its territory and secure neighbouring seas—“anti access area denial” with its own missiles and naval vessels.

US war preparations with Japan are proceeding apace. As Bierman boasted, the two militaries have “seen exponential increases . . . just over the last year” in their activities on territory from which they would operate during a war. In recent exercises, the Marines for the first time established bilateral ground tactical co-ordination centres rather than liaising with a separate Japanese command point.

The aim is far closer integration of American and Japanese forces. Instead of Japanese military groups being rotated to operate alongside US forces in Japan, specific units have now been designated as part of the “stand-in force” alongside their US Marine, Navy and Air Force counterparts.

Bierman also pointed out that similar preparations are being made in the Philippines where the government intends to allow the US to preposition weapons and other supplies on five more bases in addition to five where it already has access. “You gain a leverage point, a base of operations, which allows you to have a tremendous head start in different operational plans,” he enthused.

The US-led war against Russia in Ukraine and its intensifying confrontation with China are two sides of a strategy to dominate the vast Eurasian landmass that threatens to plunge humanity into a nuclear holocaust.

While Bierman is highlighting the advanced operational planning for war with China, it is being matched by huge increases in military spending by both the US and Japan.

Stars and Stripes reported on January 2 that the new US defence budget approved last month by President Biden included billions of dollars for new military infrastructure and strategic initiatives across the Pacific. The Indo-Pacific Command already has some 375,000 military and civilian personnel working across the region.

The Command’s headquarters in Hawaii get $87.9 million for barracks; $103 million for upgrading missile storage facilities; $111 million for a company operations facility, and $29 million for an Army National Guard Readiness Center.

The Navy will receive $32 billion alone for new warships and 36 F-35 aircraft, each costing about $89 million. The funding also includes $621 million for two SSN-774 Virginia class attack submarines that are expected to conduct operations in the Pacific and receive maintenance at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard.

To counter Chinese weapons, the Army is upgrading artillery and missile systems, seeking new longer-range cannons and hypersonic weapons while modifying air- and sea-launched missiles and cruise missiles for ground launch by Army units.

The Japanese government announced last month that it would double military spending over the next five years between 2023 and 2027 to about $US80 billion or 2 percent of GDP. The associated national defence documents explicitly identify China as “an unprecedented and the greatest strategic challenge.” 

The Japanese military will buy a range of offensive weapons, including cruise missiles like Lockheed Martin’s Tomahawk and Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM). It is also planning to upgrade its own Type 12 guided missiles that can be fired from the surface, ships, or aircrafts to strike naval vessels, and to manufacture its own hypersonic guided missiles.

Japan will also boost its missile sites. It has already begun to militarise its southern islands immediately adjacent to Taiwan and off the Chinese mainland, including Amami, Miyako, Ishigaki, and Yonaguni Islands. Tokyo has deployed or intends to deploy missile and electronic warfare units to these islands, in addition to constructing ammunition and fuel depots.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida set off Sunday on a tour of Europe and North America focussed on bolstering military ties. He will visit both Britain and Italy, which are joint partners in a deal agreed last month to build new advanced fighters. He is also expected to sign an agreement in Britain to establish the framework for visits by each other’s military forces. 

Kishida’s final stop will be in the US where he will hold talks with Biden at the White House that will discuss military collaboration, Japan’s purchase of US missiles and efforts to block China’s access to advanced semi-conductors. As part of the US economic war on China, Biden has imposed a series of bans on the sale to China of advanced computer chips or the machinery required to develop and manufacture them. The Japanese defence and foreign ministers are due to hold a round of talks with the American counterparts on Wednesday in Washington.

At the same time, the US is about to conduct a provocative, official trip to Taiwan—an island that it de-facto recognises under the One China policy as being part of China with Beijing as the legitimate government. Terry McCartin, the top US official responsible for trade with China, is due to arrive in Taipei on Saturday to lead a delegation that will include officials from other government agencies.

The visit to Taiwan by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last August, sanctioned by the White House, provoked sharp tensions and a dangerous show of force by both sides in surrounding waters. By strengthening trade and military ties with Taipei, Washington is deliberately pushing Beijing into a corner to force it to fire the first shot in a war over Taiwan that the US has prepared for in advance.

As Lieutenant General Bierman crudely explained: “As we square off with the Chinese adversary, who is going to own the starting pistol and is going to have the ability potentially to initiate hostilities . . . we can identify decisive key terrain that must be held, secured, defended, leveraged.”

