In response to China’s increasingly powerful blue-water navy and deployment of long-range “carrier killer” anti-ship ballistic missiles, the U.S. Army has developed a suite of weapons designed to destroy or suppress Chinese targets from very long ranges, and do so quickly and precisely while reducing the threat these Chinese weapons pose to vital Navy and Air Force offensive weaponry.
The commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, Navy Admiral Philip Davidson, recently told the Senate Armed Services Committee he likes the Army’s idea.
When Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) posed a question about China’s disruptive military power in the western Pacific, Davidson replied, “A wider base of long-range precision fires … enabled by all our terrestrial forces—not just sea and air, but by land forces as well—is critically important to stabilizing what is becoming a more unstable environment in the western Pacific …. Long-range precision fires delivered by the ground force, I think, are critically important.”
Chinese weapons now put precious Navy and Air Force offensive systems, such as aircraft carriers and strategic bombers, at risk. Adm. Davidson understands that a “wider base of fires” means more American firepower coming from more and different places—“dispersed and distributed positions” is the jargon. The Army programs complicate warfighting for Chinese targeteers while simultaneously threatening China’s long-range weapons systems.
In April 2020, Army Chief of Staff James McConville said the Army’s ground-based weapons give commanders multiple options and “present multiple dilemmas to someone that we are trying to compete against so they can’t focus on just one option that we have.”
Davidson and McConville are attempting to defeat China’s anti-access/area denial strategy in the Pacific. English translation: If the Navy thinks it might lose a super carrier to a long-range Chinese weapon, it will keep its key offensive task forces, the carrier battle groups, away from the western Pacific and out of range.
Keeping the carrier battlegroups in the central or eastern Pacific has military and diplomatic costs. It could give Chinese forces time to gain regional military superiority and seize Taiwan.
A key weapon in China’s anti-access/area denial strategy is the Dong Feng 21D anti-ship ballistic missile, which the Pentagon believes has achieved “initial operational capability,” which means it’s already a threat to the carriers.
In a nutshell, the Army wants to place mobile, long-range missile and extended-range artillery batteries on Pacific islands and perhaps in Japan and South Korea. The missiles and artillery rounds are “smart”—meaning precise.
Should China attack, the Army’s missile fire would complement other long-range attacks to destroy Chinese ballistic missiles, air bases, coastal defenses and even warships.
With China’s long-range fires “softened up,” Navy carrier battle groups head west and, along with Air Force airstrikes, deliver the counterattack: perhaps the coup de grace to China’s communist dictatorship.
Chinese belligerence might give other Asian mainland nations good reason to occasionally let the U.S. position Army weapons on their territory. Two possibilities: Vietnam and India both know communist China is their worst enemy.
The Army’s weapons suite includes the Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon, which should be available in 2023. Its range is over 1,700 miles, meaning missiles on Guam can strike Chinese forces attacking Taiwan. The Precision Strike Missile has a 300-mile range. Extended-range tube artillery is also in the mix.
These weapons can be air-delivered, by C-17s or, conceivably, a C-130 seaplane that is under consideration.
Some Air Force officers find the Army programs problematic—they infringe on Air Force long-range strike prerogatives and thus violate the 1948 Key West Agreement that defined service roles and missions.
Putting long-range Chinese weapons at risk would flip the script and directly challenge Chinese military and diplomatic strategy in the western and central Pacific.
That type of antiquated interservice rivalry leads to self-defeat.
This is a fact: As 2021 began, the Air Force only had 158 B-1, B-2, and B-52 strategic bombers. Its jet fighters are dependent on airbases that Chinese missiles and aircraft threaten—at least until distributed long range U.S. firepower eliminates the threat.
Austin Bay is a colonel (ret.) in the U.S. Army Reserve, author, syndicated columnist, and teacher of strategy and strategic theory at the University of Texas–Austin. His latest book is “Cocktails from Hell: Five Wars Shaping the 21st Century.”
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.