The commander of Air Forces in the Pacific is warning that China is stealing American technology to achieve global military dominance and superpower status.
Air Force Gen. Ken Wilsbach recently told reporters the Pentagon had identified 47 military companies operating in the U.S., as part of efforts to curb Beijing’s technology theft. Chinese companies “have to pay some sort of tribute to the [Communist] Party in order to continue on, and that tribute oftentimes is in nefarious or unwarranted activities and other things that help the party and perhaps hurt the buyer,” Gen. Wilsbach said during a briefing for foreign reporters.
Technology theft has produced great advancements in Chinese military capability over the past 10 years.
“Why are you doing this? I think it’s pretty clear: They want to be the only superpower, and they want everybody else to kowtow to the Communist Party,” he said, adding that much of the stolen technology has come from the United States and is reverse-engineered and manufactured domestically.”
“Intellectual property theft is just another example of the CCP who has trouble complying with laws and norms and a rules-based order, and they really just look for what they can do to promote the party,” the four-star general said.
Gen. Wilsbach also said the Air Force has been increasing surveillance flights near China similar to stepped-up Navy warship freedom-of-navigation operations in the region.
“Our military objective is to achieve a free and open Indo-Pacific region,” he said.
China, along with Russia and North Korea, oppose that, prompting the current competition with the United States in the region.
“And when I say China, I’m talking about the Communist Party of China,” he said, emphasizing the policy distinction between the Chinese people and the ruling party that was first made by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in the Trump administration.
Gen. Wilsbach said the missile threat to U.S. bases such as Guam has increased as China deploys new longer-range systems.
“We’ve been watching that through our intelligence collection and have also been working on ways to defend ourselves,” he said.
On Guam, the military has deployed both Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) and Patriot anti-missile systems. The Pentagon also plans to deploy the new ground-based Aegis Ashore missile defenses on Guam, he said.
Additionally, the Air Force is shifting its Asia strategy from the use of large, easily-targeted bases to a dispersed basing network the service calls “Agile Combat Employment,” or ACE.
“The tenets of ACE are, in lieu of being very built-up on extremely large bases, to disperse the forces to many hubs and spokes so that you would be moving about between the hubs and spokes multiple times per day, multiple times per week,” Gen. Wilsbach said.
That creates targeting problems for Chinese and other missile forces in the region because it would require attacks on both hubs and spokes, he added.
U.S. Pacific Air Forces include 45,000 troops, along with three numbered Air Forces at nine major bases hosting around 375 warplanes.
Gen. Wilsbach said ACE has been expanded in recent years and several allies and partners are joining the anti-missile strategy.
A Beijing-linked monitoring group reported the Air Force conducted around 70 surveillance flights in May. Gen. Wilsbach said the flights were not at record numbers. The flights are a response to China’s increased military activities in the South China Sea and East China
Sea near disputed islands
“When I see them executing what looks to be simulated attacks on our partners as well as our own bases, we want to have a full understanding of what that’s about,” Gen. Wilsbach said.
The surveillance also seeks to monitor the testing and deployment of new weapons and equipment.
The surveillance flights are needed “when you combine all of the advancements in military capability that we’d like to know with a lot of the other … nefarious activities by the Chinese Communist Party — by taking over islands in the South and East China Sea that don’t belong to them, making islands in international water space that never belonged to them,” Gen. Wilsbach said.
“So yes, we’ve been watching. As you might imagine, we watch extremely closely all of the air activity that happens around the region,” he said.
The Air Force operates a sophisticated grid of electronic sensors that can track movements by Chinese aircraft and other aircraft throughout the region.
“But we are paying attention probably more closely to Chinese aircraft than any others, for reasons that I stated previously, and it adds to the list of destabilizing activities and also escalatory activities,” the general said.
Pentagon keeps China policy secret
The Pentagon is keeping secret the recommendations of the China Task Force that presented its findings to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in April.
Mr. Austin issued a directive on Wednesday that will launch several Pentagon efforts to address the threat from China, but none of the actions has been made public.
