Acting Deputy Defense Secretary Talks China, Fires Shots at LCS
SAN DIEGO — The acting deputy secretary of defense fired shots across the bow of both the Navy’s newest warship and its biggest, often unnamed rival in the Asia-Pacific region.
Christine Fox, in one of her first public addresses since taking office late last year, said the United States must carefully manage its ongoing drawdown of forces and resources while it makes a strategic pivot to the largely maritime Pacific theater.
“There is no avoiding the rise of China,” Fox said Feb. 11. “U.S. defense leaders are frequently asked if our rebalance is about China. In reality it is not about any one country. Clearly China’s rising dynamism has been a welcome development."
Still, Fox reminded the audience at the AFCEA West conference that while the U.S. defense budget will tighten over the next decade, China’s is increasing at the rate of about 10 percent each year.
“For a variety of fiscal and political factors, the United States is disproportionately reducing the very investments intended to sustain our technological superiority,” she said.
“It is no secret that China is developing its military capabilities designed to thwart the freedom of movement of others in the region and expand their influence. I do not wish to see the U.S. loose its decisive advantage."
Sequestration cut $6 billion from the modernization accounts from a military whose Navy has not been seriously challenged at sea since World War II, Fox said. Given the shortage of resources, the Pentagon must carefully invest in the correct technologies and vessels, if the United States wishes to maintain the advantage it enjoys in the Pacific today, she added.
“The threats to surface combatants continue to grow,” she said. “Clearly this puts a premium on undersea capabilities … submarines. For aerial platforms we need the ability to strike from over the horizon, from secure locations.”
Fox then questioned the U.S. Navy's investment decisions regarding future ships. Without naming the Littoral Combat Ship, Fox said “niche platforms," are an unwise use of scare modernization dollars.
According to media reports last month, Fox is a proponent of reducing the Navy's LCS buy from 52 to 32 ships. Navy leaders are pushing back.
Fox suggested the money would be better spent on other systems. “With limited resources and global responsibilities, we simply cannot afford to yield a Navy for one region for one kind of fight. We need a flexible portfolio of capabilities that can operate along the full spectrum of conflict and military operations.”
It is an imperative to devote more resources to the “survivability” of the Navy’s fleet, she said. A lack of survivability — which was noted in the latest report of the Defense Department's director of test and evaluation — is one of the main concerns about the littoral combat ship. The USS Freedom, the first of the class, recently returned from its maiden voyage in Singapore. The ship has been plagued by cost overruns and minor malfunctions which senior Pentagon leaders have largely dismissed as hiccups associated with a first-in-class vessel.
“Niche platforms that can conduct a certain mission in a permissive environment have a valuable place in the Navy’s inventory, yet we need more ships with the protection and firepower to survive against the more advanced military adversary,” she said.
Fox recognized that the Navy and its sister services will get smaller following more than a decade of war. She did not specify force levels, but said there would be no “peace dividend” coming out of Afghanistan. During the fifth drawdown in modern U.S. military history, the Defense Department must carefully trim personnel both to match force structure to strategy and to dial back the cost of compensation, which represents half its budget, she said.
“The rebalance to be sure is a whole-of-government concept, not just a military one, and it is unfortunate that it's been interpreted as such in many quarters,” she said. “But there's no denying the importance of modernizing our military posture in the Asia Pacific.”