U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, questioned witnesses this morning at a SASC hearing to receive testimony on U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and U.S. Forces Korea.
Witnesses included Admiral Philip S. Davidson, Commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and General Robert B. Abrams, Commander of U.S. Forces Korea.
Inhofe: You know, the American people are not really aware of threats that we're faced. I think that we all understand that. And the problem with this is for us to have the proper priorities for our military, I think it is necessary for the American people to understand why we're having to do all of this. And you still see things that are happening, that they still believe we have the best of everything and there's nothing to worry about because that's how it's always been and so forth, but they don't realize how fast China has modernized and the problems that we're facing out there.
Admiral Davidson, what do you think can be done? Our military has come forth — General Dunford said, "We have lost our qualitative and quantitative edge over the adversaries. Gen. Milley said “In terms of artillery the army is out-ranged and out-gunned by our adversaries." The same thing was true with Moran talking about the Hornet Fleet. You know, I've been on the Senate and the House Armed Services Committee for many, many years. I don't ever remember a time when the military has come forth with the shot of realism like they have recently. And I'd like to know what can you guys do more to make the American people more aware of the threats that we face?
Davidson: Thank you very much Senator for your question. The advances made by China especially, but the other threats are articulated in the region. Russia, specifically, in the 21st century has really been profound. While our nation has been focused on the efforts of land wars in South East Asia, these advances have been basically unchecked with economic power that China has brought to bear and they have greatly advanced their capability truly in all domains.
You mentioned space. From what was essentially a handful of satellites at the turn of the century has now become hundreds of satellites—capabilities and communications and surveillance and reconnaissance—and other capabilities in space. If I move it all the way down through air they've now got fourth and fifth generation fighters which were not there at the beginning of the century and they have now advanced surface and submarine assets that they also did not enjoy at the turn of the century.
The time to invest in these things is now. I'm quite encouraged by all the concepts you've come forward from the services. From multi-domain tasks force to the distributed maritime operations as well as the commitments and profiles that the services have begun to make and being able to operate in these multi-domains where these advances have taken place.
Inhofe: Yes, I think you're right on that, but we're also seeing them rubbing our noses in it—we've not seen this before. Admiral Greenert wrote a recent paper that his Chinese counterpart, the head of the PLA Navy, "was surprised that the United States did not have a more forceful reaction when China began its island building in 2013." And so they're actually talking about us and where this is reflected is with our allies. Several of us on this committee were in the South China Sea just a short while ago and our allies — you know they're almost looking at what's happening in the South China Sea, with the island building and all that, as the Chinese preparing for WWIII. And you know, which side are we going to be on? That's something that does bother me.
I think also it's affecting a lot of the attitudes. I know that Xi Jinping said that he would not, "abandon the use of force as a potential means of achieving the unification of Taiwan.” Now, what more can we do to try to overcome this attitude that's out there and is having an adverse effect on our allies? Any thoughts on that?
Davidson: In the operational space, one of the things we've been able to do in just the last five months, Senator is get our allies and partners to join us in the South China Sea. Not all of their operations are defined as freedom of navigation operations as we would define them but their willingness to sail independently in there, to work with us on exercises, demonstrates that the international commitment to maintaining the freedom of those seas and airways. And I think it is critically important to messaging China, that it is not just the United States that is concerned about the freedom of the South China Sea but indeed all nations. And I expect allies and partners to continue to help here in the months ahead, both with some combined operations that we'll be executing as well as some individual operations as well.
One of the other factors that we're working on in the diplomatic space, is to help ASEAN in this discussion about Code of Conduct negotiations with China. China has essentially delivered a draft that dictates to those ASEAN nations when and where and who they would sail with in the South China Sea. Helping them protect the international freedoms of the seas and airspace that have been long established in maritime law that the United States and others have fought for over the centuries is quite important.
Inhofe: Yes, well that's good and my time is expired General Abrams but I will have a question for the record having to do with South Korea and what's going on. Senator Reed.