NEWPORT, R.I. — Open discussion of how U.S. forces could deter Chinese ships and aircraft could unnecessarily antagonize one of America’s largest trading partners, the Navy’s top admiral said during an address at the U.S. Naval War College on Tuesday.
“If you talk about it openly, you cross the line and unnecessarily antagonize,” said Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Jonathan Greenert during the Current Strategy Forum in Newport, R.I. in response to an audience question.
“You probably have a sense about how much we trade with that country, it’s astounding. “
Greenert was responding to an audience question on how to speak to mid-level officers and enlisted U.S. sailors on tactics, techniques and procedures how to counter Chinese ships and aircraft.
“In a classified nature we look at all of this. There are groups up [Naval War College] that talk about it all the time,” Greenert said.
While the Pentagon seldom singles out China as potential adversary publically, the growing capability of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) — especially the PLA Navy’s (PLAN) — drives larger strategy discussions in the military and in Congress.
Military planners present the problem of Anti-Access Area Denial (A2/AD) — the ability of a force to deny a superior force access to a particular area — agnostically without mentioning specific countries or regions
“It would be antagonistic to any country to openly say that we are preparing [for conflict],” Greenert said later to reporters.
The Pentagon ultimately wants to be able to access any part of the globe with military forces in an all-domain access plan and worked through the all-service Air Sea Battle Office.
“Air Sea Battle is about access and assuring access, and that’s anywhere in the world, it is our intention [to have] all domain access as part of our strategy,” Greenert said in the meeting with reporters.
But key strategic crossroads, like the Strait of Hormuz, the areas around North Korea and the South China Seas are omnipresent in any discussion of A2/AD threats.
To be fair, U.S. strategists constantly generate plans based on a variety of scenarios, no matter how unlikely. For example the U.S. in the lead up to World War II had a war plan designed to counter an attack from the British Isles and more recently created a plan to handle a so-called zombie infestation.
However, the ultimate plan that guided U.S. construction ahead of World War II was War Plan Orange, the plan that focused on the contingency of an expansionist Japanese Empire.
While Chinese capabilities are surely in the mind of U.S. strategists, the Pentagon is also seeking closer military-to-military relationship with Beijing and the PLA.
China is sending four ships to the U.S. led Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2014 multi-national exercise later this month and Greenert and his wife are set to meet his counterpart, PLAN chief Adm. Wu Shengliin, in a July visit to China.
China and the U.S. are also signatories to the Conduct Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES).
A late 2013 run-in between a PLAN amphibious ship and the guided missile cruiser USS Cowpens (CG-63), in part, prompted 21 Pacific nations to sign a military maritime rules-of-the-road earlier this year.
“My view when people ask me ‘what are you going to do about the South China Sea?’ [I say] we’re going to manage it, we’re going to work CUES,” Greenert said.
“We’ve got to manage through it, kiddo.”
Greenert’s view on discussing countering China openlly was disputed by at least one speaker at the Current Strategy Forum.
“I think it’s important for leaders to find ways to talk about China as a military rival,” in order to inform civilian leadership, Aaron Friedberg, a professor at Princeton University said in a later panel.