The Department of Defense has spelled out its Maritime Security Strategy for the Asian-Pacific region.
According to the DoD, “The U.S. will continue to use diplomacy, multilateral institutions and continued engagement to protect free and open access to maritime Asia, while focusing on safeguarding the freedom of the seas, deterring conflict and coercion, and promoting adherence to international law and standards…”
In a statement that should worry U.S. allies, the DoD has stated that “the United States takes no position over competing claims for land claims in the South China Sea and the East China Sea.” This is a rather stunning statement, considering that the lion’s share of disputes are between China, an opponent, vs. Japan and the Philippines, two steadfast U.S. allies.
Further cause for worry is the fact that all the paper shuffling and statements of determination are reduced to insignificance by the severely understrength position of the U.S. Navy, which has shrunk from 600 ships in 1990 to about 284 vessels today.
Key Excerpts from “The Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy: Achieving U.S. National Security Objectives in a Changing Environment:”
“The United States has enduring economic and security interests in the Asia-Pacific region. And because the region – stretching from the Indian Ocean, through the South and East China Seas, and out to the Pacific Ocean – is primarily water, we place a premium on maintaining maritime peace and security. To that end, the Department of Defense has three maritime objectives in the Asia-Pacific region: to safeguard the freedom of the seas; deter conflict and coercion; and promote adherence to international law and standards…
Competing Territorial and Maritime Claims:
There are numerous, complex maritime and territorial disputes in the Asia-Pacific region. The presence of valuable fish stocks and potential existence of large hydrocarbon resources under the East and South China Seas exacerbate these complicated claims. A United Nations report estimates that the South China Sea alone accounts for more than 10 percent of global fisheries production. Though figures vary substantially, the Energy Information Administration estimates that there are approximately 11 billion barrels and 190 trillion cubic feet of proved and probable oil and natural gas reserves in the South China Sea and anywhere from one to two trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves, and 200 million barrels of oil in the East China Sea. Claimants regularly clash over fishing rights, and earlier attempts at joint development agreements have faltered in recent years.
Although the United States takes no position on competing sovereignty claims to land features in the region, all such claims must be based upon land (which in the case of islands means naturally formed areas of land that are above water at high tide), and all maritime claims must derive from such land in accordance with international law, as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention. The United States has a strong interest in ensuring all claimants seek to address and resolve their issues peacefully, without conflict or coercion. We also encourage and support the efforts of claimant States to pursue diplomatic and other peaceful efforts to resolve the issues of sovereignty.
In the East China Sea, we continue to acknowledge Japan’s administration of the Senkaku Islands and oppose any unilateral action that seeks to undermine it.
In the South China Sea, we urge all parties to pursue peaceful means of resolving their disputes, which includes diplomacy as well as third party dispute settlement, such as the Philippines’ submission of its claims for arbitration in accordance with the dispute resolution procedures in the Law of the Sea Convention. We also urge all parties to take action to implement the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DoC) and take steps towards early conclusion of a meaningful Code of Conduct (CoC), which would provide agreed upon rules of the road to reduce tension among claimant States. South China Sea South China Sea territorial and maritime disputes revolve around three primary issues: (1) competing territorial claims among claimants, (2) competing maritime claims among claimants, and (3) excessive maritime claims asserted by some of the claimants.
Regarding competing territorial claims, there are six claimants to the land features in the South China Sea: Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam. There are three primary disputes over territorial sovereignty. The first is a dispute among China, Taiwan, and Vietnam over the sovereignty of the Paracel Islands, which China has occupied since 1974. The second is a ChinaTaiwan-Philippines contest over Scarborough Reef. The third is a multi-claimant dispute over the Spratly Islands, which includes more than 200 geographic features. China, Taiwan, and Vietnam claim sovereignty over all of the Spratly land features, while Brunei, Malaysia, and the Philippines claim sovereignty of only certain land features in the island group. Vietnam and Malaysia have yet to delimit fully their maritime claims in the South China Sea…
In sharp contrast to the South and East China Seas, the Indian Ocean region has remained relatively free of tensions caused by territorial and maritime disputes in recent years. Although there are a few maritime disputes in the region, they are relatively stable or have been resolved through international tribunals and arbitration.