How the US military is preparing for a war with China

Juicy targets include artificial islands in the South China Sea

U.S. Marines participate in an amphibious assault exercise in Chonburi, Thailand, in February 2020: the Marines will be sea-based and able to sail into the waters of the South China Sea.   © Sipa/AP

Admiral James Stavridis was 16th Supreme Allied Commander of NATO and 12th Dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He spent the bulk of his operational career in the Pacific, and is author of “2034: A Novel of the Next World War.”

The Atlantic Council’s publication of The Longer Telegram, which lays out a sweeping blueprint for a U.S. strategy to face China, provides significant clues about a new lay-down of American forces around east Asia.

Whether the new Biden administration fully embraces the paper’s aggressive stance remains to be seen, but elements are under serious consideration. Certainly, the new team at the National Security Council, led by highly respected Asia hand Kurt Campbell and a deep bench of Asia experts, will be looking at a wide variety of options for the military component of a new overall strategic posture.

One of the key elements in the military component is a series of “red lines” to which the U.S. would respond militarily.

These include “any nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons action by China against the U.S. or its allies or by North Korea; any Chinese military attack against Taiwan or its offshore islands, including an economic blockade or major cyberattack against Taiwanese public infrastructure and institutions; any Chinese attack against Japanese forces in their defense of Japanese sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands, which China claims as the Diaoyu, and their surrounding exclusive economic zone in the East China Sea; any major Chinese hostile action in the South China Sea to further reclaim and militarize islands, to deploy force against other claimant states, or to prevent full freedom of navigation operations by the U.S. and allied maritime forces; and any Chinese attack against the sovereign territory or military assets of U.S. treaty allies.”

At U.S. Indo-Pacific headquarters, strategic, operational and tactical teams are putting together new approaches for deploying American forces. These new options will be sent back to the Pentagon as part of the overall “posture review” being undertaken by new Secretary of Defense General Lloyd Austin. What will emerge?

One option is an enhanced role for the U.S. Marine Corps, which traces so much of its pre-9/11 operational history to the Pacific going back to World War II. Under the dynamic intellectual leadership of Marine Corps Commandant Dave Berger, gone are the large troop formations, armored capability and land-based Marine tactics of the “forever wars” in the Middle East.

Instead, in the context of a U.S.-China strategy, the Marines will be resolutely sea-based and able to sail into the waters of the South China Sea, well inside the island chains China relies on for defense. Once inside, they will use armed drones, offensive cyber capabilities, Marine Raiders — highly capable special forces — anti-air missiles and even ship-killer strike weapons to attack Chinese maritime forces, and perhaps even their land bases of operations. The Chinese militarized artificial islands in the South China Sea would be juicy targets, for example. In essence, this will be guerrilla warfare from the sea.

An airstrip and buildings on China’s man-made Subi Reef in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, pictured in April 2017: juicy targets.   © AP

In addition to a new Marine tactical and operational approach, the U.S. Navy will be undertaking more aggressive patrols throughout the waters off China. Some will say this is merely the military equivalent of “driving doughnut holes in your neighbor’s lawn.” But the strategic concept is clever: to gradually include other allied warships in this aggressive freedom of navigation patrols. Doing so internationalizes the pushback on Chinese claims of sovereignty over the South China Sea.

In particular, the Pentagon is hoping to include British, French and other NATO allies in the effort. Indeed the recent NATO defense ministerial in Brussels involved consultations over the alliance’s role in facing the rising military capability of China. Over time, the U.S. would like to convince Australia, New Zealand, India, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Vietnam to participate in such deployments. The U.S. overall maritime strategic posture is predicated on creating a global maritime coalition to face the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s highly capable forces.

In addition to the sea service’s activities, the U.S. Air Force will likely be shifting additional long-range land-attack bombers and fighters to Pacific bases that are widely distributed across Asia, including some very remote sites on smaller islands. These so-called spokes will be supported from larger bases in Guam, Japan, Australia and South Korea. The concept, dubbed Agile Combat Employment, adds a high degree of mobility to the currently concentrated combat power of both fighter and attack aircraft deployed in the region.

Finally, the U.S. Army will increase both combat power and mobility to deploy units forward in support of the red lines along those advocated in the telegram, including enhanced capability based in South Korea and Japan but easily capable of deploying to smaller islands throughout the region.

Both the Army and Air Force would be on the forward edge of additional training and exercises with the Taiwanese as well. Look for increased emphasis from the new American Space Force to focus intelligence and reconnaissance on the theater, as well as enhanced offensive cyber options from the U.S. Cyber Command, in coordination with the National Security Agency.

