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Democrats debate deployment options on China: Forward, middle or surrender

A North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Maritime Standing Group from August 2007. The Biden Administration may seek to create a similar standing naval force for the Pacific to deter China.
FPI / June 25, 2021


By Richard Fisher

While the Biden Administration and the Pentagon are engaged in a wide-ranging review of United States defense policies toward China, it is emerging that there are at least three major proposed postures: forward deployment; middle-distance deployment; and less likely, surrender.

A possible debate between the options of forward deploying a large proportion of U.S. forces close to China, or instead falling back to a middle-distance out of the range of Chinese long-range weapons, emerged from a June 21 social media posting by Mei Fuxing, a well-respected Taiwanese-American strategic issues consultant and also reported in Taiwan’s United Daily News on June 22.

Fu Mei, as he is known to friends, wrote that Adm. Philip Davidson, the recently retired Commander of the U.S. IndoPacific Command had advocated for the forward deployment of U.S. naval and air forces in order to reduce reaction times to possible Chinese military aggression. This would mean deploying significant forces in the First Island Chain.

However, he also revealed that Davidson’s advice had been opposed by the Office of Net Assessments (ONA) and the Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) office of the Department of Defense.

They opposed placing U.S. forces in the First Island Chain where they would be vulnerable to Chinese missile and air strikes.

This basic strategic decision would have great implications for U.S. defense investments:

Does Washington buy more medium range missiles, tactical combat aircraft and smaller amphibious assault ships for close-in deployment or more long-range missiles, strategic bombers and aircraft carriers for more distant deployment?

Auguring in favor of a forward deployed strategy, Lara Seligman of Politico noted on June 15, was that a Pentagon China Task Force headed by nominee for Assistant Secretary for IndoPacific Affairs Ely Ratner had recommended the options of creating a “permanent naval task force” in Asia. It would be part of a “named military operation for the Pacific,” that short of war would allow the mobilization of resources for conflict with China.

The report notes “there are many details and specifics yet to be finalized” for these options which have not yet been accepted by the Biden Administration. However, if realized the permanent naval task force would seek to include naval forces from Asian and European allies.

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