The Pentagon may launch in the Pacific region a permanent naval task force that could rapidly respond to conflict in an effort to stand against China’s expanding military presence, two people familiar with the discussions said, according to a Politico report on Tuesday.
A named military operation would be included in the plan, allowing for Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to distribute funding and resources to the effort, said the sources, who asked to remain anonymous.
The proposed plan would strengthen President Joe Biden’s claims that his administration is tough on the communist nation, particularly surrounding Beijing’s military expansion and aggression in the Pacific region.
The talks began in the Defense Department’s China Task Force, created by the president to scrutinize the Pentagon’s policies and processes relating to China. A defense official, speaking on a condition of anonymity, said the plans from the task force have not been finalized.
“We are looking at a number of proposals in the Indo-Pacific and across the Department, to better synchronize and coordinate our activities,” said the person, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss pre-decisional plans. “However, as the Secretary said, now is the time to get to work, there are many details and specifics still to be finalized.”
The people familiar with the matter told Politico that the task force would mimic the Cold War-era “Standing Naval Forces Atlantic.” Launched by NATO in Europe, the ships formed a quick reaction force that was capable of rapidly responding to conflict. The squadron was typically comprised of six to 10 ships from several NATO nations, including destroyers, frigates and auxiliaries.
“The task force and the named operation suggest to me that they are going to elevate the oomph and the power of the Western Pacific oriented force,” said Elbridge Colby, a Pentagon official under former President Donald Trump. He added that if the force “is focused on the Western Pacific, whether it’s focused on China explicitly or implicitly, it’s got bureaucratic oomph to say ‘hey, no [Central Command], just because you have a knee-jerk reaction to something happening you can’t steal our assets.”
People familiar with the matter said it is unclear whether the task force will include ships from other nations or just the United States. If it does include other nations, Jerry Hendrix, an analyst for consulting firm Telemus Group and the author of “To Provide and Maintain a Navy,” said it would signal a joint effort to stand against against Chinese aggression.
The force would act as a “deterrent because it demonstrates a unity of effort in countering Chinese excessive threats to the concept of a free sea and free trade with their large territorial sea claims,” Hendrix said.