US military mightier than ever
BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Babe Romualdez (The Philippine Star) - August 11, 2019 - 12:00am

At the advent of the Trump administration, the US president launched what he described as “the greatest rebuilding of the US Armed Forces,” promising to increase the size of the US Army to about 540,000 active duty soldiers; build up the Marine Corps to 36 battalions; provide the Air Force with new 1,200 fighter planes; beef up the Navy with 350 surface ships and submarines; and upgrade the US nuclear arsenal. 

Last week, the US Senate passed a two-year budget deal that would increase defense spending to $738 billion in 2020 and $740 billion in 2021 – a substantial increase from the $700 billion budget allocation in 2018 and the $716 billion for 2019. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), global military spending soared to record high levels of $1.82 trillion in 2018. The US topped the list of big spenders, accounting for 36 percent of the world’s total military spending due in large part to President Trump’s new arms procurement program that began in 2017.  

There is no doubt that the US Armed Forces is today the most powerful in the world. Its Navy alone is massive, with 19 aircraft carriers that include 10 Nimitz and improved Nimitz class carriers as well as a single Ford class carrier, each one capable of carrying up to 80 aircraft; impressive amphibious assault capabilities with ships that can carry up to 2,000 personnel; Ticonderoga class missile cruisers equipped with the Aegis Combat System – the most sophisticated air defense system in the world – designed to protect battle groups from missile attacks; Zumwalt class stealth destroyers; littoral combats ships; and over 3,700 aircraft mostly composed of F/A-18 series multirole fighters, to name a few.  

Last Thursday, the US Air Force launched an Atlas V rocket (at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida) equipped with the USAF’s fifth advanced extremely high frequency spacecraft (AEHF-5) that will provide secure and jam-proof communications services between US government leaders and military commanders. The AEHF-5, which joins four previous satellites launched in 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2018 on past Atlas 5 rocket missions, aims to add “an additional layer of flexibility for critical strategic and tactical protected communications serving the warfighter,” explained an official of Lockheed Martin which built the satellite, adding that the latest addition to the earlier AEHF satellites will help ensure that “warfighters can connect globally to communicate and transmit data at all times.” 

The fact is, the Trump administration is mulling the creation of a “US Space Force” to become the sixth branch of the US military. The US president highlighted this during the welcoming ceremony at the Pentagon for new Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who expressed commitment to follow Trump’s mandate and create “for the first time in 70 years a new branch of the service, a United States Space Force.”   

President Trump said the US military today is “more powerful, by far, than ever before,” expressing “absolute confidence” that Secretary Esper will ensure that the US military is “fully prepared to deter conflict and to defeat any foe. No enemy can match the awesome might of the American Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and the United States Marines.”

“Around the world, America faces new threats and strategic rivals, it seems like all the time. We have met this competition with unmatched confidence, purpose, and resolve,” he continued. 

While President Trump did not “name names,” so to speak, those listening to his remarks knew that the strategic rival is none other than China, whose recent activities in the South China Sea – in particular the sailing through of Chinese military ships and survey vessels within our exclusive economic zone without prior notice – is cause for concern, to put it mildly. 

During the 8th Bilateral Strategic Dialogue between the Philippines and the United States, both countries agreed to safeguard freedom of navigation and overflight over the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea and “peacefully resolve” disputes in contested territories “in accordance with international law, as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention.” Both countries also recognized “the importance of a strong Philippines-US alliance in enhancing security cooperation, and promoting regional stability and prosperity.” 

The recent visit to Manila of the USS Ronald Reagan (a Nimitz class nuclear powered aircraft carrier) along with the Ticonderoga class guided-missile cruisers USS Chancellorsville and USS Antietam – highlighted “the strong community and military connections between the Philippines and the United States” and served as a testament to their commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific region.

Prior to its Manila port call, the USS Ronald Reagan sailed through the disputed South China Sea, a muscle flexing activity that also underscores a message reflective of the carrier’s motto: “Peace Through Strength.” This was actually the foreign policy of President Ronald Reagan who took his cue from President Harry Truman’s policy to negotiate only from a position of strength.  

As explained by Rear Admiral Karl Tomas, the strike group’s commander, the goal is “to be able to sail and operate wherever international law allows,” provide security and stability in the region, and set an environment where disputes can be resolved in a peaceful manner. 

At the end of the day, the Philippines will have to do a balancing act, because while we welcome US presence, we would like to have good relations with China. We are confident the motto “Peace Through Strength” would inspire the Philippines in achieving its vision of a modern military with the capability to defend the nation and its people, attaining peace in the process.

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