WASHINGTON — The US Navy’s Pacific Fleet has drawn up a classified proposal to carry out a global show of force as a warning to China and demonstrate the US is prepared to deter and counter their military actions, according to several US defense officials.
The draft proposal from the Navy is recommending the US Pacific fleet conduct a series of operations during a single week in November.
The goal is to carry out a highly focused and concentrated set of exercises involving US warships, combat aircraft and troops to demonstrate that the US can counter potential adversaries quickly on several fronts.
The plan suggests sailing ships and flying aircraft near China’s territorial waters in the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait in freedom of navigation operations, to demonstrate the right of free passage in international waters. The proposal means US ships and aircraft would operate close to Chinese forces.
The defense officials emphasized that there is no intention to engage in combat with the Chinese.
While the US military carries out these types of operations throughout the year, the proposal being circulated calls for several missions to take place in just a few days.
While one official described it as “just an idea”, it is far enough along that there is a classified operational name attached to the proposal, which is circulating at several levels of the military. Officials would not confirm the name of the potential operation.
US officials acknowledge China often see these missions as provocations. They also acknowledge that the intelligence community would have to weigh in with any concerns about reactions from China.
The Pentagon refused to acknowledge or comment on the proposal. “As the Secretary of Defense has said on countless occasions, we don’t comment on future operations of any kind,” said Lt Col David Eastburn, a Pentagon spokesman.
The US Pacific Fleet also refused to comment.
The proposal is being driven by the military but carrying it out it during November when US mid-term elections are taking place could have political implications for the Trump administration if the US troops are challenged by China.
The proposal for now focuses on a series of operations in the Pacific, near China, but they could stretch as far as the west coast of South America where China is increasing its investments. If the initial proposal is approved, the missions could be expanded to Russian territory.
Defense Secretary James Mattis and General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will take into account the diplomatic implications of each mission, officials said. They will also have to consider the risk of suddenly moving forces to new areas away from planned deployments, and whether potential threat areas are being left uncovered by the military, especially in the Middle East.
At this time the proposal is still being considered within the military.
The proposal has grown out of the Pentagon’s National Defense Strategy which focuses on the growing military challenge posed by the Chinese and Russian militaries. Mattis has urged US commanders to come up with innovative and unexpected ways to deploy forces. Currently the aircraft carrier Harry S Truman is taking the unexpected step of operating in the North Sea — sending a signal to Russia that US military forces can extend their reach to that area.