Pacific command believes China controls South China Sea in all scenarios short of war

There is a 50-page transcript and report on Advance Policy Questions for Admiral Philip Davidson, USN Expected Nominee for Commander, U.S. Pacific Command.

The Commander, U.S. Pacific Command is responsible for deterring attacks against the United States and its territories, possessions, and bases, to protect Americans and American interests and, in the event that deterrence fails, to win our Nation’s wars. The Commander is also responsible for expanding security cooperation with our allies, partners, and friends across the Indo-Pacific region and should be prepared to defend allies in accordance with mutual defense treaties and agreements.

Highlights from Admiral Davidson

* China is now capable of controlling the South China Sea in all scenarios short of war with the United States
* Davidson wants new small nuclear weapons to counter a North Korea nuclear breakout

Nextbigfuture does not believe that the US would go to war over the South China Sea to help Japan, Taiwan or any other country in the region. The USA would only go to war if China attacked the USA. China will not attack the USA.

The United States maintains a critical advantage in undersea warfare. What investments is China making to erode this advantage? What is your assessment of how successful these efforts have been?

The United States maintains a significant asymmetric advantage in undersea warfare, but the PLA is making progress. China has identified undersea warfare as a priority, both for increasing their own capabilities as well as challenging ours. The Chinese are investing in a range of platforms, including quieter submarines armed with increasingly sophisticated weapons, unmanned underwater vehicles, new sensors, and new fixed-wing and rotary-wing submarine-hunting aircraft. Ultimately, this is a perishable advantage for the United States.
Absent sustained, consistent investment and constant innovation, the PLA will catch the United States in this critical regime.

What is your assessment of the development of China’s air forces? What implications does China’s improving capability and capacity have for U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy investment priorities?

China’s air forces are rapidly modernizing as part of a long-term effort to transform the force into one that is able to control and defend the airspace in and around China and also project power over longer distances. While Chinese air forces are not as advanced as those of the United States, they are rapidly closing the gap through the development of new fourth and fifth generation fighters (including carrier-based fighters), long range bombers, advanced UAVs, advanced anti-air missiles, and long-distance strategic airlift. In line with the Chinese military’s broader reforms, Chinese air forces are emphasizing joint operations and expanding their operations, such as through more frequent long-range bomber flights into the Western Pacific and South China Sea. As a result of these technological and operational advances, the Chinese air forces will pose an increasing risk not only to our air forces but also to our naval forces, air bases and ground forces.

Given these developments, PACOM prioritizes advanced 5th-Generation fighters, upgrading 4th Generation aircraft with 5th generation capabilities, developing more lethal air-to-air missiles, enhancing missile defense, and investing in increased resiliency in forward deployed force posture. If confirmed, I will look closely at the need for improved battle management capabilities and resilient tactical networks as well.

What is your assessment of China’s militarization activities in the South China Sea? What potential challenges do these activities pose to PACOM’s current operations and operational plans? How do these militarization activities change China’s ability to project power in the region?

China’s development of forward military bases in the South China Sea began in December 2013 when the first dredger arrived at Johnson Reef. Through 2015, China used dredging efforts to build up these reefs and create manmade islands, destroying the reefs in the process. Since then, China has constructed clear military facilities on the islands, with several bases including hangars, barracks, underground fuel and water storage facilities, and bunkers to house offense and defensive kinetic and non-kinetic systems. These actions stand in direct contrast to the assertion that President Xi made in 2015 in the Rose Garden when he commented that Beijing had no intent to militarize the South China Sea. Today these forward operating bases appear complete. The only thing lacking are the deployed forces. Once occupied, China will be able to extend its influence thousands of miles to the south and project power deep into Oceania. The PLA will be able to use these bases to challenge U.S. presence in the region, and any forces deployed to the islands would easily overwhelm the military forces of any other South China Sea-claimants. In short, China is now capable of controlling the South China Sea in all scenarios short of war with the United States.

In your assessment, what military options should the United States explore to maintain and improve the credibility of U.S. extended deterrence should North Korea successfully demonstrate a viable nuclear strike capability against the United States?

The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) calls on the United States to modernize the Nuclear Triad, Nuclear Command Control and Communication systems, and to recapitalize the Department of Energy’s nuclear scientific and production facilities. The NPR also calls for a new Low Yield Ballistic Missile and to pursue a modern nuclear-armed Sea Launched Cruise Missile (SLCM). These actions will send a strong deterrence message to our adversaries including North Korea. These provide additional diversity in platforms, range, and survivability, and a valuable hedge against future nuclear “break out” scenarios.