Taken together, it seems clear that the U.S. military is stepping up its presence and combat capability in the Western Pacific, and positioning for a conflict with China over the coming decades.

The Longer Telegram provides an important clue as to what options the Pentagon and the White House are considering as part of an expected new strategy to face the rise of China. Hopefully, skillful diplomacy and the intertwined economies of the two great powers will preclude the outbreak of war — but U.S. military planners are busy these days.

China’s Military Is Catching Up to the U.S. Is It Ready for Battle?

The People’s Liberation Army is emerging as a true competitor but Beijing worries about the ability of its troops

A Chinese soldier held a flag during joint military exercises in Kyrgyzstan in 2016.

China’s military is emerging as a true competitor to the U.S. under Xi Jinping.

The People’s Liberation Army now has hypersonic missiles that evade most defenses, a technology the U.S. is still developing. Its attack drones can swarm to paralyze communications networks. China’s naval ships outnumber America’s, and it launched its third aircraft carrier this summer, the first to be designed and built in the country. Its defense budget is second only to the U.S.’s. China’s military has more serving members, at around 2 million, compared with just under 1.4 million in the U.S.

The question for Mr. Xi, which he has raised in public, is whether those forces are ready for battle.

China hasn’t fought a war since a brief border clash with Vietnam in 1979. Unlike American forces, who have fought for most of the past two decades in Iraq and Afghanistan, China’s service members have virtually no combat experience—which some Chinese leaders have referred to as a “peace disease.” Finding a solution short of actual war has been a priority for Mr. Xi, especially as he seeks to prepare the country for a potential showdown with the U.S.

“We must comprehensively strengthen military training and preparation, and improve the army’s ability to win,” Mr. Xi said on Sunday at the opening of the Communist Party’s twice-a-decade congress.

The issue has become more pressing for Beijing as tensions build with Taiwan, which China sees as part of its territory. On Sunday, Mr. Xi reiterated that Beijing wouldn’t renounce the use of force in China’s effort to take control of the island.

“The complete unification of the motherland must be realized, and it will be realized,” he said, drawing loud applause.

Taiwan reported few sorties by the Chinese air force close to the island before 2020. It says they have reached more than 1,200 so far this year. After Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taipei in August, angering Beijing, Chinese military aircraft began crossing the median line between Taiwan and the Chinese mainland on an almost daily basis.

Beijing’s state media reported an increase in more qualified recruits to the PLA after Mrs. Pelosi’s visit.

Yet PLA publications say some officers make flawed operational decisions, struggle to lead their troops and sometimes don’t understand their own orders. Rank-and-file troops are caught in a top-down system of command, potentially leaving them ill-equipped to improvise in battlefield situations—a situation that has hobbled Russia’s military in its invasion of Ukraine.

China’s political priorities mean that around 40% of new recruits’ training has involved studying about the Communist Party rather than learning how to be a service member. Leaders, some of whom see young Chinese as pampered products of the country’s one-child policy, question whether they are tough enough to fight.

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People’s Liberation Army band members watched a ceremony that included Xi Jinping at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People in 2020.

An effort to make China’s different military branches work more closely together—so-called “jointness,” which is considered crucial to modern warfare—remains untested.

“At present, there are not many commanders in the PLA who are truly proficient in joint combat,” one serving officer at the Zhengzhou Joint Logistics Support Center wrote earlier this year in a commentary in the PLA Daily, the military’s newspaper. “If this situation does not change, once there is a war, it will be very dangerous.”

Outside analysts say the PLA appears to be making progress in bringing forces together for more complex joint exercises, helped by interaction with other militaries, especially Russia’s. Since Mr. Xi took power, China has increased drills with Russia to as many as 10 a year from one or two previously.

“We are observing an increasing complexity and sophistication in how they are performing in exercises,” said Oriana Skylar Mastro, who researches the Chinese military at Stanford University.

Mr. Xi’s ambition, according to China’s most recent defense white paper, is to complete a modernization of the military by 2035 and turn it into a “world-class force” by 2049, the 100th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

Strategists outside China say the PLA’s short-range missile, air and naval power is now so well developed that it would be nearly impossible for other countries’ militaries to operate near China’s shoreline in a conflict.

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A screen in Beijing displayed a map of locations around Taiwan where China’s PLA conducted exercises in August.