Military and Maritime Law Enforcement (MLE)
Modernization Rapid military modernization across the Asia-Pacific region has significantly increased the potential for dangerous miscalculations or conflict in the maritime domain. Many countries are also significantly enhancing their maritime law enforcement (MLE) capabilities. These assets have become increasingly relevant as countries, particularly China, are using them to assert sovereignty over disputed areas.
China is modernizing every aspect of its maritime-related military and law enforcement capabilities, including its naval surface fleet, submarines, aircraft, missiles, radar capabilities, and coast guard. It is developing high-end technologies intended to dissuade external intervention in a conflict and designed to counter U.S. military technology. Although preparation for a potential Taiwan conflict remains the primary driver of Chinese investment, China is also placing emphasis on preparing for contingencies in the East and South China Sea. China sees a need for the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) to be able to support China’s “new historic missions” and operational tasks outside the first island chain with multi-mission, long-range, sustainable naval platforms equipped with robust self-defense capabilities. Although quantity is only one component of overall capability, from 2013 to 2014, China launched more naval vessels than any other country. The PLAN now possesses the largest number of vessels in Asia, with more than 300 surface ships, submarines, amphibious ships, and patrol craft.
China also is executing the largest MLE modernization effort in Asia, quantitatively and qualitatively improving its fleet, which is designed to enforce its maritime claims in the East and South China Seas. China’s MLE fleet, composed primarily of vessels from the newly formed China Coast Guard, is likely to increase in size by 25 percent and is larger than that of all of the other claimants combined.
Other Asia-Pacific nations are also enhancing their maritime capabilities. Japan is improving Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF) deterrent capabilities and realigning military and MLE assets to areas near the Senkaku Islands, which are also claimed by China. Japan plans to acquire and realign Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) assets to the area; upgrade maritime patrol craft and ground force radar, and missile units; and develop an amphibious assault capability within a joint JSDF task force. The Japanese cabinet has approved a modest increase to the Japan Coast Guard’s budget, in part to fund a permanent Senkakus patrol unit.
In Southeast Asia, Vietnam is pursuing an ambitious maritime modernization program, highlighted by its ongoing acquisition of six Russian-built Kilo-class submarines, frigates and corvettes, and its potential procurement of longrange coastal defense cruise missiles. In 2014, Japan announced it would provide Vietnam six used coast guard surveillance vessels, and Hanoi is expanding the Vietnam Coast Guard’s power to enforce maritime law. The Philippines is also modernizing its maritime forces—some of its ships date to World War II—including through its acquisition in 2011 and 2013 of two excess defense article U.S. Coast Guard cutters.
Although many claimants are using their military and maritime law enforcement capabilities in a responsible manner, recent provocative actions have heightened tensions in the region and raised concerns. Actions such as the use of MLE vessels to coerce rival claimants, unsafe air and maritime behavior, and land reclamation to expand disputed features and create artificial islands hamper efforts to manage and resolve territorial and maritime disputes peacefully. Expanded Use of Non-Military Assets to Coerce Rivals Several nations have expanded their use of non-military assets to advance their territorial and maritime claims in the East China Sea and South China Sea. Most notably, China is using a steady progression of small, incremental steps to increase its effective control over disputed areas and avoid escalation to military conflict. In particular, China is increasingly deploying the Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) to enforce its claims over features in the East and South China Seas. China prefers to use its government-controlled, maritime law enforcement ships in these disputes, and operates PLAN vessels over the horizon so they are ready to respond to escalation.
China has demonstrated this model during disputes with rival claimants over Scarborough Reef, Second Thomas Shoal, the South Luconia Shoal, and CNOOC-981 drilling operations south of the Parcel Islands.
Since 2012, the CCG has maintained a persistent presence in areas including around the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea and Scarborough Reef in the South China Sea. Similarly, China has used MLE ships to restrict and put pressure on Philippine access to Second Thomas Shoal where the Philippines maintains presence via a grounded naval vessel, the Sierra Madre. Although China is not the only claimant to use non-military assets to conduct worrying or dangerous actions against rival claimants – for example, in 2013, members of the Philippines Coast Guard killed a Taiwan fisherman in waters claimed by both the Philippines and Taiwan – it has been, by far, the most active.
