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Panel to Senate: Moving U.S. Forces Forward Key to Deterring Russia, China

US Army paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade embark aboard the Royal Navy amphibious helicopter carrier HMS Ocean during exercise Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) 2015 on June 9, 2015. US Navy Photo

US Army paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade embark aboard the Royal Navy amphibious helicopter carrier HMS Ocean during exercise Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) 2015 on June 9, 2015. US Navy Photo

Stationing more U.S. forces forward is key to reshaping the American military to deter future Russian and Chinese ambitions in Europe and the Pacific and it can be done now, four defense experts told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday.

Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments said — using the seizure of Crimea as an example — sending forces in later “would look like we’re trying to change the facts on the ground.” This makes the response look like an act of aggression.

“We’re going to have to prevent those things [from happening] in the first place,” he said.

Thomas Donnelly, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said the United States needs to think about China, a continental power, in broader terms than its maritime influence. Now, “a continental power is going to sea,” but historically it has been at odds with Vietnam and India and challenged on land.

Moving more forces forward, David Ochmanek, senior defense research analyst at RAND Corporation, overcomes “the tyranny of distance” in responding to an immediate crisis. In answer to a question about countering Russia in the Baltics, he suggested moving three heavy brigades with artillery support to the region. The force could be a combination of permanently stationed armored units and others rotating through falling on prepositioned equipment and ammunition.

All agreed the forward stationed and forward deployed forces need to be able “to deliver high volume munitions fire,” in Clark’s phrase, to sustain any combat operation if deterrence fails. That means building up munitions stockpiles in all categories, so cross leveling of weapons such as Tomahawk missiles is eliminated, for example.

James Thomas, of the Telemus Group, said, “Our force is misshaped,” as Russia and China have moved ahead with military modernization programs to develop asymmetrical capabilities — from air defense to long-range stand-off weapons and gray area warfare — to counter United States’ strengths.

He called for a re-examination of “the expeditionary mindset” that caused the United States to pull forces from bases in Europe, in particular, back to the homeland.

Thomas added the United States needed to move away from a “one-size-fits-all-approach” to respond to crises in Europe, the Pacific or elsewhere and stationing of forces. Each region “necessitates a unique approach.”

Even with NATO allies, the challenges Russia presents in the Baltics are different from its challenges in the Mediterranean. The United States “needs to think about tailoring the force” for specific areas, Clark added.

The goal is “to reshape the military to survive in these environments” in different regions where, for example, communications are degraded in combat and look for resiliency of the force and equipment in building for deterrence.

“Concealment, cover and deception” were tools used in the Cold War that can be used again, Clark said.

Ochmanek said some of the fixes can be as simple as “putting gravel out there to fix runways,” building shelters to conceal aircraft and moving aircraft and armor around so a potential adversary does not know for certain where they are.

The idea also is to break up the predictability of “where we operate,” say from northern Australia or the Philippines. “That would alter the deterrent calculus of China” in those cases.

It too means a new focus in training distributed forces in “operating in a low bandwidth environment,” he said.

All also agreed that end strength needed to be increased and the need to modernize the force, including the nuclear deterrent, is a priority.

Because of its second strike capability, “The Ohio [class ballistic missile submarine] program rightfully has first place in line” in nuclear weapon modernization, Ochmanek said.

Immediate needs until that larger force can be fielded is to “fully fund readiness accounts,” Donnelly said, so that there is not a drastic drop-off in preparedness when a unit returns from deployment. He said that drop-off in readiness exists down to the crew level in an armored units.

Reducing operations now to increase readiness until that expanded force is fielded was a possible answer, Clark said. “You can’t plan maintenance in advance” which takes a toll on equipment from tanks to aircraft to ships.

Donnelly also suggested looking at existing weapons systems in different ways “to get a lot more mileage out of the old jalopy we’ve got.”

Panel members offered using long-range bombers to deliver air-to-air missiles, using SM-6 missiles in surface-to-surface mode and submarine-launched missiles suppressing air defenses as examples of using existing systems in different ways.