Beijing’s cyberwar capabilities are widely considered to be state-of-the-art. The U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which advises the president on national security, said in a report this year that China is almost certainly capable of launching cyberattacks that would disrupt critical infrastructure in the U.S., including oil and gas pipelines and rail systems.

Hundreds of millions of dollars spent on ballistic missile technology mean that China can now put U.S. bases in Asia under threat. A growing nuclear arsenal is providing Beijing with the means to better deter rivals.

Reports of training missteps or incompetence occasionally surface in state media. Like other militaries, the PLA puts together exercises in which its own forces play the part of rivals. In China, these are known as Blue teams, a color representing NATO. The PLA teams are red, the color of China’s flag.

In one 2014 exercise in Inner Mongolia described in state media, the Blue team decided to trick the Red team by sending around 20 troops disguised as members of a friendly local government group, with offerings of cabbages, potatoes and drinks.

It worked. The Red team brought them to their headquarters, where the impostors pulled out weapons and captured the Red commander.

In another case reported in state media, an army battalion commander issued an incorrect order to fire shorter-range artillery when long-range fire was needed. The shots fell short, enabling a Blue armored helicopter to find and destroy the Red position.

AFP / Getty Images

A PLA Daily account from last year described how the leaders of a brigade were given night vision equipment ahead of an exercise. They didn’t know what it was, and failed to distribute it to their troops.

Such mistakes aren’t exclusive to China, but they have fueled insecurity among leaders, who have repeatedly used the phrase “five incapables” to describe PLA failings in speeches and commentaries in China’s military press.

The phrase refers to fears that PLA officers cannot judge situations, understand higher authorities’ intentions, make operational decisions, deploy troops, or deal with unexpected circumstances.

Another common phrase of self-criticism, the “two inabilities,” refers to a perceived inability of the PLA to fight a modern war and the inability of PLA officers to command.

Mr. Xi has been trying to rectify those problems since he came to power in 2012.

In 2015, he launched China’s most ambitious military reforms in decades. He overhauled the organizational structure of the PLA with the goal of allowing its armed services—army, navy, air force and rocket and support forces—to work more closely together. Such coordination would likely be needed for major operations such as an invasion of Taiwan.

Mr. Xi also expanded the PLA’s budget, created new special operations units and stepped up efforts to draw in more qualified service members.

Beijing extended free healthcare to troops and their families, improved military canteens and encouraged putting popular boy band members in military propaganda to drive recruitment.

U.S. vs. China: Military Bases and Commercial Ports Reveal Strategies to Extend Global Reach
The U.S. operates hundreds of foreign military bases. China has only one, but military experts say Beijing is also leveraging over 90 commercial ports. WSJ unpacks what’s on these sites and the countries’ differing strategies to expand their global footprint. Illustration: David Fanner

Central to the PLA’s issues, defense experts say, is a shortage of high-quality talent, including for officers.

In the U.S., competition to get into West Point or one of the other four military academies for officer training is intense. But in China, average scores on standardized admissions tests for those accepted into its military academies over the past few years fell well below those accepted into the most well-regarded universities.

The lowest successful scores at China’s prestigious Tsinghua University in 2021 were in many cases nearly 10% higher than at the National University of Defense Technology, often referred to in China as the military Tsinghua.

As a wing of the Communist Party, the PLA is subject to demands from political leaders. In 2021, the Ministry of Education said the role of the military was to provide jobs for young Chinese. Recruitment is skewed heavily toward poorer rural areas, which tend to have lower educational standards and higher unemployment.

Unlike the U.S., the PLA lacks a well-established system for bringing in and retaining talented noncommissioned officers, the backbone of most militaries. NCOs are usually high-school graduates who rise through the enlisted service to help execute orders and manage the lower ranks.

China has tried to make NCO roles more attractive. One program allows recruits to continue studies at a college or vocational school for 2½ years before entering the military, and covers some of the cost, to better qualify them for civilian jobs after military service.

Just over 20,000 students enrolled in the program in 2020, according to official data, a fraction of the overall NCO corps. This year, China said it would add better benefits.

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A screen showed an image of PLA soldiers in Beijing in August.

Military analysts say the PLA does have some highly proficient service members, including units similar to U.S. Navy Seals and Air Force commandos.

Mr. Xi has intensified efforts to make military drills more realistic and complex. Before he took power, exercises were sometimes seen by outside analysts as little more than performances to make the military look good. Now they more often provide some of the closest simulations to real-world combat available, military analysts say.

Last year, the PLA’s air force and army took part in the first major joint exercises with Russia inside China, involving more than 10,000 personnel. The drills included airborne troop assaults, drone attacks and precision fighter jet strikes, according to official reports.

