China’s recent actions to militarize the South China Sea have changed the operational landscape, and the U.S. Pacific Command needs more attack submarines and long-range surface missiles to keep up with the evolving threat, PACOM commander Adm. Harry Harris told the Senate Armed Services Committee today.

China’s 10,000-foot runway in the Spratly Islands, as well as the addition of surface-to-air missiles and high-frequency radar systems on the islands over the past week, are pushing regional partners closer to the U.S. military but also forcing PACOM to look at addressing the region differently.

“I think China’s… surface-to-air missiles, on Woody Island; its radars, new radars on Cuarteron Reef over here; the runway, the 10,000-foot runway… on Fiery Cross Reef and other places; these are actions that are changing, in my opinion, the operational landscape in the South China Sea,” Harris told the senators.
“The DF-21 (ballistic missile), which they have, and the DF-26, which they are developing, could pose a threat to our carriers. I think, though, our carriers are resilient and we have the capability to do what has to be done”

To protect the aircraft carriers and maintain stability in the region despite Chinese aggression in the South China Sea, Harris said he needs more submarines, more long-range weapons, and more intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR).

“I asked for increased surface-to-surface weapons,” he said of his budget talks with the Navy and Pentagon.
“When I started flying P-3s back in the late 70s we had the Harpoon missile, and that’s the same missile we have today. And we need to have increased lethality and reach and speed that I talked about before, and I’m grateful that the service has responded to that request and in the FY17 budget there are increased funding for programs to increase lethality for surface-to-surface missiles.”

Harris mentioned the Standard Missile-6 surface-to-surface mode and the Long-Range Anti-Surface Missile (LRASM) as capabilities the Navy needs to bring online quickly. He also said the rate of buys of the F-35 should be increased, and the PACOM area of operations needs more submarines.

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He added that more F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, and faster delivery to the fleet, would help as well. With a vast area to cover and a limited number of ships and bases to operate from, “if we don’t have presence then you better have reach, and that reach comes from submarines and aircraft and the like,” Harris said.

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