Editor’s Note: As President Obama returns to China, we asked a few national security leaders to weigh in on what you need to know, as they see it from their different perspectives in Congress, policy-making, the military and abroad. China seems to be front-page news only when conflict strikes (See: Ebola, Russia, ISIL). While there is little agreement as to whether China will be a threat or partner to any future security architectures, there is wide agreement the U.S. needs to do more to shape that future.
While the United States has engaged in extended asymmetric conflict over the last decade, the People’s Republic of China has made enormous strides in its military modernization effort and now stands poised to alter the balance of military power in the Indo-Pacific region in its favor. Indeed, in a speech that gained little attention this past summer, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel concluded that “we are entering an era where American dominance…can no longer be taken for granted.” This is a stunning admission that deserves the full attention of Congress.
Here are a few thoughts on what the United States, and specifically Congress, can do in the years ahead to begin to restore this balance.
Build Momentum in the 114th Congress
How the new Senate majority coordinates with the Republican House to address sequestration and the readiness crisis at the Pentagon will be the defining issue of Republican national security leadership in 2015. Beyond addressing the negative trend lines of the defense budget, decisions in the next Congress will also have major implications for the strategic interaction between the U.S. and China. Critical military investments will need to continue to be made in weapons systems that can enable U.S. forces to perform reconnaissance and strike missions from greater ranges and with more persistence and stealth. More specifically, in the fiscal year 2016 budget we will need to ensure we get the requirements right for the Navy’s combat drones and build new momentum for programs in the undersea domain. I am also eager to continue an aggressive oversight effort to explore how the Defense Department, the services and U.S. Pacific Command are addressing the operational challenges our forces face in the region. Two important areas where we turned our focus in FY15 that have not receive enough attention are munitions and maritime logistics. Next year, it will be beneficial to work with the committee, including the Readiness and Strategic Forces subcommittees, to understand how the ballistic and cruise missile threat from China is impacting our operational resiliency. I am also eager to learn more about the “3rd Offset Strategy” initiative that Secretary Hagel has tasked Deputy Secretary Bob Work with developing.
Construct a Congressional-Think Tank Ideas Network
Too often the Congress and the professional staff on the Armed Services Committee have relied solely on the Pentagon and the military services for the answers to our questions. While private think tanks have done a better job in recent years of bringing their ideas to Capitol Hill, we in Congress need to be more cognizant of the benefits of reaching into this community and building new advisory networks. Several times this year I have invited small groups of individuals from across the think tank community to my office for conversations that have helped shape our seapower bill, hearing agenda and further policy oversight. I want to regularize these think tank networks to inform my colleagues and my own oversight efforts in 2015.
Lay The Foundation for the 115th Congress and Beyond
Although the budget work Congress does may be an annual process, we have to make it a regular exercise to consider how the military we are investing in each year will be situated for the war-fighting regimes we will face in the future. There are new capabilities for the 2020s that we must keep on track, including the Ohio-class submarine replacement, and a new long-range bomber. We also need to focus on developing new concepts of operation for conducting naval resupply missions in contested maritime environments, conducting joint operations in a communications degraded or denied environment and conducting air operations from austere, dispersed, or degraded airfields. Finally, we need to develop a munitions strategy that focuses on deploying new advanced munitions for land-attack, anti-surface, and mine warfare, and, just as importantly, procuring a healthy stockpile to have in storage ashore and afloat in the region.