WASHINGTON (NNS) -- Increased risk to American forces in the Pacific due to shrinking defense budgets, regional challenges and partnerships and cyber capability were among the topics that Navy Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III and Army Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti discussed yesterday before a Senate panel.
Locklear, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, and Scaparrotti, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, United Nations Command and Combined Forces Command, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on the posture of U.S. forces in the Asia-Pacific region.
Over the past year, Locklear told the panel, "we have done our very best to remain ready to respond to crisis and contingency. Although we have assumed greater risk, we have maintained focus on key aspects of the rebalance to the Asia-Pacific."
These include strengthening Pacom's alliances and partnerships, improving its posture and presence, and developing concepts and capabilities required by the evolving security environment, the admiral said.
"We have done this against a backdrop of continued physical and resource uncertainty and the resultant diminishing readiness and availability of our joint force," Locklear added.
Other issues challenging PACOM's security environment include the potential for large humanitarian assistance-disaster relief events, an increasingly unpredictable North Korea, the escalation of complex territorial disputes, and growing challenges to freedom of action in sea, air, space and cyberspace, the admiral said.
He also cited as priorities for PACOM growing regional transnational threats and significant challenges associated with China's emergence as a global economic power and a regional military power.
"During the past year, we have been witness to all of these challenges," he told the panel, "and our forces have been very busy securing the peace and defending U.S. interests throughout over half the globe."
On the topic of China and in response to questions from the panel, Locklear discussed China's military capabilities and its military-to-military relationship with the United States.
"We've known for some time that [China's] People's Liberation Army has been pursuing [anti-access/area-denial, or A2AD] technologies and capabilities that would allow them to potentially control access in the areas around their borders, particularly in the sea space," the admiral said.
As a result, Locklear said, "we have for many years built our security environment around aircraft carriers and forward bases with our allies. We rely heavily on cyber and on space capabilities because we operate a long distance from home and we rely on a long line of logistics support necessary to being that far forward and to maintaining a peaceful security environment."
The admiral said the A2AD capabilities being pursued by the PLA go after, directly or indirectly, "what they perceive as potential U.S. vulnerabilities, whether they ever intend to use them against us or against an ally. The concern also is that these technologies will proliferate and further complicate the global security environment."
Locklear agreed with a panel member who said that China's efforts are underway to change the balance of power in at least the Western Pacific.
China's maritime strategy is pretty clear, the admiral said.
"They don't hide it from anybody, and they have certainly tailored their defense spending heavily in the maritime domain," he said, adding that he believes the Chinese announcement of a 12.2 percent increase in defense spending is probably less than they are actually spending.
Still, Locklear added, "the Chinese military and the growth of the military won't be a global competitor with U.S. security for a number of decades, depending on how fast they spend and what they invest in. The biggest concern is regionally, where they have the ability to influence the outcome of events around many of our partners or allies [through] the defense capabilities they're pursuing."
In terms of cyber, the admiral said there are many bad actors in the cyber world, but that "we've known for some time that there has been state-sponsored activity [in China] to try to ... get into defense contractors' [networks] and then to work that backwards to either develop an advantage or to better understand any vulnerabilities we may have."
The United States watches this very carefully, he said, and is increasingly aware of such activities on a global scale.
"Because of the steps we're taking to build cyber forces that are capable, to build on what I believe is our advantage in cyberspace," the admiral said, "I believe we have a considerable advantage compared to the rest of the main actors in the world, and that our advantage is only going to increase as we put these capabilities in place."
In the Asia-Pacific, Locklear said, the United States guaranteed security there for many years and that stability helped the region's economic rise including China's.
"So they are very much interested in our alliances, the status of those alliances, the status of forces that we have there and the capabilities of those forces, he said, adding, "In the long run, a relationship between the U.S. and China, even a mil-to-mil relationship, is in the best interests of everyone."
In his remarks to the panel, Scaparrotti focused on North Korea, expressing confidence that Combined and Joint Forces of the United States and South Korea are capable and ready to deter and if necessary respond to North Korean threats and actions.
"Four years ago, North Korea fired a torpedo sinking the South Korean ship Cheonan, killing 46 sailors," he said. "That terrible day is a constant reminder that standing at freedom's frontier with our Korean ally, we cannot allow ourselves to become complacent against an unpredictable totalitarian regime."
The regime of Kim Jong Un is dangerous and has the capability to attack South Korea with little or no warning, Scaparrotti added.
North Korea's military is the world's fourth-largest, with more than 70 percent of its ground forces deployed along the Demilitarized Zone. Its long-range artillery can strike targets in the Seoul metropolitan area, where more than 23 million South Koreans and almost 50,000 Americans live, the general said.
"In violation of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions, North Korea continues to develop nuclear arms and long-range missiles," he said, "and it is aggressively investing in cyber-warfare capabilities. North Korea brings risk to the world's fastest-growing economic region, which is ... home to our largest trading partners."
Against the North Korean threat, Scaparrotti said, the United States is committed to the security of South Korea and to U.S. national interests. The U.S. military presence is a key component of the nation's rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region.
"In the spirit of this commitment, we are working closely with the South Korean military to develop its capabilities and combined [command, control, communications, computers and intelligence] systems, an alliance countermissile defense strategy, and the procurement of precision-guided munitions, ballistic missile defense systems and [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] platforms," Scaparrotti told the panel.
The general said readiness is his overarching priority, and that to make sure U.S. Forces Korea is focused on the right things at the right time, he's developed five priorities.
"First, sustain and strengthen the alliance," he said. "Second, maintain the armistice to deter and defeat aggression and be ready to fight tonight. Third, transform the alliance. Fourth, sustain force and family readiness. And fifth, enhance the [United Nations Command, Combined Forces Command and U.S. Forces Korea] team."
At the core of mission success is the close relationship the United States shares with its South Korean partner, he said.
"We benefit from an important history forged on many battlefields, shared sacrifices and democratic principles. Over the past 60 years, we've built one of the longest-standing alliances in modern history," Scaparrotti added.
"We will continue to ensure a strong and effective deterrence posture," the general said, "so that Pyongyang never misjudges our role, our commitment or our capability to respond as an alliance."