Home » Aviation » McCain to SECDEF Carter: U.S. South China Sea Presence Operations Should Be ‘Magnified’ Not ‘Classified’


McCain to SECDEF Carter: U.S. South China Sea Presence Operations Should Be ‘Magnified’ Not ‘Classified’

Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Sen. John McCain in 2015.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Sen. John McCain in 2015.

THE PENTAGON — The chairman of Senate Armed Services Committee again criticized Defense Secretary Ash Carter for a reluctance to detail U.S. presence operations in the South China Sea during a Thursday Senate hearing.

In the testy exchange between Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Carter, McCain was critical of Carter’s reluctance to confirm recent patrols of Philippines-based U.S. Air Force A-10 Warthog attack aircraft near the disputed Scarborough Shoal claimed both by Manila and Beijing.

The A-10 flights near Scarborough were widely reported and the Air Force acknowledged last week it was flying maritime security patrols from Clark Air Base in the Philippines.

McCain said the U.S. should be more forthright with what it’s doing in the region militarily and compared Carter’s deflection of questions to a similar exchange the pair had last October in which Carter reluctantly confirmed the widely reported freedom of navigation operation conducted by guided missile destroyer USS Lassen (DDG-82) past Chinese artificial holdings on Subi Reef.

“This is the second time, Secretary Carter, that you’ve refused to confirm what is well known in the media. That’s not fair to this committee. It’s all been reported there were flights and — into the area around those islands,” McCain said interrupting a line of questioning from Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.)
“And why you would refuse to confirm that when it’s already been in the media is, I think, not the proper deference that this committee is owed.”

In reply, Carter said: “I’m only refusing because I believe it’s classified information, Senator.”

McCain picked up the thread following questions from Cotton to Carter on criticisms from former Obama administration defense secretaries Leon Panetta and Robert Gates who were critical of how the administration publically spoke about defense policy.

A-10 Warthogs Fly from Clark Air Base on April 19, 2016. US Air Force Photo

A-10 Warthogs Fly from Clark Air Base on April 19, 2016. US Air Force Photo

“I don’t want to belabor the point, Mr. Secretary, but to classify the fact that we are sending our ships and airplanes into international waters and have that classified, when it should be magnified throughout the world that [the] United States is asserting our respect and adherence to international law, is something that is — is confusing and befuddling,” McCain said.
“Why would we want to classify the fact that we are doing what every nation in the world should be able to do? And that’s sail or fly wherever we want to. Why should that be classified information?”

In reply, Carter said:

“It’s a fair point. And I’ll look into why — what aspects of these operations are classified. I’m just respectful of the process, so I’m not going to talk about the details of operations. But there’s no question that — and I’ve said it many, many times, I say it again today. We fly, sail and operate wherever international law permits. We exercise that right routinely,” he said.
“The operational details of a particular flight — it’s a fair question why or what parts of it are classified. I’ll go back and look into it. But I — I’m careful about disclosing classified information or information I believe is classified not to this committee, because you all have access to it in the right setting, but not this setting. And the fact that something’s in the newspaper doesn’t make it unclassified, as we all know.”

Carter’s reluctance to discuss military operations in the Western Pacific follow reports in the last month the administration has asked military leaders to refrain from publically discussing operations that could provoke China via a memo from the National Security Council ahead of a recent nuclear summit, reported Navy Times this month.

Late last year Carter and the Pentagon were asked to remain silent on Lassen’s FON op past Subi Reef. Lack of clear information lead to weeks of confusion to what Chinese claims the U.S. challenged.

Following a similar January South China Sea FON op past Triton Island in the Paracel chain, U.S. officials quickly disclosed the operation and clearly outlined its goals.

Scarborough Shoal

Scarborough Shoal

The more recent A-10 patrols did not come within 12 nautical miles of Scarborough Shoal – the internationally recognized limit of territorial waters – according to press reports.

China has laid claim to the feature since 2012 and ownership of the territory is currently the subject of an international arbitration with the results due soon.

Leading up to the ultimate decision, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson told Reuters in March U.S. forces had seen survey ships near Scarborough – which in the past had been a precursor to land reclamation operations.

  • Ed L

    A- 10’s maritime patrol. Wonder what was on the hard points?

    • GHynson

      Sharks with laser beams on their heads.

    • wfraser11

      What was on the hard points? Enough ordnance to turn a chinese dredge barge or “coast guard” vessel into a pile of iron shavings. Oh wait the 30 mm gatling gun did that. The wing ordnance is reserved for any chinese people who think they “own” part of the philippines.

