US Military Moves Against Russia and China
The last few weeks have been busy ones for the US military as they have redeployed several units to meet what US leadership perceived to be potential threats by Russia and China. American bombers have deployed to Norway for the first time. Two US nuclear super carriers are holding maneuvers in the South China Sea, the National Guard is reconfiguring to better meet Russian and Chinese military challenges, and several American allies are also carrying out operations aimed against Chinese aggressive move.
The US Air Force is deploying B-1 bombers and aircrews to a base in Norway for the first time in a demonstration of the importance of its Arctic strategy. The 200 airmen are supporting a B-1 bomber squadron that is temporarily moving to Orland Air Base in western Norway. Norway operates a fleet of F-35 fighters at the same base.
The focus on the Arctic is designed to counter Russian and Chinese designs in the Arctic. Up till now, most strategic bomber operations in the Arctic have been launched from Britain or the continental United States (which require long flights and in-air refueling).
The deployment of bombers to Norway is a new development. The Norwegian government does not allow the deployment of nuclear capable bombers to its air bases. However, the B-1 bomber, which was nuclear capable until the mid-1990s is now designed totally for conventional missions. It is designed for low level, high speed missions that can fly under radar.
Although this operation is taking place during the Biden Administration, these NATO deployments take a long time to plan and receive the necessary Norwegian approval – especially since this is a first-time deployment of American bombers. That means the planning took place under the Trump Administration.
It is not just the Air Force that is interested in the Arctic. The Navy released its Arctic strategy in early January, while Trump was still president.
“In the face of increasing aggressive activity in the high north, from both Russia and China, which claims to be a near Arctic nation, we in the United States must maintain a favorable balance of power in the region for ourselves and our allies,” Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite said.
The Arctic Sea has traditionally been a patrol area for American nuclear ballistic submarines since it offers little response time for the Russians.
The 25-page document noted, “Without sustained American naval presence and partnerships in the Arctic region, peace and prosperity will be increasingly challenged by Russia and China.”
This interest in the far north is not new. In the 1980s, under President Reagan, the US Navy started developing a strategy to close the northern naval approaches to Soviet forces. The strategy saw US Navy closing the major Soviet naval port of Murmansk, which is the base of its Northern Fleet and many ballistic missile submarines.
Since the Arctic is the shortest route for bombers of either Russia or America, there is a growing concern over the state of infrastructure, especially as the frequency of Russian aircraft penetration of Canadian and American air space has increased. Russia is also the only nation with offensive capabilities stationed within the Arctic Circle.
The Arctic is also the best place to control and maintain communications with polar orbit satellites like America’s spy satellite constellation.
The National Guard is also preparing for a possible conflict with Russia or China. The Army National Guard will place most of its brigades under the command of its eight-division headquarters, which were previously just commands, with about 300 men, but without any brigades attached to them. This will increase the number of complete Army divisions to 18. This gives the Army National Guard a better ability to fight a large conventional war.
American divisions usually have about 20,000 men.
In the past two decades, the focus has been on smaller brigade combat teams, which are ideal for counter terrorism operations or for deploying and assisting other nations. By combining them into divisions, it allows for combined training and better cohesiveness in combat.
Last summer Lt. General Daniel Hokanson, who is Director of the Army National Guard, said, “There is a potential for large-scale combat operations…[and] it could be division level fights.”
This week, the Department of Defense announced that the two aircraft carriers, USS Nimitz and USS Theodore Roosevelt carried out joint operations in the South China Sea. As we have noted in the past, operations in hostile waters are best carried out with two carriers. Two carriers make it difficult to neutralize the task force, allow one to launch aircraft, while the other recovers aircraft, and provides a secondary base for emergency landings.
The Nimitz is heading back to its base in Sand Diego for refitting and training. Contrary to reports, this was a planned movement and not ordered by Biden to reduce tensions with Iran (who is currently carrying out exercises with Russia and China).
The Chinese called the operations a blow to “regional peace and security.
The two carrier operations allowed aircrews from both ships to improve combined operations as well as command and control capabilities. It is only the ninth time that two aircraft carriers have operated together in the region since 2001.
It is not just the US Navy that is carrying out joint operations in the area. The region is seeing wargames with the US, Australia, and Japan. The joint exercises named Cope North 2021, will run until February 19th.
The exercise is designed to prevent a major hostile nation (China (and) or Russia) from carrying out a surprise attack on US airpower with missiles. F-35 fighters from Alaska and Guan are involved. A total of 95 aircraft from Australia, the US, and Japan are involved in the operation.
The Australians are taking these operations seriously as Chinese/Australian relations are at low ebb as the two nations are engaged in a major trade war.
Other nations are also planning exercises in the region. The Royal Navy’s flagship, HMS Queen Elizabeth, will drill with several maritime forces this spring. The US, UK, and Japan are part of a trilateral naval agreement. This is the first time that Royal Navy fixed wing jet aircraft have deployed in a decade.
The exercise will include US Marine F-35s stationed onboard the HMS Queen Elizabeth in addition to the Royal Air Force F-35s. The Japanese will contribute two helicopter destroyers that will also deploy Japanese F-35s. The Japanese have also requested that American Marine F-35s also deploy onboard the destroyers.
Other Japanese, American, and British escort and air defense ships will also be part of CSG 21.
One nation, whose support for of these exercises is necessarily discrete, is Taiwan. Recent American naval exercises have been held in the sea between Taiwan and the Philippines. Some of this area is part of the Taiwan air defense zone, which has been tracking the increasingly frequent Chinese military aircraft penetrations of Taiwanese airspace.
By operating to the east of the Taiwan air defense zone, the US Navy (and other nations) has an extra layer of radar and air defense. If Chinese aircraft move against the US fleet, Taiwan is well placed to detect the aircraft and warn the American warships. The Taiwanese air force can also scramble fighters to intercept the Chinese aircraft if necessary. In that case, the Taiwanese fighters can confirm the type of aircraft approaching and the type of weapons that they are carrying (anti-ship or anti-air missiles).
This is what happened a few weeks ago when Chinese bombers and fighters conducted a simulated missile attack on the USS Theodore Roosevelt.
Although much has been said about Biden’s new military strategy, little has changed. US Navy warships are still transiting the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait as they did under Trump (but rarely under Obama).
In Europe, Biden has allowed US Air Force bombers to temporarily deploy in Norway – something Obama never did.
At the same time, Biden is maintaining a tough stance against Iran.
It has often been noted that national foreign policy transcends the desires of politicians. The fact that Biden is continuing to follow Trump military policy is an excellent example of that.