“These initiatives — some of which will remain classified — are designed to focus departmental processes and procedures and better help department leaders contribute to whole-of-government efforts to address the challenge from China,” the Pentagon said in announcing the directive.
The task force was launched in February to carry out a baseline assessment of China programs, policies and processes. The members of the task force also were kept secret, although its director, Ely Ratner, was identified.
Mr. Ratner, a former aide to then-Sen. Joseph R. Biden, has been nominated to be assistant defense secretary for Indo-Pacific affairs.
He is replacing career Pentagon official David Helvey who served as the acting assistant secretary.
Mr. Helvey came under fire from conservatives for his role in regularly softening the language in the annual China military power report and for his staunch advocacy of military-to-military exchanges with China. The exchanges were sharply curtailed during the Trump administration. It is not clear if the Biden administration will restart the exchange programs that included senior official visits and port calls by Navy ships.
Defense funding split on China
Military officers and budget officials in Congress and the Biden administration are divided over how best to position forces in Asia to deter China, according to defense officials.
The debate involves whether to build up troops and forces close to China, or rely on long-range standoff strike weapons to avoid large-scale casualties for U.S. troops located on military bases within missile range of Chinese forces. Advocates for keeping forces close to China were led by the recently-retired commander of the Indo-Pacific Command, Adm. Philip Davidson, who pressed for funding for more forward-deployed forces.
Adm. Davidson and his supporters said the close-in forces are needed to respond and confront China quickly over any attempt at a military assault against Taiwan or Japan, or a dust-up over disputed islands in the South China Sea.
According to officials familiar with the dispute, those in the Pentagon favoring moving forces further from China include officials at the Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office, or CAPE, and the Office of Net Assessment (ONA), the internal think tank headed by James H. Baker.
The cost office is known for favoring less assertive funding priorities related to China, and ONA’s director has favored weak policies toward China in the past. So far Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has told Congress he favors strong forward-deployed forces favored by Adm. Davidson.
But House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, Washington state Democrat, has called the focus on Asia in the Biden administration’s national security strategy overly ambitious. Mr. Smith has said the United States is no longer the world’s only superpower and that “we’re constantly chasing our tail, and unable to do what [the national defense strategy] says we’re supposed to be able to do.”
Others on Capitol Hill, including Republicans and Democrats, want more money for the Pacific Defense Initiative (PDI), a program favored by Adm. Davidson to bolster military forces in the Pacific.
Rep. Mike Galagher, Wisconsin Republican, recently wrote to House appropriators asking for full funding of the initiative, noting forces requested in a report by Adm. Davidson.
“Unfortunately, despite bipartisan support for Adm. Davidson’s vision, the president’s budget request for PDI goes in a very different direction and focuses on capabilities the department was largely already pursuing. These capabilities are no doubt important — but they are not PDI.”
Asked about the dispute, first reported by Foreign Policy, Pentagon spokesman Chris Sherwood told Inside the Ring that a White House review is underway on how to align future forces with the national security strategy.
“Long-range fires provide key offensive capabilities that are both a cost-effective and cost-imposing means of improving deterrence,” he stated. “By enabling power projection from standoff ranges, the risk to critical U.S. assets decreases while the defensive burden imposed on the enemy increases.”
Mr. Sherwood said the defense budget request balances investment in long-range strike weapons between traditional weapons and higher-risk systems like hypersonic missiles.
“Even with increased long-range fires investments and the bomber fleet, U.S. forces will need to be able to operate out of a variety of locations across the Asia-Pacific,” he said.
Mr. Baker, the ONA director, stated in a 2010 memorandum that losing Taiwan to China would not be a major loss.
“Should be last and least important to emphasize,” Mr. Baker wrote in talking points for then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen. “Losing Taiwan to China would not be a great insult to U.S. national interests,” he wrote in a document obtained by Washington Times reporter Rowan Scarborough.
Mr. Baker worked with Mr. Austin when he was a general on the Joint Staff.
The net assessment office also came under fire for its role in paying defense contractor Stefan Halper, who helped the FBI as an undercover agent spying on two Trump presidential campaign volunteers.
• Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @BillGertz.