Not all branches of the US military are equally concerned with keeping pace with China’s military expansion.
While US Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro warned earlier this week that he needed more ships to deal with the threat posed by China’s rapidly expanding naval forces, top Army officials believe the ground forces US countries still have a critical advantage over their Chinese counterparts.
“I think the human dimension of the US military is a comparative advantage,” US Army Secretary Christine Wormuth warned during a breakfast in Washington on Thursday with the Defense Writers Group. “The quality of how our soldiers are trained, the kind of leaders they have, the kind of combat experience the force has.”
Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville added that the quality of leadership, especially coming from the ranks of enlisted soldiers in the Army, cannot be underestimated.
“One of the biggest lessons from Ukraine and Russia is the value of these NCOs that we have in our organization,” McConville said. “Everyone would like to have the people we have.”
Despite that confidence, both McConville and Wormuth acknowledged that the threat posed by China’s military modernization and expansion is not taken lightly.
“One should never underestimate the PLA [Ejército Popular de Liberación]Wormth said. “We’re as focused as the Navy and the Air Force and the other services in China on the pace challenge… I think how you phrase that for the Army is a little bit different.”
Wormuth said the Army’s investments in long-range weapons systems, integrated air and missile defense systems, and even helicopters, are “very much geared towards seeing China as the main challenge.”
Still, the sheer size of China’s military cannot be discounted.
The Pentagon’s annual report on China’s military, issued late last year, notes that the PLA ground forces number some 975,000 active duty personnel who have gone through “increasingly realistic training scenarios,” both with the Chinese Navy and in 2021 with Russian forces on Chinese soil.
“The PLA is aggressively developing capabilities to provide options to the PRC [República Popular China] to deter, deter or, if ordered, defeat third party intervention in the Indo-Pacific region,” the report says.
By contrast, the US Army has about 485,000 soldiers and missed last year’s recruitment goal by about 15,000 people.
“That’s a big priority for us this year,” Wormuth said of the increase in recruiting, saying that she and her team “are doing everything we can” to increase the number of recruits.
But the Pentagon’s China report warns that China is also developing key capabilities, including doubling its nuclear arsenal, to about 400 warheads, in the past two years.
And the report echoed concerns that Beijing wants to at least have the ability to take Taiwan by force by 2027.
Unlike their Army counterparts, US naval officers have raised concerns about losing the numbers game to China.
“Capacity does matter,” del Toro warned Tuesday, speaking at the National Press Club in Washington.
The Chinese navy “has approximately 340 ships and is moving towards a fleet of 440 ships by 2030,” he said. “We need more ships in the future, more modern ships in the future, in particular, that can deal with that threat.”
Still, like his Army counterparts, del Toro said China is not yet ready to compete when it comes to the quality of equipment and personnel.
“Our shipbuilders are better shipbuilders. That is why we have a more modern, more capable and deadlier navy than they are,” he said.
“They write to their people to fight. In fact, we train our people to think,” del Toro added. “That gives us an inherent advantage.”