House Armed Services Full Committee Hearing: “National Security Challenges and U.S. Military Activities in the Indo-Pacific Region” - March 9, 2022
On Wednesday, 9 March 2022, the House Armed Services Committee held a hearing to discuss the U.S. military's current activities, goals, and challenges in the Indo-Pacific Region. The hearing broadly focused on addressing U.S. relations with China. There was general agreement that China remains the most threatening adversary to the United States. Democrats and Republicans were in agreement that the military needs to remain vigilant now more than ever in light of the Ukraine/Russian conflict. The hearing also focused on the U.S.'s commitment to protecting Taiwan and exploring the possibilities of conflict with China in that area. The witness panel consisted of representatives from the Department of Defense, Indo-Pacific Command, and the United Nations.
Members in Attendance
Chairman Adam Smith (D-WA), Rep. James Langevin (D-RI), Rep. Rick Larsen (D-WA), Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA), Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT), Rep. William Keating (D-MA), Rep. Andy Kim (D-NJ), Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA), Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI), Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA), Rep. Kaiali'I Kahele (D-HI), Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), Ranking Member Mike Rogers (R-AL), Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC), Rep. Michael Turner (R-OH), Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO), Rep. Robert Wittman (R-VA), Rep. Austin Scott (R-GA), Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO), Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), Rep. Scott DesJaslais (R-TN), Rep. Trent Kelly (R-MS), Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI), Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN), Rep. Michael Waltz (R-FL), Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA), Rep. Stephanie Bice (R-OK), Rep. Lisa McClain (R-MI).
One of the main topics centered on was the ongoing threat that China poses to national security. Rep. Smith opened the hearing by stating that China is the most capable country competing with the U.S. with its military, economy, and world reach. In questioning, Rep. Smith asked the panel how we need to change our military capability to deter China effectively. Adm. Aquilino replied that we need to continue to focus on posturing, the amount and position of forces that we have, and the exercising of demonstration operations. Adm. Aquilino continued and said the most important change is the need for integrated, resilient, and sustainable ISR capabilities. Rep. Turner questioned Adm. Aqulilino on how China affects partner relations outside the Indo-Pacific region. Adm. Aquilino replied that they have just begun production on their J-20, which is their first 5th generation airplane. Adm. Aquilino said it is critical to continue to maintain relationships with our friends like the U.K. and Australia to further integrate our deterrence forces.
Rep. Keating asked the panel about Chinese unmanned underwater technology and what the U.S. should do to counter these new developments. Adm. Aquilino replied that this is the largest military buildup that China has gone through since World War II and that we should not be surprised to see them advancing their unmanned capabilities. Rep. Keating then asked if this was an area that in the United States is also growing in, to which Adm. Aquilino replied that we are continuing to explore and expand in this area as well. Rep. Scott then asked Dr. Ratner what the administration was doing to address the large amounts of fentanyl that is coming into the world from China unchallenged. Dr. Ratner replied that the administration is keeping an eyeful watch on drug smuggling from China.
Rep. Moulton asked the panel's opinions on the Marine Corp. maintaining pressure on China in the Pacific given recent reports of deployment logistics problems. He then further questioned that if we are to maintain that pressure, how are we first to solve our issues of getting enough ships. Adm. Aquilino replied that they are working to maximize the resources to ensure that they continue to have a robust deterrent force. Mr. Moulton then addressed the panel, asking if the U.S. Navy is transforming quickly enough to meet China's threat, given they have expanded their forces into new technology spaces outside of the ground Army force. Adm. Aquilino replied that he believes they need to move faster to meet the demands of the Chinese threat. Dr. Ratner followed by saying the Department of Defense has made its largest investment in Research and Development ever. They are continuing to make it a priority to stay competitive.
Rep. Slotkin asked the panel when the country would see a clear global strategy to combat China. She explained that we cannot depend entirely on the Pentagon to leverage our goals and that the public needs to understand where and what our stances are. Dr. Ratner answered that the national security strategy would be out soon and that other efforts are more than underway.
