US Army to deploy task force to Pacific to counter China

The army task force would help neutralise some capabilities China and Russia already possess that are intended to keep US carrier groups away from the Asian mainland.
The army task force would help neutralise some capabilities China and Russia already possess that are intended to keep US carrier groups away from the Asian mainland.PHOTO: AP

WASHINGTON • The US Army will expand efforts to counter China by deploying a specialised task force to the Pacific capable of conducting information, electronic, cyber and missile operations against Beijing.

The unit, which Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy was expected to detail at an event in Washington yesterday, would also be equipped to hit land-and sea-based targets with long-range precision weapons such as hypersonic missiles, possibly clearing the way for navy vessels in the event of conflict.

The army task force would help neutralise some capabilities China and Russia already possess that are intended to keep US carrier groups away from the Asian mainland, Mr McCarthy said in an interview. It is not clear how quickly the unit, which would likely be based on islands east of Taiwan and the Philippines, can be deployed.

The move is designed to "neutralise all the investments China and Russia have made", Mr McCarthy said. It would be bolstered by a new agreement with the National Reconnaissance Office that develops and manages US spy satellites, he said.

Under that accord, army tactical units will be better able to tap information gleaned from existing and future low-earth orbit satellites, he said.

The pivot would help Defence Secretary Mark Esper achieve a long-sought American goal of shifting more forces from Europe, the Middle East and Africa to the Pacific, better positioning the US to take on "peer competitor" China and historic rival Russia.

The extent to which the current tensions with Iran upset that plan remains to be determined but the army is pressing ahead.

Under Mr McCarthy's vision, the move would allow the army to create a new paradigm in the Pacific where ground forces would "punch a hole" in enemy defences for air and naval forces. Now, the ground-based unit in those island chains can create the support "for air and sea", Mr McCarthy said.

China's military doctrine calls for a so-called "anti-access" strategy, backed by long-range anti-ship missiles and space-based surveillance capabilities, intended to keep US aircraft carrier strike groups well beyond the so-called first and second island chains. The first island chain extends from the Kuril islands down to Borneo, while the second island chain generally extends from just east of Japan to Guam and down towards New Guinea.

 

The pivot includes greater army participation in regional war games like the "Defender Pacific" series and deploying a "Security Force Assistance Brigade" next year for the Indo-Pacific theatre similar to ones set up and deployed to Afghanistan, he said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 11, 2020, with the headline 'US Army to deploy task force to Pacific to counter China'. Print Edition | Subscribe