Leaders of the Army and Marine Corps discussed the pacing military challenge from China and ways to counter the threat.
Secretary of the Army, Christine Wormuth, and Marine Corps commandant, Gen. David H. Berger, spoke Saturday at the Reagan National Defense Forum at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.
Wormuth said what is particularly troubling with respect to China is the substantial progress it has made in terms of their cyber capabilities.
"I'm particularly concerned about what they might do in terms of cyberattacks on our critical infrastructure here in the United States," said Wormuth. "I think there is a real possibility that if we ever got into a conflict, you could see attacks on our power grid or the transportation sector for example, which would have implications not only for how we would be able to project our military power out of the country, but also, very substantial consequences for the American public."
The secretary mentioned that more work needs to be done with the private sector, which has 85% of DOD's critical infrastructure to make the department more resilient.
Another concern is Taiwan. Wormuth feels the military needs to be investing in defensive capability like sea mines, anti-ship missiles, coastal defenses and working on the readiness of their forces.
Berger said that what worries him the most would be a military miscalculation by a couple of commanders in the region that spins out of control and into an unintended confrontation.
The commandant said that China has been expanding their coercive activities in the South China Sea, and they're not slowing down. Deterrence of China is more than just the prevention of a hot war. It's also protecting America's national interests and providing free and open access in the air and sea for allies and partners.
Wormuth said that in addition to the air and sea, the ground components in the Indo-Pacific region are vitally important.
"One of the key roles that the Army plays is making sure that our relationships on the ground in host nation countries are really, really strong because most of the countries in the region have large armies," Wormuth said.
In terms of building on those relationships on the ground, the Army a few years ago, established a type of unit called the security force assistance brigade. There are currently five SFABs dispersed in countries all around the theater working every day to build interoperability and to set the conditions for expanding access.
"If we were to get into a conflict, I think there are a few roles that the Army can play," said Wormuth. "I think we would be the linchpin service in terms of going in, establishing and securing staging bases, joint operating bases, providing protection for those bases so that our air and maritime forces can operate and do the kinds of things that they need to do."
The Army would also be good at setting up a distribution network to sustain the joint force, as well as providing command and control, since the division and corps headquarters have great planning and operational capabilities, said Wormuth.
From an offensive perspective, The Army would bring long-range precision fires like precision strike missiles, and mid-range systems like hypersonic weapons to the fight. From a defensive perspective, The Army can provide maneuver forces in case of a counterattack.
"I think there's a role to play but it's very much in enabling the joint force," Wormuth noted.
With regard to enabling the joint force, Berger said the Defense Department has worked to perfect fighting as one team over the last three decades and the People's Liberation Army is "trying to play catch up and [mimic] us because they see the value of fighting as a team, vice fighting as services. So, we've come a long way.
"It's more than the individual capabilities of each service. It's the ability under a combatant command to fight as one unit," he added.