Unsafe Air and Maritime Maneuvers:
The growing efforts of claimant States to assert their claims has led to an increase in air and maritime incidents in recent years, including an unprecedented rise in unsafe activity by China’s maritime agencies in the East and South China Seas. U.S. military aircraft and vessels often have been targets of this unsafe and unprofessional behavior, which threatens the U.S. objectives of safeguarding the freedom of the seas and promoting adherence to international law and standards.
China’s expansive interpretation of jurisdictional authority beyond territorial seas and airspace causes friction with U.S. forces and treaty allies operating in international waters and airspace in the region and raises the risk of inadvertent crisis. There have been a number of troubling incidents in recent years. For example, in August 2014, a Chinese J-11 fighter crossed directly under a U.S. P-8A Poseidon operating in the South China Sea approximately 117 nautical miles east of Hainan Island. The fighter also performed a barrel roll over the aircraft and passed the nose of the P-8A to show its weapons load-out, further increasing the potential for a collision.
However, since August 2014, U.S.-China military diplomacy has yielded positive results, including a reduction in unsafe intercepts. We also have seen the PLAN implement agreed-upon international standards for encounters at sea, such as the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES), which was signed in April 2014.
Land Reclamation on Disputed Features:
One of the most notable recent developments in the South China Sea is China’s expansion of disputed features and artificial island construction in the Spratly Islands, using large-scale land reclamation. Although land reclamation – the dredging of seafloor material for use as landfill – is not a new development in the South China Sea, China’s recent land reclamation campaign significantly outweighs other efforts in size, pace, and nature. In the 1970s and 1980s, the Philippines and Malaysia conducted limited land reclamation projects on disputed features, with Vietnam and later Taiwan initiating efforts. At the time, the Philippines constructed an airfield on Thitu Island, with approximately 14 acres of land reclamation to extend the runway. Malaysia built an airfield at Swallow Reef in the 1980s, also using relatively small amounts of reclaimed land. Between 2009 and 2014, Vietnam was the most active claimant in terms of both outpost upgrades and land reclamation. It reclaimed approximately 60 acres of land at 7 of its outposts and built at least 4 new structures as part of its expansion efforts. Since August 2013, Taiwan has reclaimed approximately 8 acres of land near the airstrip on Itu Aba Island, its sole outpost.
The Department of Defense, in concert with our interagency partners, therefore is employing a comprehensive maritime security strategy focused on four lines of effort: strengthening U.S. military capabilities in the maritime domain; building the maritime capacity of our allies and partners; leveraging military diplomacy to reduce risk and build transparency; and, strengthening the development of an open and effective regional security architecture.
DoD LINES OF EFFORT: First, we are strengthening our military capacity to ensure the United States can successfully deter conflict and coercion and respond decisively when needed. The Department is investing in new cutting-edge capabilities, deploying our finest maritime capabilities forward, and distributing these capabilities more widely across the region. The effort also involves enhancing our force posture and persistent presence in the region, which will allow us to maintain a higher pace of training, transits, and operations. The United States will continue to fly, sail, and operate in accordance with international law, as U.S. forces do all around the world.
Second, we are working together with our allies and partners from Northeast Asia to the Indian Ocean to build their maritime capacity. We are building greater interoperability, updating our combined exercises, developing more integrated operations, and cooperatively developing partner maritime domain awareness and maritime security capabilities, which will ensure a strong collective capacity to employ our maritime capabilities most effectively.
Third, we are leveraging military diplomacy to build greater transparency, reduce the risk of miscalculation or conflict, and promote shared maritime rules of the road. This includes our bilateral efforts with China as well as multilateral initiatives to develop stronger regional crisis management mechanisms. Beyond our engagements with regional counterparts, we also continue to encourage countries to develop confidence-building measures with each other and to pursue diplomatic efforts to resolve disputed claims.
