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Why the US Army and Marines Are Preparing for a War with China

War with China
Lance Cpl. Eric Janasiak, a rifleman with Lima Company, Battalion Landing Team, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit and native of Branford, Conn., holds security on a staircase during urban training as part of Exercise Bright Star 2009 in Egypt, Oct. 13, 2009. The 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit is ashore participating in the multi-national exercise while serving as the theater reserve force for U.S. Central Command.

As tensions with China are expected to remain at an elevated state, the U.S. Army and Marine Corps are preparing for a conflict in order to make U.S. deterrence in the region stronger and more persuasive.

Recently, Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth talked about her service preparation, role, and contribution in a potential war with the Chinese military in the Indo-Pacific.

U.S. Army: Supporting and Enabling 

According to Wormuth, the Army would have a support role in a war with China. Army units would be able to set up a distribution network to sustain the other services and provide command and control. Furthermore, the Army would be able to contribute to the security of airbases and ports, as well as provide long-range precision fires through its ballistic and hypersonic weapon systems. Army units could also take part in counterattacks or reinforce or relieve Marine Corps units deployed forward.

“If we were to get into a conflict, I think there are a few roles that the Army can play. 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,” Wormuth said, adding that “I think there’s a role to play but it’s very much in enabling the joint force.”

Understanding its limitation because of the maritime-heavy environment in the Indo-Pacific area of operations, the U.S. Army is pursuing a “train-the-fighter” strategy. Through its special operations forces—particularly the Green Berets—and the Security Force Assistance Brigades (SFABs), a rather new unit that conducts large-scale foreign internal defense, the Army is trying to bolster the military capabilities of regional countries that are opposed to or skeptical of Beijing’s ascendancy.

“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 added.

Interestingly, Marine Corps Commandant General David H. Berger, who was present at the venue in which Wormuth spoke, said that the Chinese military is mirroring the joint operations concept that the Pentagon has been perfecting over the last three decades and it’s trying to mirror it.

Risk of Spillage 

But a war with China over the South China Sea or Taiwan has a great risk of spilling over in other regions and domains. Cyber, a domain in which China is very strong and has repeatedly compromised U.S. defenses, could be one of those domains.

“I’m particularly concerned about what they might do in terms of cyberattacks on our critical infrastructure here in the United States. 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 of the Army said.

U.S. Marine Corps on the Water.

U.S. Marines assigned to Battalion Landing Team 1/4, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU). Image Credit: U.S. Marines.

The cyber domain is quite dangerous because proportionality hasn’t been established. For example, in the event of a conflict, is shutting down Beijing’s power grid the same as the Chinese shutting down the U.S. transportation sector? The former would have more serious consequences as hospitals, for instance, need the power to keep their patients alive, and not every hospital has a reliable backup power source.

Stavros Atlamazoglou is a defense journalist and military expert specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate.

1945’s Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist with specialized expertise in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. His work has been featured in Business Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP.