Acting Deputy Defense Secretary Christine Fox, speaking to a naval
conference in San Diego, said the U.S. military could not risk
falling behind in a race for technological superiority as China and
other countries increase defense spending at a time of declining
"The military must get smaller over the next five years," she said.
"It is not an ideal course of action. It contains real risks. ...
But given current realities, it is the only plausible way to
generate the savings necessary to adequately fund training,
maintenance, and sustain the military's technological superiority
for the next generation."
Fox's remarks come just weeks before the Pentagon is to unveil its
budget for the 2015 fiscal year, which begins on October 1, as well
as the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review, a long-term planning
document that maps the connection between strategy and spending.
Fox is serving as acting deputy defense secretary until Congress
confirms the nomination of Robert Work, the former Navy
undersecretary chosen by President Barack Obama last week to replace
former Deputy Secretary Ashton Carter.
Fox told the conference in San Diego that the United States had made
progress in its strategic shift to the Asia-Pacific region but that
the effort was marked by uncertainty due to declining U.S. budgets
and the direction of China's military modernization.
"It is no secret that China is developing its military capabilities
designed to thwart the freedom of movement of others in the region
and to expand their influence," she said.
Fox said the focus of Beijing's military modernization, which is
seen as undermining U.S. strengths, was particularly worrying
because even if its systems are never directly used against U.S.
forces, they may be sold to other countries more likely to be in
conflict with the United States.
"Those of us entrusted with leadership positions ... do not wish to
see the U.S. lose its decisive advantage or end up in a situation of
parity against any military power," she said. She added that that
would reduce U.S. influence, heighten rivalries and raise the
chances of conflict.
Fox said that while the United States had a margin of military
superiority in the Pacific today, American dominance "can no longer
be taken for granted going forward."
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The potential threat to Navy ships from precision anti-ship missiles
like those being developed by China puts "a premium on undersea
capabilities — submarines — that can deploy and strike with relative
freedom of movement," Fox said.
The threat from longer-range missiles also means that U.S. aircraft,
be they bombers, fighters, drones or missiles, would need to be able
to strike from secure locations farther away or from ships that can
protect themselves from aerial assault.
"Given more advanced anti-ship munitions being developed by
potential adversaries, I believe it is an imperative to devote
increasing focus and resources to the survivability of our battle
fleet," she said.
In an apparent reference to vessels like the Navy's new Littoral
Combat Ship, Fox said "niche platforms" capable of operating in
"permissive environments" had a valuable place in the Navy but said
greater attention needed to be placed on firepower.
Some critics have charged that the Littoral Combat Ship, which has
just begun to be built and deployed, is unlikely to be able to
survive a confrontation with a vessel bigger than a pirate
speedboat. Recent reports have suggested the Pentagon may reduce its
purchase of the ships by 20, to a total of 32.
"We need more ships with the protection and firepower to survive
against a more advanced military adversary," Fox said. "Presence is
important, presence with a purpose and with capability."
(Reporting by David Alexander; editing by Jonathan Oatis)
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