Dennis Blasko, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel who was a military attaché in Beijing in the 1990s, says force-on-force training is usually held by the PLA for relatively short periods such as a day or few days, which wouldn’t prepare it for a prolonged war.

The true test of PLA personnel will be when they’re called on to fight. Some American military strategists and analysts say China might be a generation away from having the ability and training in its military that could effectively match those of the U.S.

“Our staffs have been doing extended combined operations for decades. Theirs haven’t,” Mr. Blasko said.

Corrections & Amplifications
Xi Jinping’s ambition is to turn the military into a “world-class force” by 2049, the 100th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. An earlier version of this article incorrectly said 2049 was the 100th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Communist Party.

America’s military isn’t ready for a war with China

It’s facing a readiness crisis and underfunding, among other issues

China’s 20th Party Congress concluded on October 23, and President Xi Jinping secured a norm-breaking third term as leader of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). With the Politburo Standing Committee stacked with close confidants and dissent virtually wiped out, Xi is the strongest he has ever been.

Xi has also redoubled the Party’s commitment to taking the island of Taiwan, by force if necessary. Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently said that China “was determined to pursue reunification on a much faster timeline.” The alarm has been repeatedly sounded by American military officials, with speculation that a Chinese invasion of Taiwan could occur as soon as 2023.

The US has long had a policy of strategic ambiguity over whether it would come to Taiwan’s defense, but it has become increasingly clear that policy is being slowly abandoned. All of this raises the question: is the United States prepared to fight a war with China?

The answer, simply put, is no.

The first and most obvious problem is geography. The US mainland is thousands of miles away from the theater of operations that a war with China would occur in. The United States currently has tens of thousands of forward-deployed troops in the Western Pacific, mostly in Japan (about 54,000) and South Korea (about 28,500), but they would need to be quickly reinforced in the event of full-scale war, and those on the Korean peninsula also have to worry about North Korea.

Guam is the closest US territory to the conflict zone, and has naval, air, and ground forces facilities. The main power projection point for American forces in the Pacific, however, is Hawaii, which is close to 5,000 miles from Taiwan. The US also operates major facilities in Japan and South Korea, but all of these bases are easily targetable from China via missile or air attack, making them highly vulnerable in the opening days of any conflict. A Chinese strike on Guam — a very likely event in a Sino-American war — would severely undermine America’s ability to fight in the region.

China, by contrast, would be fighting in its backyard, and mostly within its missile umbrella, which is the core of Beijing’s anti-access area denial (A2/AD) strategy. The PLA has thousands of missiles prepared to target Taiwan and deny access to the first island chain (which spans from South Korea to the Philippines) to its adversaries. With a full spectrum of ranges — including the soon-to-be-fielded capability to hit ships up to 2,500 miles away — the traditional American method of force projection (carrier strike groups) is severely compromised.

The aircraft currently deployed in the Navy do not have the ranges needed to operate from carriers outside the range of Chinese missiles. The F-35, the Navy’s newest and most capable combat aircraft, has a maximum range of 1,370 miles, which means only around a 680-mile combat radius (680 miles to the fight plus 680 miles back to the carrier). The F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, a mainstay legacy platform, has effectively the same combat radius. Though new platforms are due to come online in the future, which will help with the range problem, those are a long way from being present in sufficient numbers. Even something as basic as resupplying Taiwan in the event of a conflict would be very difficult, as any vessel would be within range of Chinese missiles long before it got near the island.

Then there are the US military’s readiness concerns. The Navy, which would play a central role in a conflict with China, has some of the most intractable issues. It has been widely recognized for years that the Navy is not large enough to deal with its current tasks, let alone fight a war with a peer competitor like China. Currently, the Navy has 296 ships, and under existing plans, it will have 280 by 2027, before reaching between 305 and 318 ships by 2035 and between 318 and 363 by 2045. To defend Taiwan, the Navy is estimated to need about 350 ships.

Meanwhile, the Navy is saddled with just as many responsibilities today as it was in the Cold War. In mid-2022, the Navy had around 31 percent of its ships deployed, compared to an average of 17 percent during the Reagan years. Such regular deployments strain crews and hulls, detracting from effectiveness and longevity. This is compounded by the Navy’s massive maintenance issues. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports that from 2014 and 2020, the Navy had around 38,600 hours of delays in maintenance work on all types of ships.

