Photo by Varuth Pongsapipatt/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Photo by Varuth Pongsapipatt/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images South-Korean Marines running on the beach during Cobra Gold, the joint military exercise on Hat Yao beach in Chonburi, Thailand with INDOPACOM/

US Can Handle China, Ukraine Missions Simultaneously, Top Pacific Admiral Says

But do send more money, the leader of Indo-Pacific Command told lawmakers.

U.S. forces need a lot of things to make sure China can’t conquer Taiwan, but they don’t need anything that’s going to Ukraine, the commander of Indo-Pacific Command told lawmakers on Thursday.

The notion that the United States can’t deter China while helping Ukraine has steadily gained traction among some key Republicans. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., opposed the accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO, arguing that expanding security commitments in Europe would make it harder to keep the peace in Asia. Hawley, an election denier, is not alone. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a likely presidential candidate, has also said that confronting China is a vital U.S. interest while supporting Ukraine is not. Even some within the Washington, D.C., foreign policy elite, most notably Elbridge Colby of the Marathon Initiative, have made similar arguments. 

Twice during Thursday’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, INDOPACOM commander Adm. John Aquilino was asked whether he believed U.S. support for Ukraine was hurting his effort to deter China.

“I do not,” Aquilino said. “The United States is the only global force capable of managing multiple threats…I haven't been impacted at this point as it applies to my deterrence mission. So I do believe we can do both.”

For example, he said, the U.S. donation of munitions to Ukraine—such as Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System rounds and 155mm howitzer shells—isn’t hurting his stockpiles.

“The fight that's ongoing between the Ukrainians and the Russians—the munitions that we are providing to Ukraine at this time—are not degrading capabilities that are necessary for the fight that might occur in Taiwan,” he said. 

But that doesn’t mean that INDOPACOM has all it needs. In addition to the $9.1 billion that the Pentagon is asking lawmakers to give the command, it also lists $3.5 billion in “unfunded priorities” that didn’t make it into this year’s Pentagon budget request. 

Top of the list of things that Aquilino says that he needs are more precision long-range missiles to be distributed across the services, such as Tomahawk land-attack missiles and funding for the Army’s Precision Strike Missile Increment II. 

“Those are the capabilities that [the Army’s Multi-Domain Task Forces and Marine Littoral Regiment] forces need” for their missions, he said.

At one point Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, pointed out that China has more than 1,250 ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 5,500 kilometers. “How many ground-launched missiles of that range does the United States field?” she asked. 

Aquilino responded, “None that I'm aware of at this time.” 

But he also stressed the need for EC-37B electronic warfare jets as well as a new secure communications system for U.S. partners and allies in the region. 

“Part of my unfunded list is something called a Mission Partner Environment to talk to those allies and partners. Right now, [that takes] 13 separate networks. That's costly. They're at risk. And what we are attempting to deliver is a single pane of glass that allows us to communicate securely in a cyber safe way with all of our partners across the region,” regardless of classification, he said. 

The U.S. military has stressed a strategy in the INDOPACOM region sometimes described as  “fewer bases, more places,” meaning more forces rotating through various locations and fewer fixed bases. That’s particularly important for partners like the Philippines, which have an interest in working with the United States but don’t necessarily want to be a permanent fixed base for U.S. forces. 

But that’s more expensive. Aquilino said he needs “campaigning” funds so INDOPACOM can “pick up the force and move it forward into the theater in places where they can operate with our allies and partners and that money is not to do maintenance. It's not to do depo-level sustainment. It is for transportation costs to be able to move the force and sustain the force forward.”

But it’s not all just outlay. Taiwan has U.S. approval to buy $19 billion in arms from U.S. companies, but deliveries are coming slowly, he said.

“I can't tell you which specific ones are backlogged [in an unclassified setting] but if you think about anti-aircraft capability, you think about anti-ship capability in a variety of forms, whether they be missiles, mines, those capabilities would be critical,” he said.