The classic assumptions surrounding a possible war between the United States and China focus on regional naval battles in the Taiwan Strait or the South China Sea, but U.S. Army Major General Richard Coffman recently stated that Americans must be and are already preparing for a worldwide ground conflict with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
The development of the Next-Generation Combat Vehicle (NGCV) under his leadership is one technology and piece of equipment being prepared for such a conflict.
Chinese General Xu Qiliang, vice chairman of the Communist Party’s Central Military Commission and second-in-command besides Xi Jinping, called for increased military spending in early March, in part because he judged that a military conflict between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the United States was inevitable. It was the first time such a statement was made publicly at the highest level of the PLA.
A few days later, on March 10 and March 15, Coffman referred to Xu’s statement in online remarks to the U.S. Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), respectively. He commented, “Anyone that would go to war with the United States would be foolish but … we just got to be ready, no matter where it is, or when.”
PRC Is America’s Pacing Threat
Coffman said there are “many malign actors” in the world, and Communist China is one of them, but unlike others, the PRC is the greatest threat to the United States. He elaborated, “They are using their whole of government, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 [days], across diplomatic, information, military, and economic [to compete with and weaken the U.S.]”
According to Coffman, the United States has only two options in the face of Communist China’s military competition, either to deter or to incite conflict. “The United States is in the deterrence business [because] we don’t want to go to war.” To avoid misinterpretation, Coffman explained that once Beijing believes the U.S. has made concessions or is not ready for war, they will provoke further, or even initiate war. So, instead, the United States must always be prepared for a global war with China, with absolute strength to curb the other side’s impulse to wage war.
Coffman believes that if a military conflict arises between the United States and China, Beijing would not confine the conflict to the South China Sea or the Taiwan Strait. “Every scenario whether it starts there or elsewhere, it will go global fast, faster than wildfire.” Coffman warned that the conflict could soon expand overnight to the Arctic or Africa. “This is a global situation that we would be dealing with,” he warned. “Any belief that China would self-limit in conflict is short-sighted.”
Focus on Capability, Not Probability
While the probability of war is the hottest topic, Coffman emphasized that his business is capability. “[The U.S. Army] is a global army. We have to be ready to fight anywhere in the world. China is our pacing threat and we’re going to bring speed, range, and decisiveness so that we can have decision dominance anywhere in the world and be victorious.”
Some are accustomed to thinking of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command’s area of operations as primarily a maritime theater, but Coffman argues that “the Army is a proud partner of the joint force” and “the only component that will be decisive … to clear, take, and hold terrain.”
The number of PLA ground forces and tanks also requires the U.S. Army to be well-prepared to fight on land. According to Coffman, China has approximately 7,000 tanks and 3,000 infantry fighting vehicles, for a total of 10,000 armored fighting vehicles. “We have to be there with armor to prevent the Chinese to getting into a position of relative advantage.”
Coffman also emphasized the value of joint operations for optimal performance, whether within the Army, between the services, or in the application of technologies and weapons.
Coffman is the Director of the Army Futures Command’s Next-Generation Combat Vehicle Cross-Functional Team. “NGCV; big tough robots; mobile protected firepower and armored multi-purpose vehicles are the main focal points for the future of the fighting force,” U.S. Army NGCV CFT @NGCVCFT tweeted on March 16.
Survivability, mobility, lethality, and volume of fire are key characteristics of the newly developed vehicles. “Survivability is number one for me,” Coffman stressed. American soldiers are always ready to be called by the nation, and leaders ensure they are equipped with the most advanced devices to win and be safe. “On my hierarchy, vehicles really come right after this person. It is all about the soldier.” Coffman said when he spoke at the International Armored Vehicle Conference in 2020.
The US Military’s Greatest Strength
The PLA is also working overtime to modernize its technology and military, a feature of which is to follow the U.S. military’s technology step by step, using various means such as spying and stealing intellectual property. “The number of times that our intellectual properties have been stolen and copied by China and other countries, is significant,” Coffman said.
He said he believes it is because the U.S. military is more technologically advanced that the PLA imitates it, however, there is one decisive factor that the PLA cannot learn or steal. He noted that what the PLA “never will have is the professional women and men of our armed forces in our ability to fight as a joint force and a combined arms team for maneuver. That’s what our advantage is, that combined with our modernization efforts is what makes us the best military in the world.”