Flashpoints | Security

INDOPACOM Commander Outlines 4 Focus Areas in New Speech

Admiral Phil Davidson’s March 1 address presents a robust plan to deter China in the Indo-Pacific – at least on paper.

INDOPACOM Commander Outlines 4 Focus Areas in New Speech
Credit: Getty – Adm. Phil Davidson

In a virtual address to the Armed Forces Communications & Electronics Association TechNet Indo-Pacific Conference on March 1, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command chief Admiral Phil Davidson outlined his message for the Pentagon and the U.S. Congress, to be delivered over the next few weeks, when it comes to the INDOPACOM’s force posture and warfighting requirements for the Pacific Deterrence Initiative (PDI).

According to the admiral, both revolved around one “fundamental truth”: “The greatest danger we face in the Indo-Pacific region is the erosion of conventional deterrence vis-à-vis China.” Davidson noted, “Without a valid and convincing conventional deterrent, China will be emboldened to take action to supplant the established rules-based international order.”

In the course of his address, he outlined four areas of focus in front of his combatant command when it came to strengthening U.S. conventional deterrence against China: increasing the lethality of the joint force; enhancing force design and posture; strengthening ties with allies and partners; and, “exercises, experimentation, and innovation,” both within the U.S. military as well as involving allies and partners.

“At the heart of it, our forces must be maneuverable – agile if you will – and have the depth of multi-domain fires needed to achieve positional advantage; we must leverage an array of interoperable and compatible allies and partners, and we must regularly demonstrate the ‘deterability’ to deny and defeat,” Davidson said, describing the core of U.S. theater strategy against China.

Checking almost every fashionable box in contemporary American defense parlance, the combatant command chief claimed that emerging tech – such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and 5G – will support maneuver forces in contested strategic spaces, and that an array of space-based persistent radars will allow for greater situational awareness of People’s Liberation Army activities.

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“Indeed, these capabilities are critical enablers to deter day-to-day, in crisis, and key to our ability to fight and win,” Davidson said.

But the INDOPACOM’s plans to support the PDI — which was established through the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act in line with the European Deterrence (formerly Reassurance) Initiative established in 2014 — comes with a price tag. Outlining INDOPACOM’s investment priorities, based on access to an executive summary of a document for the U.S. Congress, USNI News noted on March 2 that the combatant command is seeking $4.68 billion in budgetary allocations to support the PDI in Fiscal Year 2022, in addition to a total of $22.69 billion, from 2023 to 2027.

“The focus areas outlined in PDI are challenges that require immediate and joint solutions not accounted for through Service investments — specifically, the fielding of an Integrated Joint Force with precision-strike networks west of the International Date Line along the First Island Chain, integrated air missile defense in the Second Island Chain, and a distributed force posture that provides the ability to preserve stability, and if needed, dispense and sustain combat operations for extended periods,” the executive summary was quoted by USNI as noting.

Proponents maintain that the PDI aids U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy in four distinct ways: its streamlines budgetary allocations and enhances transparency; it helps plug capability gaps in the Indo-Pacific theater; it reassures allies and partners; and it enhances credibility of U.S. deterrence. That said, the precise form the PDI takes in terms of strategic choices it makes ahead remains to be seen.