Donnelly said the Navy could speed the Ticonderoga class modernization program and return those ships to the fleet at an earlier date than now projected. He also said the sea service should look at the Zumwalt class destroyer as a platform for future high-energy weapons and electro-magnetic guns.

Clark and others said promising technologies that have been frozen in research and development or testing and evaluation accounts because there was not enough money to put them into production could be moved along as defense spending increases as President Donald Trump indicated during the 2016 campaign.

  • old guy

    Nonsense. The solution is The Philippines building up the atolls, first.

    • Kino C

      Neither the Phiippines or Americans have the industrial capacity to build what China built.

      1. Atolls are too far from American shores + it will cost too much.

      2. Philppines has ZERO industrial capacity. You need hundreds of construction ships….Japan probably has the capacity, but they’re too far.

      • John B. Morgen

        The United States will simply build massive floating forts or standing platforms, then deployed them in strategic areas within the South China Sea regions.

  • Aer O’Head

    Stand down and STFU. Enough is enough already.

  • John B. Morgen

    Both Russia and China must be view as both being land and naval powers in Asia; especially, China as being the primary naval power that could threaten United States interests in Asia. China’s PLAN is increasing every year with newer destroyers, and other warships. The PLAN is set on building and deploying more aircraft carriers of medium tonnage; equaled to that of our USS Midway class aircraft carriers. In sum, China must view as the main threat in the Pacific, with Russia being the secondary threat.

    • Kino C

      And they see the US as their main threat.

      Solution? You close your bases and end your addiction to world domination.

      • John B. Morgen

        The United States will [not] stand-down, nor the United States will close its forward bases because we have security and economic interests that requires a strong military deterrence. The only solution is through military strength and alliances from friendly nation-states that shares the same values as the United States…

  • what

    good luck with that hhehe America cant even win a war with nato lol

  • what

    amercia woke up the bear and dragon they are the new world leaders and amercia is going to do nothing but shut up…amercian days of propaganda and causing wars in countries and creating terroists days are long gone including the phillipines and ukraine ….all amercia did was cause wars in nations and make them fight each other so they could go in and steal and rob and cause death….thats all amercia did to little nations….well those days are all gone now,,,,amercia is ag…ing and nato are granpa nations also ….nobody will join their armies because of to many minorities and other peoples in those nations they made angry from their bullsh*t….nobody will join their armies to fight their own nations are or friends with with those nations…..american evil days are over….now they could just talk…..russia is in the phillipines and syria and other places while amercia is getting thrown out,…..same with china…..bye bye amercian bullsh*t,…china and russia are the world order of peace….and prosperity…..many nations have joined and are or joining …..the new world is here…..the war in ukraine is going to be over very soon …ukraine will see the truth….all amercia wanted was to steal their(ukrainian) resources and thats a fact…..thats why bidens son was there ….to rob them, blind….

    amercia caused wars in …
    and the list goes on…..

    but the funny thing is amercia lost all their wars even with nato and amercian allies isis are getting wiped out by the russians and syrians…facts are facts and truth is truth,,,,,cnn is nothing but a propganda station run buy the corrupt,,,,

    • Kino C

      Agreed. If the US was really that strong, they would not have lost Crimea, Eastern Ukraine.

      And would not have allowed China to build those islands.

      • what

        America is nothing….

      • what

        nwo is china and russia on top…..and majority of the world with them,,,peace prosperity is what they want….america and their fruit cake allies including issis-taliban want wars….and lie and spread propaganda….no more nobody wants american-nato bullshit……the fall of their evil is coming……god willing sooner than later……

  • On Dre

    As much as I would like to disagree with “what” many Americans cant come to admit that the nationalist/racist POV that have infected our country has had a negative impact on our foreign policy.
    And this was before tRumps rambling about Bowling Green and Sweden. How is anyone supposed to take us seriously?