The Russia-Ukraine war is in its second week, with Russian troops pressing forward and Ukrainian forces resisting stubbornly. Amid the war tensions, many countries, including the U.S., are more concerned about China’s Indo-Pacific and Taiwan Strait ambitions.
Last Thursday, Mar. 3, Adm. William Lescher, the vice chief of naval operations, told members of U.S. Congress that the U.S. Navy sees the 2020s as the “highest risk” period for potential Chinese military actions against Taiwan. Thus, the Navy will adjust plans, prioritizing combat readiness over fleet size.
Adm. William Lescher told the House Armed Services Committee that China remains an imminent threat to U.S. forces. He said that the Navy had made a strong point of focusing on the decade of the 2020s. It is always believing and thinking that it is the decade with the highest risk and that the Navy will be ready.
Earlier in the day, U.S. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall also said at a conference in Florida that, “despite current events, the pacing challenge remains China.”
During the war between Russia and Ukraine, Chinese military jets have disturbed Taiwan for several days in a row. China also sent warships to sail in the Taiwan Strait, triggering Taiwan and the West alarms. On Thursday, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the leaders of the four-nation bloc of the United States, India, Australia, and Japan called Quad agreed that what happened in Ukraine should not be allowed to occur in the Indo-Pacific region.
Speaking about the Russia-Ukraine crisis and how to deter China from acting rashly, Seth Cropsey, a former naval officer and a deputy undersecretary of the U.S. Navy, shared his opinion in an article on The Hill. He said that Taiwan’s leaders understand the apparent similarities between Ukraine and Taiwan. While Taiwan is far more strategically important than Ukraine.
He wrote that the U.S. could strengthen its direct deterrence posture against China by rapidly deploying naval and air assets to the Indo-Pacific region, which can be accomplished through four key steps.
Deploy attack submarines to the Western Pacific
Cropsey writes that Naval Station Guam has four Los Angeles-class submarines; Pearl Harbor has five Virginia-class nuclear submarines and 10 Los Angeles-class submarines. And San Diego Harbor has five Virginia-class nuclear submarines (SSNs). Although the Navy uses the Seawolf-class submarines for special missions, all three Seawolf-class submarines are based in Bremerton and Bangor, Washington. As a result, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command has as many as 27 attack submarines at its disposal. The berths on Guam can accommodate multiple submarines at any given time.
Deploying Ohio-class nuclear ballistic missile submarines to the Taiwan Strait
Cropsey suggested that the U.S. deploy at least one of the two Ohio-class nuclear ballistic missile submarines located on the West Coast to the Taiwan Strait. Ballistic missile submarines are a public signal of U.S. resolve. However, it is not a legitimate deterrent to conventional action. China understands that its ballistic missile arsenal is far from sufficient to launch a decapitation strike against the U.S. In contrast, missile submarines provide immediate conventional combat power.
The Arleigh Burke-class destroyers have 96 missile units that could carry air defense, anti-surface, and ground attack missiles. Missile destroyers operating within the range of Chinese missiles would prioritize air defense, reducing their strike capability to 16 to 32 missiles, depending on the exact loadout. But the Ohio-class submarines carry 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles in 22 launch tubes and can rely on their stealth to avoid detection by the enemy before firing their missiles.
Cropsey wrote that a flurry of more than a hundred missiles would disrupt any Chinese landing attempt in Taiwan. The U.S. must prove that a missile submarine is in the war zone, preferably in or near the Taiwan Strait.
On Jan. 15, the Ohio-class nuclear submarine USS Nevada (SSBN-733) made a rare appearance in U.S. Naval Base at Guam. The Pacific Fleet also made a rare Twitter post about it. Nikkei Asia analyzed this move as a warning from the U.S. to China, showing that the U.S. has not forgotten about Taiwan and the Asia-Pacific region due to the tension between Russia and Ukraine.
Thomas Shugart is a former U.S. Navy submarine captain and now an analyst at the Center for a New American Security.
Thomas Shugart said, “It sends a message — intended or not: we can park 100-odd nuclear warheads on your doorstep, and you won’t even know it or be able to do much about it. And the reverse isn’t true and won’t be for a good while”.
The U.S. has 18 Ohio-class nuclear submarines in service. Four of them have been converted to nuclear-powered submarines carrying cruise missiles, while 14 others are equipped with Trident ballistic missile nuclear warheads.
Send additional strategic bombers to Guam
During the 2017-2018 Korean crisis, the U.S. military sent bombers to Guam. The B-1, B-2, and B-52 bombers are ideal for carrying long-range U.S. missiles, such as the AGM-158C.
Cropsey wrote that continuous bomber patrols close to the Taiwan Strait, especially if nuclear and conventional loads remain undeclared, would ensure additional cruise missile coverage in the event of a Chinese attack.
A B-52 spent 23 hours and 25 minutes in the air on a safe flight around Europe and the Mediterranean Sea in mid-February. Such flights were demonstrated to put countries like Russia and China on notice that the U.S. can send bombers anywhere in the world on short notice.
A place like Minot, North Dakota, maybe 6,000 miles from China, but the U.S. Air Force could deploy B-52s with eight to 12 Harpoon anti-ship missiles and 20 AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JAS) to the South China Sea in less than 24 hours.
Strengthening Guam’s Air Defense Capability
In the event of a war in the Taiwan Strait, Guam would be one of the main targets for China because it is the center of U.S. logistics in the Western Pacific.
Guam is a U.S. territory in the Pacific Ocean and is home to approximately 190,000 U.S. civilians and military personnel. Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps bases on Guam are located about 1,800 miles from China, making it the closest base to China on U.S. soil.
Guam would become a major staging point for bombers, submarines, and troops should the U.S. become involved in any conflict in the Pacific, including a conflict between China and Taiwan.
Cropsey said now is the time to deploy the Patriot PAC-3 system and the SAD anti-ballistic missile system on the Guam front.