  • OLDNAVYVET

    Carter gives a new meaning to the word “Inept!”

    • Ford GT basket of deplorables

      Remember he’s an Obama pick!
      His entire cabinet is filled with either inept people or those that should be serving serious prison time!

  • sferrin

    They want to classify Zero’s utter failure in the South China Sea. Can’t let anybody find out the Emperor has no clothes ya know.

  • John King

    Let’s see. The Pentagon doesn’t want the A-10 for ground attack but flies it on ocean surveillance. Hummm,…

    • Ed L

      When the A-10’s first came out. They were used in a maritime role during Solid Shield exercises along with B-52’s in a Maritime RECCE role

      • John B. Morgen

        There was a time about an idea of navalizing the A-10s for carrier operations, but the idea failed apart.

    • sferrin

      Water doesn’t shoot back.

  • publius_maximus_III

    Wow, this webpage had to reload about 20 times before I could get to the end of the article. Anyone else having problems? Just this one, other USNI News articles load normally.

    • Donald Carey

      No problems here.

      • publius_maximus_III

        See comment to Refguy.

    • Refguy

      Yup!

      • publius_maximus_III

        Appears to be an I-pad issue, loads just fine on my desktop.

  • Refguy

    Not in the spirit of Reagan in the Gulf of Sidra

  • Jim DiGiacomo

    Is the A-10 the appropriate aircraft here?

    • wfraser11

      yup. very good for turning chinese “coast guard” vessels into scrap metal on the sea floor.

  • John B. Morgen

    Sending A-10s on air patrols in the South China Sea is a prudent decision, but I hope our aircraft are armed with AGM-65 Maverick or the AGM-84 Harpoon missiles. A-10s are great for sinking FACs or co-called destroyers.

    • sferrin

      Until they decide to shoot back.

      • John B. Morgen

        It’s better be armed at the hip than being caught with our pants are down; plus, sending a stern message to the Chinese: try anything we’ll blow them out of the water. Enough of being too polite with the Chinese.

        • sferrin

          Then use F-15Es, or better yet, B-1Bs.

          • John B. Morgen

            We’d will use both of them; plus, A-10s but we are going to need F-15Es for fighter protection.

  • Pat

    Time to play hardball with the Chi-Coms, isn’t it?. Like our “friends” the Sauds, their barbaric behaviors expose their failed power models. Everything from Ivory poaching, hacking, exploitation of foreign labor, currency manipulation, over-fishing, North-Korean gamesmanship, animal torture, political repression, treaty breaking, taking markets away from ethnic peoples, and now the USS Stennis (CVN 74) insult? We should source all our buys to representative societies, and we must try to boycott China, Arabia,Russia, Bolivia,and all their hateful cousins. The re-positioning to the Pacific is a start. Oh, yeah, they are polled at being even worse than the French as tourists by host countries. So behaviors they employ are hegemonic, barbaric, and anti-democratic? That’s not enough? Talk with people trying to afford a home in Sydney or Vancouver or S.F. about what they’re doing socking away Walmart Bucks in foreign properties, including prime agricultural lands while their Commies ruling junta’s rich “Princes & Princesses” party till the sun goes down . It’s just the same acquisition diversity the Sauds are using to get ready for the end of oil wealth. Then they spend a lot on P.R. trying to prove they have a heart of gold? Sorry, you’re done for me, Pandas not withstanding.

  • Cocidius

    While I love seeing A-10’s flying in the South China Sea at this point it’s too little too late. The Obama Administrations current strategy for deterring the Chinese in the South China Sea is not working and they’re now spending a great deal of time and effort trying to cover up this policy failure.

    About the only thing at this point that would prevent the Chinese from starting the next phase of island building is parking a CVBG over the Scarborough Shoal and that’s certainly not going to happen under this president.

    • Secundius

      And which Carrier Battle Group, are planning to Put There? Remove the one in the Persian Gulf, and use a Destroyer instead. With a Huge Banner, Reading “Rain Check” Treat As Aircraft Carrier…

    • Mars Man

      I myself am not too worried about the chinese build up on these sea level islands,, dont forget there is GLOBAL warming and soon enough the CHINESE will have to buy and furnish snorkels for all the equipment there,, then they will be importing cases of made in USA WD-40 to fix all the rust from salt water,,

  • Refguy

    I think it might be classified? I’ll have to find out why it’s classified? Isn’t SECDEF the final classification authority over ship movements?

    • John B. Morgen

      Be careful because China is reading the USNI’s posts.

  • Refguy

    I’m sure they are, but they already know the ships were there. My bad, this was meant to be a reply to John B. Morgan