US power waning in Pacific, warns top Australian think tank

PLA new gear

PLA new gear

A new study by a think tank warns the USA has lost its military supremacy in the Indo-Pacific region, with China being able to launch and win a military conflict even before American forces are able to respond.

The US no longer has military primacy in the Pacific and could struggle to defend allies against China, a top Australian think tank said.

'America's defense strategy in the Indo-Pacific is in the throes of an unprecedented crisis, ' the study's authors warn.

But as the US and China engage in more symbolic military moves, the Friday's study claims the Chinese military could launch a "limited war" to retake Taiwan or fully take control of the disputed islands using not only conventional capabilities but cyber and political weapons as well. Central to this is the massive investment in conventionally-armed ballistic and cruise missiles, which analysts consider the centerpiece of China's "counter-intervention" efforts. Those missiles number "in the thousands", the report says. The Australian think tank report points out that China could deploy the missiles in a surprise attack in the hours before USA reinforcements could arrive, giving China a huge advantage at the start of any battle.

This "growing arsenal of accurate long-range missiles", some of which are able to reach the critical American air and naval bases located at the US territory of Guam in the northern Marianas from mainland China, "poses a major threat to nearly all American, allied and partner bases, airstrips, ports and military installations in the Western Pacific".

That means Australia, Japan and other USA partners need to build up and refocus their forces in the region, and consider increased cooperation with the US, to ensure their security, the study claimed.

The researchers found that although the USA military is still perceived as a force to be reckoned with globally, the "combined effect of ongoing wars in the Middle East, budget austerity, underinvestment in advanced military capabilities and the scale of America's liberal order-building agenda has left the US armed forces ill-prepared for great power competition in the Indo-Pacific".

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'China, by contrast, is growing ever more capable of challenging the regional order by force as a result of its large-scale investment in advanced military systems, ' they warned.

Furthermore, "China has deployed a formidable array of precision missiles and other counter-intervention systems to undercut America's military primacy", the report states.

Experts believe that the deployment of US land-based missiles and a changed role for the US Marine Corps will be vital to countering China, as well as collective regional defense - with the likes of Australia and Japan doing more.

Similar discussions are have periodically taken place in neighboring Indonesia.

"Because of the significantly reduced warning times for future conflict", it is likely the north of Australia would be used as a forward operating base or a "lily pad" to reach conflict zones, author John Coyne wrote.

A decade of "delayed and unpredictable funding" for the U.S. military's budget has seen America lose its primacy in the Western Pacific, giving the edge to an increasingly sophisticated China, a Sydney-based think tank warned.

So far, the Australian government has stressed it has not received a formal request to host those weapons.

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