While the Navy has a major program underway to update and repair its shipyards, it is facing cost overruns and other serious obstacles. A May 2022 GAO report notes, for example, that over 50 percent of equipment in the Navy’s shipyards are beyond their intended lifespans. Meanwhile, China’s shipbuilding capacity is only growing, and the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is rapidly expanding, likely reaching 460 ships by 2030. Of course, capability matters too, but China’s ships have advanced significantly, with its newest classes posing a real threat to American vessels.

The most important vessel in a conflict with China would likely be the submarine, as it would be able to largely circumvent Beijing’s A2/AD capabilities. Here, too, the US is facing difficulties. The GAO said parts of the submarine force had been idle for nearly 2,800 days due to lack of maintenance capacity. And while the Navy still maintains by far the strongest submarine force in the world, it is not buying new ships fast enough. Shipyards are already stretched to their limits with maintenance and construction, leaving little room for the expanded orders necessary to meet the threat.

Now consider the various problems afflicting the other service branches. The Air Force is facing a shortage of trained pilots, while also not providing enough flying time for pilots to train in their aircraft. It is also facing the specter of rapidly aging equipment and slow modernization. The Army is staring down a recruiting crisis, and is operating increasingly old equipment that dates back to the 1980s. It, too, is failing to modernize fast enough. One can see why the Heritage Foundation’s comprehensive annual “Index of U.S. Military Strength” recently scored the military as weak for the first time.

A necessary component of a fight against China is investment in large quantities of long-range precision weapon systems capable of hitting land, sea, and air targets, but that can also operate away from large, easy-to-strike bases. As the Ukraine conflict has shown, current US munitions production and stockpiles are nowhere near where they need to be. With long lead times for production and stocks of key air-dropped munitions that would likely not last a month in a major conflict, the US needs to increase orders drastically. This need is pressing, because any conflict with China would be munitions-intensive and would almost certainly drag on for an extended period of time.

While there is plenty of blame to go around, the most significant cause of these problems is the refusal of the federal government to increase defense spending. Modernization costs money, but Congress has been incapable of cutting itself loose from a post-Cold War mentality. For much of the Cold War, the defense budget was over 4.8 percent of gross domestic product, and it was often much more. In 2020, the US spent about 3.7 percent. And inflation has only slowed budgetary growth.

The result of all this is that most wargames against China have resulted in US failure, or, at best, a pyrrhic victory. As some authors have suggested, the military needs a new strategy based on inexpensive, concealable, and distributed capabilities that can survive within China’s A2/AD umbrella. The Marines’ Force Design 2030 begins to tackle this problem, focusing on a nimble force capable of deploying in a heavily contested environment but still packing the kind of punch necessary to fight China in the Pacific. One procurement plan, for example, is to acquire mobile anti-ship missile systems that the Marines can deploy with to threaten Chinese naval vessels.

The question now is, if the Biden administration and politicians know that a war with China may not be far around the corner, why are changes not being made? Biden’s proposed defense budgets have been insufficient and shortsighted, with Congress having to step in and add billions of dollars. The president has also succeeded in killing the Nuclear-Armed Sea-Launched Cruise Missile that would have provided valuable capabilities and contingencies in a Sino-American fight.

Americans rightfully expect their military to be capable and ready. A new conflict is looming, and the longer America takes to recognize this and act accordingly, the greater the risk that it will face a disastrous defeat in the near future.

Biden says we’ve got Taiwan’s back. But do we?

President Biden’s recent trip to Asia nearly went off without a hitch — until Taiwan came up. Mr. Biden was asked whether the United States would respond “militarily” if China sought to retake the self-ruled island by force.

“Yes,” he said. “That’s the commitment we made.”

It was one of the most explicit U.S. defense guarantees for Taiwan in decades, appearing to depart from a longtime policy of “strategic ambiguity.” But it’s far from certain that the United States could hold off China.

I have been involved in dozens of war games and tabletop exercises to see how a conflict would turn out. Simply put, the United States is outgunned. At the very least, a confrontation with China would be an enormous drain on the U.S. military without any assured outcome that America could repel all of China’s forces. Mr. Biden’s comments may be aimed at deterring a Chinese attack, and hopefully they will.

After a decades-long military modernization, China has the world’s largest navy and the United States could throw far fewer ships into a Taiwan conflict. China’s missile force is also thought to be capable of targeting ships at sea to neutralize the main U.S. tool of power projection, aircraft carriers.

The United States has the most advanced fighter jets in the world but access to just two U.S. air bases within unrefueled combat radius of the Taiwan Strait, both in Japan, compared with China’s 39 air bases within 500 miles of Taipei.

