Described in a Pentagon report as a “sprint effort,” the newly created task force will have many things to consider, such as China’s ambitions in the South China Sea, global expansionist aims and massive military modernization push. Austin and newly sworn in Deputy Secretary of Defence Kathleen H. Hicks called China the “pacing threat” for America.
“China is seeking to overturn the current rules-based structure, which has benefitted all nations in the Indo-Pacific region. The United States and its allies seek to continue the free and open environment in the region. China is using all elements of national power to bend the nations to its will,” the Pentagon report says.
Pentagon officials add that policing exclusive economic zones and territorial sovereignty of relevance to the United States and its allies in highly contested areas such as the South China Sea is likely to be a heavy focus for the task force.
There certainly seems to be little question as to why this kind of task force may be desired, given that China’s Navy is already larger than the U.S. force, the country regularly test-fires hypersonic and anti-satellite weapons and has a long history of appearing to replicate emerging U.S. platforms and technologies not long after they emerge.
Simply, Washington’s aim is deterrence and a decided push to ensure China does not achieve any kind of military “overmatch” capability when it comes to the United States. Much is discussed regarding Chinese technical advances in the areas of artificial intelligence, quantum computing, space weapons, hypersonics and anti-ship missiles. In addition, these efforts are closely paralleled by China’s transparent effort to rival or equal U.S. superiority in the area of fifth-generation fighter jets, dual-carrier force projection operations, new bomber technology and major land systems such as mobile artillery.
However, there is an interesting wrinkle. On the one hand, there is the apparent fact that many of these newer Chinese systems, such as the H-20 bomber, J-20 stealth jet, carrier-launched J-31 fighter and new destroyers and amphibious assault ships, closely resemble U.S. platforms in terms of configuration and potential mission scope. But on the other hand, there are few available indications as to whether these platforms truly rival or counter U.S. dominance in their respective areas. Ripping off design specs, which is a documented occurrence according to many U.S. reports detailing Chinese cyberespionage, would seem to only go so far, meaning the performance of computing, sensing, targeting and weapons systems would be key to discerning any actual measure of difference between U.S. and Chinese platforms.
What might the Task Force lead to or generate in coming months? Well certainly one might see a stepped-up emphasis on the Pacific pivot to Asia, a large-scale initiative put into motion by Joe Biden’s previous administration experience when serving as Barack Obama’s Vice President. The Task Force may also go well beyond that and continue the uptick in surveillance missions, bomber task force patrols and war-preparation training operations with the U.S. Navy and allied nations in the region.