Finally, we are working to strengthen regional security institutions and encourage the development of an open and effective regional security architecture. Many of the most prevalent maritime challenges we face require a coordinated multilateral response. As such, the Department is enhancing our engagement in ASEAN-based institutions such as the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting Plus (ADMM-Plus), ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), and the Expanded ASEAN Maritime Forum (EAMF), as well as through wider forums like the Western Pacific Naval Symposium (WPNS) and Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS), which provide platforms for candid and transparent discussion of maritime concerns.  Enhancing U.S. Military Capacity in Maritime Asia Investments and Capabilities For decades, the United States has stood with its allies and partners to help maintain peace and stability in the AsiaPacific region. During this period, the U.S. military has enjoyed and depended upon the ability to project power and maintain freedom of action in the maritime domain. Increasingly, we see countries developing new technologies that appear designed to counter these advantages. The Department is therefore working to maintain the necessary capabilities to deter conflict and reassure allies and partners, while protecting our ability to respond decisively if required. This includes investing in new capabilities and concepts that will allow U.S. forces to operate freely even in contested environments.
The Department is enhancing U.S. capabilities to project power from the sea, in the air, and under the water. As part of this effort, we are deploying some of our most advanced surface ships to the region, including replacing the aircraft carrier USS George Washington in 2015 with the newer USS Ronald Reagan; sending our newest air operations-oriented amphibious assault ship, the USS America, to the region by 2020; deploying two additional Aegis-capable destroyers to Japan; and home-porting all three of our newest class of stealth destroyers, the DDG-1000, with the Pacific fleet. We are complementing these surface capabilities with some of our most capable air assets, including F-22s, continuous deployments of B-2 and B-52 strategic bombers, additional tilt rotor aircraft for the Marine Corps and Special Forces, and, in 2017, the first forward-stationing of F-35s to Iwakuni, Japan. The Department will also procure 395 F-35 aircraft over the next several years, many of which will be deployed to the Asia-Pacific region. For the subsurface environment, the Department is basing an additional attack submarine in Guam and funding two additional Virginia class submarines and the Virginia Payload Module, a compartment added to our new attack submarines that will increase dramatically their capacity to carry weapons and other payloads. These capabilities will help protect and add versatility to our advantages at sea, in the air, and under the water.
In support of these assets, the Department is investing in a comprehensive weapons modernization program, including plans for new or updated land-, sea-, and air-launched missiles relevant to the maritime domain. DoD is procuring advanced precision munitions that will allow our forces to strike adversaries from greater stand-off distances, like the new extended-range Joint Air to Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM-ER), and a new long-range antiship cruise missile that will improve the ability of U.S. aircraft to engage surface combatants in defended airspace. And we are finding new ways to use existing weapons systems, including by enhancing the capabilities resident in our current inventory of Tomahawk cruise missiles.
In addition to enhancing our power projection capabilities, the Department is investing in flexible capabilities that will allow us to respond more rapidly and effectively to a wider range of potential maritime challenges. The rotational deployment of Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) in Singapore provides the U.S. Navy with a flexible, nimble asset that can operate effectively in the region’s challenging littoral waters. The Department is currently conducting the second proof-of-concept deployment of the LCS to the region, a deployment that will not only include port calls and engagements with seven different Southeast Asian States, but also participation in one of our largest and most complex war-fighting exercises in the Republic of Korea (ROK), Foal Eagle.
Additionally, we will deploy the Mobile Landing Platform (MLP) to the region, which will more effectively enable a range of missions, from counter-piracy efforts to special forces operations and disaster relief missions. Finally, the Department of Defense is investing in critical enabling capabilities, including persistent, deep-look ISR platforms that will provide us with greater situational awareness and early warning of potential crises in the maritime domain. The U.S. Navy is procuring 24 E-2D Hawkeye carrier-based airborne early warning and control aircraft, and as stated in the President’s most recent budget submission, investing $9.9 billion over the next four years to procure the final 47 P-8A Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft, many of which will be deployed to the Asia-Pacific region. The Department is also making substantial investments to develop the MQ-4C Triton unmanned aerial system, which will provide broad area situational awareness to our operational commanders. The first deployment of MQ-4Cs will arrive in the U.S. Pacific Command (USPACOM) Area of Responsibility (AOR) in FY 2017.