If China’s leaders decide they need to recover Taiwan and are convinced that the United States would respond, they may see no other option but a pre-emptive strike on U.S. forces in the region. Chinese missiles could take out key American bases in Japan, and U.S. aircraft carriers could face Chinese “carrier killer” missiles. In this scenario, superior U.S. training and experience would matter little.

The need to project power across vast distances also makes U.S. forces vulnerable to China’s electronic and cyberwarfare capability. China could disrupt networks like the United States Transportation Command, which moves American assets around and is considered vulnerable to cyberattacks. China may also have the ability to damage satellites and disrupt communications, navigation, targeting, intelligence-gathering, or command and control. Operating from home turf, China could use more-secure systems like fiber-optic cables for its own networks.

Under a best-case battle scenario for the United States, China would attack only Taiwan and refrain from hitting American forces to avoid drawing in U.S. military might. This would allow the United States time to bring its forces into the region, move others to safety and pick where and when it engages with China.

If the United States did ever intervene, it would need regional allies to provide runways, ports and supply depots. But those partners may be eager to stay out of the crossfire.

I’m not the only one who’s worried. A 2018 congressionally mandated assessment warned that America could face a “decisive military defeat” in a war over Taiwan, citing China’s increasingly advanced capabilities and myriad U.S. logistical difficulties. Several top former U.S. defense officials have reached similar conclusions.

Mr. Biden’s remarks were made in the context of Ukraine, and America’s failure to prevent that war may be driving his thinking on Taiwan. Mr. Biden may be calculating that Russia’s setbacks in Ukraine will give China pause and that guaranteed U.S. intervention in a conflict over Taiwan would cost Beijing too much, even if it took the island.

But comparing Ukraine and Taiwan is problematic. Beijing views Taiwan — self-ruled since 1949 — as an integral part of Chinese territory since ancient times, a significantly deeper attachment than Vladimir Putin’s obsession with Ukraine. Reunifying the island with the mainland is one of the Chinese Communist Party’s most cherished goals, and China would see U.S. intervention as a bitter betrayal of the “one China” principle — the idea that China and Taiwan belong together, which Washington has acknowledged since the 1970s.

China’s military is bigger and more formidable than Russia’s, and its economy far larger, more resilient and globally integrated. Rallying support for economic sanctions against Beijing during a conflict — China is the biggest trading partner of many countries — would be more challenging than isolating Russia.

The White House is once again walking back Mr. Biden’s comments, saying official policy has not changed.

If so, then Mr. Biden should stop rocking the boat and focus instead on strengthening America’s position in the Taiwan theater. This doesn’t just mean more weapons for Taiwan and a more robust U.S. military presence in the region, though the former would help the island hold out if China attacked, and both would boost deterrence.

It also means shrewd diplomacy. Mr. Biden needs to stand firm against Chinese intimidation of Taiwan, while working to ease Beijing’s anxieties by demonstrating a stronger U.S. commitment to a peaceful resolution of the Taiwan issue. Mr. Biden should also persuade regional friends to provide more bases for the United States to use. This not only increases U.S. operational flexibility but also heightens deterrence.

Whatever Mr. Biden’s calculations, departing from the “strategic ambiguity” that has helped keep peace for decades misses the point. The main question for President Xi Jinping must be not whether the United States would join in, but whether China could beat the United States in a battle for Taiwan. Twenty years ago, China’s poorly trained army and largely obsolete naval and air forces had no chance. But that was then.

Many will applaud Mr. Biden for standing up for democratic Taiwan in the face of Chinese threats. But he could be putting the island in greater danger, and the United States may not be able to come to the rescue.

The US military is not ready for China, and it needs to be

The U.S. military is not ready to fight a major war with China , let alone a war against China and simultaneously another against Russia , North Korea , or Iran . That’s bad. Very bad.

The Heritage Foundation outlined this troubling incompetence in its annual Index of U.S. Military Strength, released on Oct. 18. Considering Russia’s war in Ukraine and President Vladimir Putin’s associated nuclear threats, North Korea’s escalating ballistic missile tests, Iran’s nuclear brinkmanship, and the rising risk of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan — some analysts expect it between 2024 and 2027 — the American military’s disposition is an urgent concern.

Heritage rightly noted that the Navy’s fleet is too small, its warships overdeployed, and its personnel undertrained. This is driving up maintenance costs and delaying repairs while undermining readiness. More shipyards and repair yards are needed — and closer to the prospective fight, such as in Guam or Okinawa.

