No sooner had China attempted to asset its domination over most of the East China Sea, then the United States challenged Beijing’s power grab. The Chinese regime declared an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) that not only encompassed the Senkakyu/Diaouo islands, the ownership of which is disputed by Japan, but also significant airspace claimed by both Tokyo and Seoul. A second interest is to undermine U.S. security and that of Washington’s allies in the region by neutralizing the so-called First Island chain that runs from Japan, through Okinawa and the Ryukyu Islands down to Taiwan and from there to the Philippines.
The United States responded immediately and strongly. The Pentagon dispatched two B-52 bombers to fly through the ADIZ. Although the two bombers were deliberately unarmed, their flight sent a clear message not only to Beijing but to U.S. allies throughout the region.
China’s move did something else too. It underscored the reality that the struggle for power and security in East Asia will be one based on air and sea power. It was no coincidence that in October the Chinese navy sailed a flotilla of ships into the South China Sea practicing maneuvers against a hostile naval force. Reporting on the naval exercises, an article in a recent Chinese military publication declared that “The PLAN has cut up the whole island chain into multiple sections so that the so-called island chains are no longer existent.”
It is becoming clear that the focus of U.S. defense planning and force structure investments over the next several decades will center on the looming power struggle for dominance in East Asia, and, specifically, on enabling the principles articulated by the AirSea battle concept. In particular, the U.S. will need to invest in a mixture of land and sea-based long-rang strike, meaning aircraft carriers and strategic bombers. It will be critical to maintain and even increase the size of the nuclear attack submarine fleet. This means ensuring the plan to build two boats a year. These will need to be armed with a new generation of weapons such as the Long-Range Air to Surface Missile (LASM) as well as extremely long-range air-air-missiles. Land and sea-based theater missile defense will become even more important.
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