Carter says U.S. reacting to China’s isles moves, including in defense budget

Kyodo, reuters

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter listed a rising China and North Korea’s nuclear programs as among the challenges facing the United States as he called Tuesday for defense outlays in fiscal 2017 to be maintained at current levels.

One of the challenges is “the Asia-Pacific region, where China is rising and where we’re continuing and will continue our rebalance, so-called, to maintain the stability in the region that we have underwritten for 70 years,” Carter said, referring to President Barack Obama’s policy of putting priority on Asia.

Carter said China appears to be using artificial islands it created on submerged reefs in the South China Sea for military purposes and that the U.S. military will continue to operate ships and aircraft in the area to demonstrate that there is no legal basis in Beijing’s claim to the islands.

“We’re reacting. We have to react” to the Chinese moves, Carter said.

On North Korea, Carter, citing a fourth nuclear test Pyongyang conducted last month, said its nuclear program and development of long-range ballistic missiles are a “serious concern” and “a threat to both us and to our allies.”

“That’s why our forces on the Korean Peninsula remain ready every single day, today, tomorrow, to, as we call it, fight tonight,” Carter said.

Carter said the other challenges for the United States are Islamic State extremists, Russia-related issues including the Ukrainian crisis, and the Iranian nuclear programs.

He said the Pentagon would seek a $582.7 billion defense budget next year and reshape spending priorities to reflect the new strategic environment.

Carter, speaking to the Economic Club of Washington, said the funding request was in line with last year’s congressional budget deal, with a clear focus on five big challenges facing the U.S. military: Russia, China, North Korea, Iran and Islamic State.

“Today’s security environment is dramatically different than the one we’ve been engaged with for the last 25 years and it requires new ways of thinking and new ways of acting,” he said.

Carter’s remarks came a week ahead of the formal rollout of the administration’s budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, providing a preview of what remains by far the largest military budget in the world.

He told reporters during a visit to a California naval base that the budget plan focused on higher-end weapons spending to maintain the U.S. military’s competitive edge over countries like Russia and China, which are expanding their militaries.

The proposal drew immediate fire from Republicans, who railed against Obama’s failure to request more funding to defeat Islamic State.

Carter told reporters the administration had budgeted $7.5 billion for an accelerated fight against the militant group, 50 percent more than this year, and would seek further war funding later if needed.

He said the United States has used so many smart bombs and laser-guided rockets against the militants in Iraq and Syria that it is running low on the weapons and needs to invest $1.8 billion for 45,000 more.

Carter said the Pentagon would ask for $3.4 billion to boost military training and exercises aimed at reassuring European countries concerned about Russia, which seized Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014 and has worried NATO allies with its strategic bomber flights.

Obama said in a statement the request, a four-fold increase from last year’s $789 million, would enable the United States to strengthen the U.S. military posture in Europe. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called the move a “clear sign” of the U.S. commitment to European security.

Carter also voiced concern about China’s military intentions. Beijing has been rapidly developing missiles and other weapons that could force the U.S. military to operate farther from shore in the case of a conflict.

“Key to our approach is being able to deter our most advanced competitors,” he said. “We must have — and be seen to have — the ability to impose unacceptable costs on an advanced aggressor.”

To build upon the U.S. military’s technological superiority, Carter said the Defense Department planned to invest $71.4 billion next year in research and development, much of it aimed at boosting strategic capabilities.

The military has been developing drone aircraft and boats that are capable of swarming an adversary, preventing it from threatening U.S. warships and jets.

He said the Pentagon also would spend $8.1 billion on undersea warfare in fiscal 2017 and more than $40 billion in the next five years.

Carter later flew to Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake in California to get updates on new high-end weapons being developed and tested there, including precision Long Range Anti-Ship Missiles built by Lockheed Martin Corp.

He said the department would spend nearly $1 billion over the next five years to buy the new missiles.

The Pentagon also plans to spend about $2 billion over the next five years to buy more Raytheon Co. Tomahawk missiles and upgrade their capabilities, bringing the U.S. inventory of the missiles to above 4,000, Carter said.