The head of the US Pacific Command is hoping the US Army will step up their role in the region by developing and utilizing anti-ship missiles in the South China Sea.
While the Pacific has long been the playground for the US Navy, Marine Corps and (to a lesser extent) the Air Force, the Army is being considered to provide a role beyond simply holding territory in the tense South China Sea region.
“What the Army brings traditionally is what they always bring, which is mass and firepower and capability,” Admiral Harry Harris told an audience at a leadership discussion in Washington, DC on Tuesday.
Harris says he has been prodding at Army leadership to develop more land-based anti-ship systems, similar in manner to what the Japanese have done to ward off Chinese aggression.
“I think the Army should be in the business of sinking ships with land-based, surface-to-ship missile systems,” Harris said.
The Admiral noted that such systems would deny the Chinese the ability to continue behaving aggressively in the region while showing US allies that the United States is serious about their security.
“I think about an area where you put these weapon systems on places in the western Pacific; they would place at risk potential adversaries in the South China Sea, the East China Sea, the Sea of Japan,” Harris said. “I think it is an important concept, and we ought to be thinking about it as we figure out how to maintain that edge over our adversaries in the region.”
The US Army has currently begun upgrading the Army Tactical Missile System (known as ATACMS), allowing both land and sea targets to be more effectively engaged after upgrades are complete.
“With this capability, what was previously an Army surface-to-surface missile system can project power from coastal locations up to 300 kilometers [186 miles] into the maritime domain,” Defense Secretary Ash Carter said of the upgrade in a press release earlier this month.
Harris expressed his concern in regards to China’s aggression in the South China Sea, building bases on artificial islands. Still, he says the relationship between the US and Chinese militaries is one of mutual respect.
“I’m concerned about Chinese assertiveness particularly in the South China Sea and also in the East China Sea,” Harris said. “That said, the [military to military] relationship with China on one level is actually good. I was in China several months ago and was treated extremely well.”
According to Military.com, Harris said that US Army General Robert Brown of US Army Pacific recently travelled to China on a Disaster Management Exchange exercise.
“I think it is important that we have these mil-to-mil relationships,” Harris said. “Even with countries that are potential adversaries, I think these relationships are positive, and we should try to cooperate where we can, but we have to be ready to confront if we must.”
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