… Over the longer-term, the Department of Defense is also developing a suite of innovative ideas and capabilities – known as the third offset – to advance U.S. military dominance in the 21st century and ensure the United States can deter adversaries and prevail in conflict, including in maritime Asia. To offset advances in anti-access and area-denial (A2/AD) weapons that we see proliferating in maritime Asia and beyond, the Department will identify, develop, and field breakthroughs in cutting-edge technologies and systems – especially in the fields of robotics, autonomous systems, miniaturization, big data, and additive manufacturing, and will draw these together in innovative operational and organizational constructs to ensure freedom of access for United States’ forces in a contested A2/AD environment.
Force Posture: One of the most important efforts the Department of Defense has underway is to enhance our forward presence by bringing our finest capabilities, assets, and people to the Asia-Pacific region. The U.S. military presence has underwritten security and stability in the Asia-Pacific region for more than 60 years. Our forward presence not only serves to deter regional conflict and coercion, it also allows us to respond rapidly to maritime crises. Working in concert with regional allies and partners enables us to respond more effectively to these crises. The United States maintains 368,000 military personnel in the Asia-Pacific region, of which approximately 97,000 are west of the International Date Line.
Over the next five years, the U.S. Navy will increase the number of ships assigned to Pacific Fleet outside of U.S. territory by approximately 30 percent, greatly improving our ability to maintain a more regular and persistent maritime presence in the Pacific. And by 2020, 60 percent of naval and overseas air assets will be home-ported in the Pacific region.
The Department will also enhance Marine Corps presence by developing a more distributed and sustainable laydown model. Enhancing our forward presence also involves using existing assets in new ways, across the entire region, with an emphasis on operational flexibility and maximizing the value of U.S. assets despite the tyranny of distance. This is why the Department is working to develop a more distributed, resilient, and sustainable posture. As part of this effort, the United States will maintain its presence in Northeast Asia, while enhancing defense posture across the Western Pacific, Southeast Asia, and the Indian Ocean.
The cornerstone of our forward presence will continue to be our presence in Japan, where the United States maintains approximately 50,000 military personnel, including the U.S. Navy Seventh Fleet and the only forward-stationed Carrier Strike Group in the world, as well as U.S. Marine Corps III Marine Expeditionary Force and significant Air Force assets. DoD is working more closely than ever with our Japanese allies, forward progress that will accelerate in future years under the new revised defense guidelines. In an effort to ensure that this presence is sustainable, we have worked with Japan to develop a new laydown for the U.S. Marine Corps in the Pacific. As a result, the Department of Defense will be able to shift its concentrated presence on Okinawa toward a more distributed model that includes Australia, Hawaii, Guam, and mainland Japan.
As part of this program, the Department will develop new training ranges in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands to enhance the readiness of our forward forces to respond to regional crises. The footprint associated with this laydown will support the arrival of next-generation capabilities and joint training and readiness in the USPACOM AOR. Through the bilateral Force Posture Agreement (FPA) with Australia and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the Philippines, the Department will be able to increase our routine and persistent rotational presence in Southeast Asia for expanded training with regional partners. In Australia, the FPA will enable full implementation of the rotational presence for training and access for the U.S. Air Force and a Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF) of up to 2,500 Marines. Additionally, the Department is on track to achieve its stated goal of simultaneous rotation of 4 Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) through Singapore by 2017, which will provide the first persistent U.S. naval presence in Southeast Asia in more than 20 years.
DoD is also modernizing our maritime presence in Guam, as part of our efforts to develop Guam into a strategic hub for our joint military presence in the region. This includes forward-stationing a fourth attack submarine to Guam this year and deploying the Joint High Speed Vessel by 2018, while making investments in the resilience of the infrastructure supporting these capabilities. Guam is the regional hub for Air Force’s Global Hawk fleet and the Navy will operate the MQ-4C Triton unmanned aerial reconnaissance vehicle from Andersen Air Base by 2017. The Air Force continues a program to modernize hangars and other support structures to augment those and other U.S. military capabilities…