At a speech Saturday at the Reagan National Defense Forum titled “The China Challenge,” Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin reportedly downplayed the growing China threat, even as the Pentagon’s top commanders painted a decidedly darker picture. “China’s not 10 feet tall,” Austin said after his speech in a discussion with Fox News. Austin continued:
This is America. We have the greatest industry, the greatest innovators in the world and we’re going to do what’s necessary to create the capabilities that help us maintain the competitive edge going forward.
Perhaps, but some of the Pentagon’s most senior uniformed leaders used the same forum to paint a much more ominous picture.
Defense One notes:
Just before Austin spoke, Indo-Pacific Command head Adm. John Aquilino said at a panel discussion that China’s activity in the Pacific was the biggest military buildup the world had seen since World War II. Space Force Vice Chief of Operations Gen. David Thompson said China could exceed U.S. military capabilities by 2030.
“They are building and fielding and updating their space capabilities at twice the rate we are,” Thompson said. “It means that very soon, if we don’t start accelerating our development and our capabilities, they will exceed us, and 2030 is the point in which that could occur if we don’t adjust.”
Austin wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns though. He did warn that China is building a “nascent nuclear triad,” referring to bombers, submarines, and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).
“We’ve got to be clear about the China challenge, and about what we need to do to meet it,” he said.
These remarks come on the heels of China’s recent surprise hypersonic glide vehicle test launch which has been called a “Sputnik Moment,” referring to the 1957 Soviet satellite launch that spurred JFK and the U.S. to land men on the Moon in 1969.
The Chinese test appears to be part of a hypersonic Fractional Orbital Bombardment System (FOBS) which could threaten targets throughout the United States via trajectories not currently defended against such as the Antarctic. But this FOBS also could allow China to glide nukes in low earth orbit and drop them at times and places of their choosing, giving little advance warning.
The Pentagon also has recently admitted that China is increasing its nuclear capability at a far greater pace than previously believed, possibly reaching 1,000 nuclear warheads by 2030.
ABC news reported:
“The PRC likely intends to have at least 1,000 warheads by 2030, exceeding the pace and size the DoD projected in 2020,” it added. That increase is dramatically different than was projected in last year’s version of the report which predicted a doubling of China’s current nuclear arsenal of several hundred warheads.
The Pentagon report added even more troubling assessments:
In recent months, the growth of China’s nuclear force has been captured by commercial satellite images showing the construction of hundreds of missile silos at three locations in northern and western China.
New developments in 2020 further suggest that the PRC intends to increase the peacetime readiness of its nuclear forces by moving to a launch-on-warning (LOW) posture with an expanded silo-based force.