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Pentagon leaders cite rising threat from China, Russia

Russian Airborne Troops (Pixabay)

China and Russia’s new naval, cyberwarfare and related weapons capabilities are not only intended as defense in a hostile world but are evidence of a new “Great Power” buildup that threatens American interests and requires an innovative U.S. response, two top Pentagon leaders said Tuesday at the Naval War College.

“We’ve got to change. The only thing we can’t do is stay the same,” said Gen. Robert B. Neller, Commandant of the Marines.

“We could lose this if we don’t get going,” said Adm. John M. Richardson, Chief of Naval Operations, the Navy’s senior officer.

Meanwhile, another speaker during the first day of the university’s 69th annual Current Strategy Forum, a gathering of hundreds of the nation’s leading officers and military and defense scholars, said that it is “way too early” to assess the success of the unprecedented summit that brought President Donald Trump together with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore.

“It’s significant that it happened,” professor of maritime strategy James R. Holmes told members of the media, in comments reflecting his views and not necessarily the college’s. But it will take time to analyze the agreement Trump and Kim signed, Holmes said, and only time will tell if North Korea really moves toward denuclearization.

“I would not get too excited one way or another today,” Holmes said. “We’ll have to wait and see what we were promised. … There are a lot of moving parts going on here.”

During his address, Naval Operations Chief Richardson projected a map that displayed major ports, spheres of influence, and the planet’s commercial sea lanes, vital to the global economy. China’s growing might was vividly portrayed.

The country, he said, is “moving their navy and their commercial assets further and further afield as their economy expands beyond their continental limits.” And while Russia’s navy is as yet no match for America’s, Richardson said, “the Russians are back at sea with levels of activity not seen since the Cold War.”

And, he said, the Russian military is gaining real-life “practice” in warfare with its involvement in Syria. Practice, he said, has advantages that training, which does not involve actual fighting, cannot provide.

Like Marine chief Neller, Richardson said that the Pentagon must invest more heavily in new technologies, including lasers, artificial intelligence, unmanned systems such as undersea drones, and other weapons as yet only imagined. Indeed, imagination — thinking outside the box — should be encourage at all levels, he said.

But he, like Neller, placed a premium on personnel — recruiting and keeping warriors who are willing to risk their lives and forgo the higher salaries they might earn in the private sector in service to their country. And once on board, he said, they should be supported in unconventional thinking and approaches to countering the new Great Power threats.

“It’s about people,” Richardson said. “All about human resources.”

Neller outlined some of the steps the Corps is taking as part of its “Force 2025” strategic plan. They include “increasing lethality while decreasing load and increasing maneuverability,” improving intelligence, developing defensive measures against enemy drones, greater use of robotics, and greater use of 3-D printing for fast and cheap parts replacement.

“We’re going to need submarines, were going to need unmanned and manned aircraft in front of us to surveil space, we’re going to have to see from space,” Neller said.

“At some point, something’s going to go bump in the night,” he said. “You can look at the South Pacific and see where certain countries are out there right now buying concession for ports and airfields, spending lots of money to gain geographical advantage. It’s not a secret. It’s open press. It’s right out there. Sadly, I don’t see us doing a lot to contest that.

“You’re familiar with the Chinese game of Go, where you put marbles on the board. They’re out there putting marbles down. We’ve got marbles … but pretty soon there’s not going to be any place for marbles if we don’t start doing something. And the Russians are doing similar things in different parts of the world.”

Another speaker, defense analyst Christopher J. Parry, a retired British admiral, was more blunt: “China is on the attack,” he said.

Asked to assess the status of U.S. maritime superiority today, Richardson said, “Right now, the home team is ahead.”

Then he added: “I think we need to recapture the momentum of the game on our side. Closing the score. Catching up. If we don’t pick up the pace, if we don’t recapture the momentum, if we don’t move with more agility, if we don’t get a fire in our gut, there is nothing elemental that says we win this fight. … We could lose it if we don’t get going.”

Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer also spoke on Tuesday. He praised congressional support for the military during the Trump presidency, and said that with Richardson and Neller, “The needle is moving … the arrow is back to true north.”

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© 2018 The Providence Journal (Providence, R.I.)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.