The fleet must be diversified. Procurement and support need to be shifted away from supporting outdated platforms, such as aircraft carriers, and toward weapons better suited to fighting China , such as manned and unmanned attack submarines. China’s anti-ship ballistic missiles are a potent threat that could keep American aircraft carriers away from where they are needed in the East China and South China seas. This would reduce the range of their aircrews and could keep them out of the fight. The Navy should at least endorse reforms like those offered by Bryan Clark and Timothy Walton to improve the refueling and fighting abilities of carrier air wings. Similar bold changes have, unfortunately, been blocked by members of Congress , who continue to put home-state cronyism and pork before the nation’s need to be ready to confront China.

The Navy should also dramatically reduce fleet deployments in Europe, obliging America’s freeloading allies to take more responsibility for NATO’s common defense. Europe has navies equipped with excellent ships and crews but lacks the will to defend itself. The United States must no longer tolerate Europe’s insouciant preference for having America do the expensive and laborious work of maintaining the continent’s deterrence and defenses.

The Biden administration, on the contrary, keeps encouraging this European slackness by sending more of America’s best warships and fighter jets to Europe. Washington’s priority for the U.S. Navy must be China. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s meeting with Xi Jinping in Beijing is a reminder that European powers such as Germany and France will do little to help the U.S. against China. It is thus necessary to force them to take more responsibility for their own defense.

Heritage is right to emphasize our need for a more powerful Space Force, but while recognizing the growing threat from Chinese and Russian hypersonic missiles, we disagree with Heritage’s call for vastly more spending on missile defenses against them. Instead, missile defenses should focus on the threat posed by countries such as North Korea and Iran that have fewer warheads and can thus be more easily deterred. This would save money that could be better spent on boosting our own nuclear deterrent forces and building bigger stocks of conventional munitions such as long-range anti-ship missiles — things needed to confront China and Russia.

Another concern Heritage rightly raises is the critical shortage of pilots in the Air Force and its wholly inadequate number of flying hours allowed to crews from training. Active-duty fighter pilots flew less than seven hours a month on average in 2021. This gets the pilots nowhere near the 200 hours they need each year. Perhaps an even great problem is that the Air Force’s fleet is just too old. More planes must be built and delivered faster than they currently are.

We strongly disagree with Heritage that the F-35 stealth fighter is better suited than the F-15EX for future combat with China. If America relied on the F-35, it would lose that battle. In the Pacific, U.S. forces will face a big numerical and geographical disadvantage. The F-35 can track more enemy aircraft but has fewer weapons and so could shoot fewer of them down, which is not helpful. The plane has a disastrous development record , and the U.S. cannot possibly build enough F-35s to wage war on the scale needed against a numerically superior Chinese military. Even if such massive spending were practical, the F-35 is woefully ineffective both for its price and for such a war. Its expected lifespan and even nonstealth weapons capacity are half that of the F-15EX.

Heritage’s top-line conclusions are, however, sound and alarming. The U.S. military is underfunded, underequipped, and underprepared to fight and win a war against China. The Pentagon needs more money and bolder leadership. The Defense Department, President Joe Biden, and Congress need a far greater sense of urgency. If they don’t acquire that, and fast, the U.S. may soon lose a war that defines the future of freedom and prosperity in the 21st century.

Resources

bloomberg.com, “Ukraine War Shows the US Military Isn’t Ready for War With China: Providing Kyiv with weapons has depleted the Pentagon’s munitions alarmingly, and defending Taiwan would be far more costly.” By Hal Brands; news.usni.org, “U.S. Needs to Push Allies to Prepare for a Potential Conflict with China, Panel Says.” By: John Grady; wsws.org, “US military “setting the theatre” for war with China.” By Peter Symonds; asia.nikkei.com, “How the US military is preparing for a war with China: Juicy targets include artificial islands in the South China Sea.” By James Stavridis; wsj.com, “China’s Military Is Catching Up to the U.S. Is It Ready for Battle? The People’s Liberation Army is emerging as a true competitor but Beijing worries about the ability of its troops.” By Alastair Gale; thespectator.com, “America’s military isn’t ready for a war with China: It’s facing a readiness crisis and underfunding, among other issues.” By John Pietro; aei.org, “Biden says we’ve got Taiwan’s back. But do we?” By Oriana Skylar Mastro; washingtonexaminer.com, “The US military is not ready for China, and it needs to be.” By  Washington Examiner;

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