The Biden administration official with direct responsibility for the U.S. Army laid out in surprising detail this week a multi-pronged strategy for deterring, and if necessary, prevailing in any future war with China.
“I personally am not of the view that an amphibious invasion of Taiwan is imminent,” U.S. Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth told an audience at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) on Monday. “But we obviously have to prepare, to be prepared to fight and win that war.”
Elements of the plan include placing more troops in Asia and arming them with upgraded equipment, including ship-to-shore vessels and hypersonic weapons, much of which will be pre-positioned in the region.
“Our goal is to avoid fighting a land war in Asia,” Wormuth said. “I think the best way to avoid fighting that war is by showing China and countries in that region we can actually win that war.”
Key components of 'campaigning'
Wormuth laid out three key components of what she called “campaigning” by the U.S. Army to deter such a war, beginning with coalition building with foreign allies and partners to “complicate” the Chinese leadership’s decision-making.
Secondly, she said, the Army is looking at building “theater distribution centers” in the region to stockpile supplies and fuel, “starting, potentially, with Australia.” Wormuth also named Japan as a potential site, and she suggested that non-lethal equipment might be stored in the Philippines and Singapore.
The third element of the deterrence campaign is to place visible, combat-credible, forces in the region, Wormuth said. “Our goal is to have Army forces in the Indo-Pacific seven to eight months out of the year.”
Should deterrence fail, Wormuth told the AEI audience, the U.S. Army, which she calls “the linchpin force,” has five core tasks.
First of all, “it’s going to be our job to establish, then build up, then secure and protect, staging bases for the Navy, for the Marines, for the Air Force, and that’s why we’re really building out integrated air and missile defense capabilities, for example, to be able to protect those kinds of staging bases that are going to be key,” she said.
The second core task is sustaining the joint force, “and that’s where those theater distribution centers come into play. We offer the opportunity to provide secure communications to the broader force, to again provide intra-theater sustainment, to set up munition stockpiles, setting up forward air refueling points, protecting them.”
All of the above is going to be critically important, she said, “given the vast distances we’re looking at.”
Wormuth said the Army is also expanding its fleet of watercraft, noting a watercraft company will be established in Japan. A company-sized military unit could have anywhere from a few dozen to 200 soldiers.
The Army currently reports having a fleet of 132 such watercraft, suitable for ferrying troops and equipment from deep-water vessels to beaches and shorelines, as well as conducting towing and salvage operations.
Wormuth said the Army’s fourth key task, already underway, is to update its arsenal and develop other capabilities traditionally not normally associated with a land-based force.
“We’ve actually got our first battery of long-range hypersonic weapons,” she said, adding she expects this battery to be in service by autumn and become part of “the Army’s first multi-domain task force.”
“And the last thing we do, of course, is to provide counter-attack forces if they’re needed,” she said. “There’s a lot of discussion on how that would work in which different scenarios.”
Wormuth pointed out another critical role for the Army should a conflict break out with China — that of defending the American homeland.
“If we got into a major war with China, the United States homeland would be at risk as well, with both kinetic attacks and non-kinetic attacks,” she said. “Whether it’s cyberattacks on the power grids, or on pipelines, the United States Army, I have no doubt, will be called to provide defense support to civil authorities.”
This critical function of the Army, Wormuth said, is often “put as an asterisk,” that is as an afterthought, which is a mistake, she said.
The Chinese military “are going to go after the will of the United States public, they’re going to try to erode support for a conflict,” she said. “I think the Army will play a role here at home.”
Asked by VOA whether she believes Americans are prepared to sustain the level of casualties that could be expected in a war with China, she said she believes they are willing to fight for their homeland and ideals if and when it becomes necessary, “like we did in World War II.”
Ultimately, she said, “land power is staying power, that’s what we’re about.”