United States military officials have requested an additional US$20 billion in funding from legislators to fortify the country's naval, airborne and ground-based operations in the Indo-Pacific region, a sign of Washington's intensifying efforts to counter Beijing's military presence in the area.
The request by the Pentagon's Indo-Pacific Command for funding, which would last through financial year 2026, was delivered to Congress last week.
"Without a valid and convincing conventional deterrent, China and Russia will be emboldened to take action in the region to supplant US interests," read an executive summary of the request obtained by Breaking Defence, a military news outlet that first reported the move.
The request's sweeping budgetary priorities include more air missile units, new radar warning systems, expanded training exercises and initiatives to strengthen the military capabilities of US allies. Under the proposal, some US$1.6 billion would be released for financial year 2021, with a further US$18.5 billion earmarked for financial years 2022-26.
The spending plan, titled "Regain the Advantage", calls for almost US$1.7 billion to fund a 360-degree air missile defence system in Guam, a US territory in the western Pacific Ocean.
Guam sits along the so-called "second island chain", an imagined line of US defence that stretches northward to Japan. Under the proposal, the so-called "Homeland defence-Guam" system would eventually be upgraded to enable long-range, high-precision strikes westward towards the "first island chain", referring to China's near-seas region, including the South China Sea.
"America's day begins in Guam and (it) is not only a location we must fight from, but (one) we must also fight for - given future threats," the request said.
Dovetailing with the US administration's multi-agency effort to bolster US ties in the Indo-Pacific, the Pentagon in 2018 moved to designate the region its "priority theatre", with then-defence secretary James Mattis calling Beijing's fortification of reefs in the South China Sea acts of "intimidation and coercion."
The US military's renewed focus on the region has heralded a number of new initiatives, including the upcoming deployment of numerous army task forces focused on cyber warfare and other non-conventional forms of conflict in the area.
Announcing that move in January, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said the expansion would create an "asymmetrical advantage" for the US as it faced the emerging "strategic threat" posed by China.
While governments around the world have turned their attention to the coronavirus pandemic, tensions in the region have continued apace, with a Vietnamese fishing vessel sinking last week following a collision with a Chinese coastguard ship.
Both countries have blamed the actions of the other's boat for the incident, which occurred near the Paracel Islands, a disputed archipelago in the South China Sea.
In a statement released Monday, a US state department spokeswoman called in the incident "the latest in a long string of PRC actions to assert unlawful maritime claims", and accused Beijing of "exploiting the world's focus on addressing this global pandemic to assert its unlawful maritime claims in the South China Sea".
Senator James Inhofe, who chairs the Senate armed services committee, said in a statement following the delivery of the Pentagon's funding request to Congress last week: "The reality is that the military balance in the Indo-Pacific is getting worse."
"This assessment provides critical information for understanding how to reverse this trend and to protect American interests in this important region," Inhofe continued.
The Republican from Oklahoma said that it was now on Congress to act: "We will do our part to ensure the effective implementation of the National defence Strategy in the Pentagon's priority theatre."
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