Building an Asymmetric Advantage in the Indo-Pacific Section of the Department of Defense Against Chinese Aggression > US Department of Defense > Department of Defense news


In the Indo-Pacific region, Chinese aggression demonstrates Beijing’s efforts to deconstruct core elements of the international rules-based order and gain greater control over the waterways that connect it to its neighbors, the deputy defense minister for Indo-Pacific security affairs said.

For example, last month a Chinese warplane slit the nose of an Australian plane conducting legal operations over the South China Sea. The Chinese plane released chaff that was sucked into the Australian plane’s engine, said Ely Ratner, speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Chaff” consists of fragments of aluminum or other material released from an aircraft as a radar countermeasure.

That incident, Ratner said, came shortly after another series of incidents in which Chinese planes unsafely intercepted Canadian planes also conducting legal activities over the East China Sea on behalf of the UN Security Council.

In another incident, he said, a Chinese naval vessel endangered another Australian plane by aiming a laser at it.

“These are not isolated cases,” Ratner said. “Over the past five years, the number of unsafe interceptions by the PLA (People’s Liberation Army), including US allies and partners operating lawfully in international airspace in the South China Sea, has increased dramatically, with dozens of dangerous events occurring in the first half of this year alone are.” . In my view, this aggressive and irresponsible behavior poses one of the greatest threats to peace and stability in the region today, including in the South China Sea.”

Ratner said if the Chinese military continues this unsafe behavior in a short period of time, there could be a major incident or casualty in the area. The Chinese actions are part of Beijing’s efforts to systematically test the limits of US and partner resolve and push for a new status quo in the South China Sea that disregards existing commitments to respect sovereignty and resolve disputes peacefully, in accordance with international law.

“This requires us to show the will and ability to adequately deter the aggression of the People’s Republic of China,” he said.

The Department of Defense has a strategy, Ratner said, aimed at ensuring the US, its partners and allies can continue to enjoy a free and open Indo-Pacific region where both international law and national sovereignty are respected.

Building asymmetric benefits for US partners

Establish a battle-hardened forward presence in the Indo-Pacific

Supporting the most capable US partners in the region

“Without question, strengthening the self-defense capabilities of our partners in the South China Sea and throughout the region is a task of paramount importance for the Department of Defense,” Ratner said. “The Department of Defense is taking an increasingly proactive approach to finding new options to support this effort.”

Underlying this approach, he said, is the understanding that deterrence does not mean directly matching competitors’ capabilities.

“We have seen reminders in Ukraine that smaller nations can outmaneuver larger attackers through intelligent investments in self-defense technologies, anti-aircraft weapons and other capabilities to counter access and denial,” he said.

Information can also be as powerful a tool as hardware, he said. To that end, the Department of Defense is better supporting its partners’ intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities and is rethinking the way it manages and shares information.

“We are increasing our efforts to create a common operational picture with our partners that will enable them to better detect and combat illegal activities in their territorial waters,” he said. “Our new Indo-Pacific Maritime Awareness Partnership…that we launched at the Quad Leaders Summit in May is just one way we’re doing this.”

The Indo-Pacific maritime reconnaissance partnership, he said, will allow the US to share satellite data with partners in near real-time.

Building a more combat-credible forward presence in the Indo-Pacific, Ratner said, means focusing on day-to-day campaigns and leveraging new capabilities, concepts of operations, and co-evolving warfare with allies to complicate the military preparations of competitors.

“We are building a more dynamic presence in the region,” he said. “In practice, this means that we move forward and act more flexibly, also through a regular pace of rotating activities.”

As examples, two US aircraft carrier attack groups, a Japanese helicopter destroyer and a British aircraft carrier attack group joined last fall to conduct multilateral, multi-carrier operations in the Philippine Sea.

“As the USS Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Assault Group rotated through the Indian Ocean and eventually the South China Sea last spring, we conducted multi-domain operations with the Indian Navy and Air Force, integrating air, anti-submarine and command and control elements were,” he said.

Across the Indo-Pacific, Ratner said, the U.S. military has increased the complexity, commonality, duration, and scope of joint exercises with allies.

“As we continue to strengthen our position in the region, we will not relax our commitment to fly, sail and operate wherever international law permits to ensure all nations can exercise that right,” he said .

Another attempt by the department to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific region, Ratner said, is to better support America’s more able partners and allies in the region.

“The ability of the United States to pursue shared security and economic goals with like-minded nations is the cornerstone of our success and the root of our strategy,” he said. “Specifically for the US military, our defense relationships and our ability to bind them more closely together into more interoperable coalitions can highlight the cost of aggression.”

U.S. alliances with, for example, Australia, Japan, the Philippines, South Korea and Thailand remain the focus of the Department of Defense’s approach, he said.

During a recent trip to Thailand, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and his counterparts there discussed ways to expand bilateral training and exercises, including establishing a Mutual Access Task Force, Ratner said.

The US is also working with the Philippines to develop new bilateral defense policies to clarify respective roles, missions and capabilities under the US-Philippines alliance, Ratner said. Already, he said, the US and the Philippines jointly participate in more than 300 exercises and military activities each year.

“We’re not looking for confrontation or conflict,” Ratner said. “We say this publicly, we say this privately. Our primary concern is to maintain the order that has maintained peace in the region for decades. And while we always stand ready to win in conflict, the primary responsibility rests with the Department of Defense.” Preventing and deterring is the cornerstone of our strategy.”

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