- - Monday, April 25, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

It is time to help the United States Pacific Command (PACOM) deter Chinese military aggression with superior strength rather than encourage its adventurism by showing weakness.

Recent reports that the Obama White House sought to muzzle criticism of China by PACOM Commander Adm. Harry Harris — which he has denied — at least contributes to a longstanding impression that the White House has preferred to pull its punches as China seeks to impose increasing control of the strategic South China Sea.

A more appropriate U.S. response followed reports in February and March that China had deployed to Woody Island in the Paracel Island Group its 150-kilometer-range HQ-9 anti-aircraft missiles and then its 400-kilometer-range YJ-62 anti-ship cruise missiles. This now sets a pattern for Chinese missile deployment to its new large bases in the Spratly Island Group: Fiery Cross Reef, Subi Reef and Mischief Reef, which is only 216 kilometers away from Palawan Island of the Philippines, a U.S. defense treaty ally. China could also be building a new base on Scarborough Shoal, only 265 kilometers away from Subic Bay in the Philippines.

In demonstrations executed by PACOM, on March 23, the nuclear-powered cruise missile submarine USS Ohio made its first visit to Subic Bay, a former and future base for U.S. naval forces. Then in the first week of April as part of the annual U.S.-Philippine “Balikatan” military exercises, the United States for the first time deployed its precision-guided High Mobility Artillery Rocket System.

This is the correct way to begin to respond to China’s increasing missile threat. The Ohio class submarines can carry up to 154 1,300-kilometer-range Tomahawk cruise missiles, and the U.S. Navy has four of these submarines. The High Mobility Artillery Rocket System demonstrated the firing of 70-kilometer-range artillery rockets and can fire the 300-kilometer-range Army Tactical Missile System.

However, as China continues to consolidate and arm its “wall of sand” military bases in the South China Sea, Washington needs to deploy a “wall of missiles” that can utterly destroy China’s new air-naval and missile bases if it uses them against U.S. friends and allies. PACOM will require many more platforms that greatly increase the number of attack and defense missiles on constant deployment — and the political leadership from Washington to allow the deployment and sale of new missiles.

This should start with the deployment of hundreds of Army tactical missiles to the Philippines to allow for instant retaliation if China uses its new island military bases. A good idea from the Pentagon is to convert older U.S. Air Force bombers like the B-52 or B-1 to carry scores of small but smart and long-range missiles, making them “arsenal aircraft.” But the U.S. Navy also requires “arsenal ships” and “arsenal submarines” to complete a “wall of missiles.”

For example, in 2013, defense firm Huntington Ingles proposed a ballistic missile defense version of its LPD 17 Landing Platform Dock amphibious assault ship, but equipped with very long range radar, hundreds of missiles and a rail gun. More recently, Lockheed Martin has proposed something similar. Both ships could be equipped with new medium- or intermediate-range ballistic missiles for attack missions.

In addition, the Ohio class submarine, which currently is equipped with 24 missile tubes, could be developed into a version with 48 missile tubes, potentially enabling a 300-plus missile load-out. This much larger submarine could also be equipped with long-range radar and its tubes could accommodate defensive rail guns as well.

When used in concert, the arsenal aircraft, arsenal ship and arsenal submarine could be used to overwhelm China’s new small island bases in the South China Sea, quickly mobilize multiple thousands of missiles to deter a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, or deter China from attacking Japan’s islands in the East China Sea.

These U.S. missile platforms are needed to counter China’s other missiles, the ones usually called North Korean intercontinental range ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Pyongyang’s new KN-08 and KN-14 ICBMs ride a large 16-wheel Chinese-made transporter erector launcher. China basically told U.S. officials in 2012 that its transfer of these launchers was a kind of mistake. Thanks to China, North Korea’s nuclear ICBMs, which can reach most American cities, have much greater survivability.

Washington’s goal should be to rapidly build these arsenal platforms and equip them with new intermediate- and medium-range ballistic missiles, which complement defensive missiles. Such a “wall of missiles” can deter China well into the next decade, which is far preferable to allowing China to start skirmishes that will lead to wars and destroy the peace that is the foundation of Asian and American prosperity.

James A. Lyons, a retired U.S. Navy admiral, was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Richard D. Fisher Jr. is a senior fellow with the International Assessment and Strategy Center.

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