In questioning, Rep. Keating asked the panel their thoughts on why India abstained from the United Nations vote to condemn Russia's attack on Ukraine. Dr. Ratner replied that it is important to recognize that India has a complicated history with Russia, explaining that India has relied on Russia for the majority of its weapons for years. He said that for years India has relied on Russia for the majority of its weapons. Rep. Kim then asked did the panel asses that India was a reliable partner that we needed. Dr. Ratner replied that the U.S./India defense relationship has incredible momentum currently. He said they are moving very rapidly to build better relations.
Rep. Khanna asked Dr. Ratner if there was a plan to move India away from being heavily reliant on Russian arms. Dr. Ratner replied that India is a sovereign nation that makes its own decisions; however, we are encouraging them to work with the United States and Europe to improve their own defense sector. He said they are slowly taking steps to decrease their involvement with Russia. Rep. McClain asked the panel if they see a scenario where India would distance itself from Russia or remain neutral regarding the Ukraine/Russia conflict. Adm. Aquilino replied that they are seeing them take the right actions to lean towards the United States. He said they have asked for support in areas which they have not in the past, and from where they stand, that is a step forward.
All three witnesses emphasized the importance of maintaining peace and stability in Taiwan. In his opening statement, Adm. Aquilino stated this as a top priority. He elaborated, saying that the Ukraine/Russia conflict is a wake-up call for the military and that we must consider that this could happen in Taiwan; however, our focus should remain on keeping robust forces in those areas.
Rep. Laura then asked why it would be viewed as provocative for the U.S. to declare that they will come to the defense of Taiwan and what parties would find that declaration provocative. Adm. Aquilino replied that based on the One China Policy and the PRC articulation, any movement towards the independence of Taiwan would be viewed very strongly by China.
The Korean Peninsula
In his opening statement, Gen. LaCamera said that they are proud of the U.S./Korean alliance, and they have maintained a strong commitment to the Republic of Korea. He expressed that they are an incredible ally, and it is a privilege to work with them. In questioning, Rep. Smith asked Gen. LaCamera how the Republic of Korea's stance on China affects their partnership with the U.S. Gen. LaCamera replied that the Republic of Korea has an economic partnership with China and a security relationship with the United States. Gen. LaCamera continued to say that the Republic of Korea needs to be exposed to other militaries to level out those dependencies.
Regarding North Korea and their recent operation demonstrations, Gen. LaCamera said they are primarily focused on protecting their global positioning. Rep. Rogers asked the panel how a maturing North Korean missile defense system affects our posture within the region. Gen. LaCamera replied that ballistic missile defense is a top priority and expressed the importance of ISRs and making sure we keep track of what they are doing and create kill webs to prevent a strike if needed. Rep. Courtney asked the panel about Sealift and what it means in terms of North Korea. Gen. LaCamera replied that there is tremendous capacity on the peninsula, and they are relying on Japan, Sealift, and Airlift to bridge gaps of distribution in the face of conflict.
Rep. Waltz then asked the panel if the government of South Korea was prepared to allow U.S. forces to operate in their territory in defense of Taiwan. Gen. LaCamera replied that it would depend on the threat to South Korea. Rep. Waltz expressed his belief to the panel that we should take a public posture with the new South Korean government on what the U.S. is prepared to do should a conflict arise.
Rep. Smith asked the panel what some of the actions were that we could take to address the threat of China regarding our ISR capabilities. Gen. LaCamera replied that ISRs are some of the primary means of meeting those needs. Rep. Rogers asked Gen. LaCamera if the ISR capabilities we currently have are adequate. Gen. LaCamera said we need to improve placement and access of our current capabilities.
Rep. Gallego inquired about intelligence gaps within the Indo-Pacific region and what steps Congress has taken to close those gaps. Adm. Aquilino replied that battlespace awareness enabled by ISR is a need that can always be expanded. Rep. Houlahan asked the panel how the Department of Defense is handling their allocations to INDOPACOM. Adm. Aquilino replied that there is never enough ISR and that there are multiple areas to keep track of. He said that as they shift their focus in the Pacific, it is important that we make sure we are meeting the total requirements everywhere.