March 23, 2021
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), today questioned Admiral John C. Aquilino, USN, nominated to serve as Commander of the United States Indo-Pacific Command, about two critical elements for deterring China’s use of military force — fielding the F-35 and fifth-generation aircraft and the importance of the United States forward-positioning its forces in the Indo-Pacific.
Inhofe: Let me draw on your experiences as a fighter pilot. It's been concerning to me for quite some time, the criticism about our F-35 that we hear from a lot of people — I won’t even mention the sources — but it is something that really bothers me when you stop and think about what we don't have in terms of fifth-generation fighters. In Admiral Davidson’s testimony— this was way back in March at the House Armed Services Committee — he said that our adversaries are already developing or fielding fifth-generation fighters. “We know from our own gaming and emulations that fifth-generation fighters are game changers.” As a fighter pilot, kind of explain why the F-35 as a fifth-generation fighter is so critical to deterring and if necessary to beating China's use of the military force, and in your opinion, why it's important to the ability to fight and win inside the first and second island change.
I can remember we had the F-22. We talked about the fact that it's a fifth-generation fighter. We started out, we're going to have 700, and we ended up getting to 200. I remember that very well, and that criticism that I had at that time, and we've had the same problems. And yet, now we know it's a different game now because our competition has fifth-generation fighters. What are your thoughts on that?
Aquilino: Thank you, Senator. As you know, the Chinese Communist Party has generated some capabilities in the region that are designed to keep us out. Some refer those as A2/AD, and when we talk about them, we talk about operating in contested space. Fifth-generation airplanes and beyond are required to be able to generate a lethal force and posture in a place where it's needed to generate the deterrence that I've mentioned.
Inhofe: Are your concerns like mine in terms of the attacks on the F-35 — what our capacity would be if we became weak in that area?
Aquilino: Yes, Senator, I would be concerned if we lessened our capacity of fifth-generation airplanes. I think they're needed to win.
Inhofe: OK. As General McMaster told this committee, and this is a quote, “Taiwan may represent a dangerous flashpoint for war.” He went on to say, because of that very real threat, quote, “it is immensely important to keep forward-positioned, capable forces in the Indo-Pacific.” So, Admiral, as the — I've been co-chairman of the Taiwan Caucus for quite a while, and I've been concerned that the Chinese invasion of Taiwan would represent the hardest test for the U.S. military response times. Can you talk about why the U.S. forward positioning forces are so important, and what do you mean by forward positioning, and where do the forces need to be?
Aquilino: Thanks, Senator, I agree with General McMaster’s discussion on the most dangerous concern is that of a military force against Taiwan. To combat that, the forward posture west of the International Dateline is how Admiral Davidson describes it, and I concur with that. Forces positioned to be able to respond quickly — and not just our forces. Those forces combined with the international community, with our allies and partners, those nations with common values — those two things would position us very strongly for the deterrence required.