The US needs to develop and deploy more small, stealthy boats capable of destabilizing China’s navy, a special-operations captain for the U.S. and a former Navy SEAL told a House panel Thursday.
China’s maritime expansion has disrupted patterns that have been important to the U.S. for two centuries, and the Chinese navy’s moves might have little to do with the countries’ founding principle of freedom of navigation, the commandos said.
“China has established a foreign policy that doesn’t seem consistent with our history,” said retired Navy SEAL Mike Toms, a consultant for Elliott Management Corp. and a former officer with the Joint Special Operations Command.
Speaking before the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, Toms and JSOC Rear Adm. Daniel Hill, then deputy assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, suggested that the U.S. develop smaller, more efficient systems to give China a run for its money.
“The number one skill of submariners of today will be the ability to detect and operate against a much more agile target,” Hill said. “If you want to defeat China, you need to defeat China, not just disrupt it.”
“You need to disrupt its little boats and sensor class assets, particularly in the continental U.S.,” he added.
The comments came just weeks after China equipped four ships with “green”) laser beams capable of blinding targets, including U.S. ships.
China’s deployment is worrisome, Hill said, because “the Chinese navy is clearly trying to make a presence to assert its right to create military capabilities.”
China has also taken advantage of several years of gradual declines in maintenance readiness, slashing training fleets from 28 to 20 ships, Hill said.
They are 70 percent below where they should be, the Navy spokesman said.
The U.S. has stationed 300 special operators with the Hawaii-based USS Carl Vinson escort to secure passage for U.S. Navy ships sailing through the South China Sea, Hill said.
Now the Chinese navy is shifting to “more coherent operations that can be quickly planned, rehearsed and executed,” Hill said.
The American and Chinese navies already operate side by side, at each other’s maritime outposts like Woody Island, Hill said.
“You can imagine as those two navies are performing joint operations” such as the November 1971 Malabar naval exercise, “a third party like Russia is just a phone call away,” he said.
While Chinese military expansion isn’t out of step with historical norms, the Chinese side appears to be confusing it with America’s purpose.
“The reason we have gotten where we are today is we built a reputation for ourselves that made it easy for others to follow,” Hill said.
“What I would suggest the United States do is continue to get more credible, more capable, more small,” he said.
“China will remain a lesser navy in the years to come,” said Capt. Stephen F. Samson, director of policy for Naval Special Warfare Command.
A harder U.S. stance against Chinese territorial claims and use of coercion in the South China Sea have caused Beijing to commit hundreds of millions of dollars to upgrade its shipbuilding program to avoid an imbalance in “sheer magnitude,” he said.
Samson told The Washington Post that, by and large, the effort to deepen U.S. partnerships and access to growing Southeast Asian markets was very productive.
Samson did allow that relations remained tense because of uncertainty over some initiatives, but he insisted the relationship was constructive.
“We have a long history of genuine goodwill,” he said.