The recommitment of planes, ships, and missile systems to East Asia has an important function in sustaining morale, reassuring allies, and deterring aggressive actors…
East Asia has been a hotbed of geopolitical and military activity as of late. The US carrier Carl Vinson continues to patrol in preparation for a joint maneuver called “Foal Eagle”, which comes on the heels of North Korea’s recent ballistic missiles tests. These missiles would be the delivery system used to launch nuclear weapons, and understandably caused a good deal of concern in South Korea and Japan.
In response, the US deployed new Terminal High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD) missile batteries to the peninsula. China responded to that deployment with great alarm (and probably without a hint of irony, since they deploy supposedly “defensive” missiles in the South China Sea on a regular basis). US forces will stay in the region and conduct large-scale drills that would include as many as 300,000 South Korean soldiers. All of this occurs against the backdrop of the South Korean president’s impeachment and removal. On top of that, Japan’s largest warship is moving to the South China Sea to conduct joint exercises with American and Indian naval forces.
All of this is cause for some concern, but American commitment of forces in the region, joint training, and new technologies are reasons for optimism. The biggest factor is the large commitment of American forces in the region as part of President Trump’s pivot. The re-commitment of planes, ships, and missile systems to the region has an important function in sustaining morale, reassuring allies, and deterring aggressive actors. Many anti-war advocates contend that the US is an aggravating force and should withdraw from the world stage or lead from behind. But the reassurance and deterrence offered by American forces actually serves as a credible force for peace. Without the threat of force from the world’s strongest military, those with the strongest regional forces—such as China in East Asia and Russia in Eastern Europe—will settle military matters using actual force. This would lead to increased conflict, while the redeployment of additional forces might add to some short-term tension but ultimately dissuade bad actors from instigating armed conflict.
On top of that, the US continues to improve the capability of their forces. For example, they recently networked the F-35 with older B-1s and B-52s to make arsenal planes. These are older planes loaded to the brim with bombs and missiles that are then networked with the sensors of an advanced fighter like the F-35. This plane can locate and identify targets, and the arsenal plane could launch missiles against those targets. The additional missiles allow the F-35 to stay in the theatre longer and attack more targets, which addresses the major complaints against it. The US also tested lasers on drones that can act as an additional layer of anti-missile defense. The anti-missile capability of drones is a development that directly addresses China’s (and to a certain extent, Russia’s) Anti Access Area Denial (A2AD) strategy. The short version of the theory states that a swarm of missiles launched from a variety of platforms prevents the US from operating in places like the South China Sea.
The use of lasers on drones, of course, is only one of a half dozen responses and defenses that the US is improving. Because of those improvements, continuing cooperation with East Asian allies, and the larger commitment of US forces in the region, Americans can be reasonably assured of meeting any potential threats and challenges in the region, despite the steady drum beat of scary news.
Morgan Deane is an OpsLens Contributor and a former U.S. Marine Corps infantry rifleman. Deane also served in the National Guard as an Intelligence Analyst.