WASHINGTON – The U.S. Army will expand efforts to counter China by deploying a specialized task force to the Pacific capable of conducting information, electronic, cyber and missile operations against Beijing.
The unit, which Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy detailed at an event in Washington on Friday, would also be equipped to hit land- and sea-based targets with long-range precision weapons such as hypersonic missiles, possibly clearing the way for navy vessels in the event of conflict.
The army task force would help neutralize some capabilities China and Russia already possess and are intended to keep U.S. carrier groups away from the Asian mainland, McCarthy said in an interview. It is not clear how quickly the unit, which would likely be based on islands east of Taiwan and the Philippines, can be deployed.
The move is designed to “neutralize all the investments China and Russia have made,” McCarthy said. It would be bolstered by a new agreement with the National Reconnaissance Office that develops and manages U.S. spy satellites, he said. Under that accord, army tactical units will be better able to tap information gleaned from existing and future low Earth orbit satellites, he said.
“There is an ongoing fight for influence in the region, for which access and presence are critical,” McCarthy said at the Brookings Institution event. “Partners matter.”
The pivot would help Defense Secretary Mark Esper achieve a long-sought American goal of shifting more forces from Europe, the Middle East and Africa to the Pacific, better positioning the U.S. to take on “peer competitor” China and historic rival Russia. The extent to which the current tensions with Iran upset that plan remains to determined but the army is pressing ahead.
Under McCarthy’s vision, the move would allow the army to create a new paradigm in the Pacific, where ground forces would “punch a hole” in enemy defenses for air and naval forces.
Now the ground-based unit in those island chains can create the support “for air and sea,” McCarthy said.
China’s military doctrine calls for an “anti-access” strategy, backed by long-range anti-ship missiles and space-based surveillance capabilities, intended to keep U.S. aircraft carrier strike groups well beyond the so-called first and second island chains. The first island chain extends from the Kuril islands down to Borneo, while the second island chain generally extends from just east of Japan to Guam and down toward New Guinea.
The pivot includes greater army participation in regional war games like the Defender Pacific series and deploying a Security Force Assistance Brigade next year for the Indo-Pacific theater similar to ones set up and deployed to Afghanistan, he said.
The army started experimenting with the task force in 2018. The 17th Field Artillery Brigade from Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State conducted nine major training exercises, plus simulations and war games to evaluate concepts.