PACOM’s Harris: ‘Credible Combat Power’ Best Threat Deterrence
By OTTO KREISHER, Special Correspondent
WASHINGTON — The top U.S. commander in the Pacific said April 26 that the best deterrence against the threats from North Korea, China, Russia and Iran is “credible combat power.”
And while Adm. Harry Harris said “in general” the forces in the U.S. Pacific Command are adequate, he asked the House Armed Services Committee on April 26 “to support continuing investments to improve our military capabilities. I need weapon systems with increased lethality, precision, speed, range and network connectiveness.”
Harris also urged Congress to repeal sequestration and approve the defense appropriations bill.
Referring to reports that U.S. missile defense capabilities in the Pacific are not adequate, Chairman Mac Thornberry asked: “Can American military forces in that region defend themselves against missiles launched from North Korea?”
“Absolutely,” Harris replied.
The admiral dismissed an article that suggested the USS Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group now moving toward Korea could not defend itself from a North Korean ballistic missile attack. “We have capabilities in the Pacific to defend against any ballistic missile attack,” Harris said, noting that “North Korea does not have an anti-ship ballistic missile.”
“The weapons that North Korea could put against the Carl Vinson strike group could be easily defended against by the capabilities within that strike group.”
“If it flies, it will die,” he declared.
He also noted that South Korea has agreed to deploy a U.S.-manned Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system, “which should be operational in days.”
On the broader issue of missile defense for the U.S. homeland, Harris said he thought the ground-based interceptors in Alaska and California were capable of defending the nation. But he recommended a study of putting additional anti-missile radars and interceptors in Hawaii, which he said is threatened by North Korea’s emerging missile capabilities.
Harris added that the Tier III Arleigh Burke-class destroyers “that are coming on line are exactly what we need for missile defense.”
Asked if he needed any additional resources, Harris said the Navy is able to meet only 50 percent of his requirements for attack submarines with the current force of 52 boats. That situation would get worse, he said, if the fleet goes down to 42 attack boats, as predicted under existing shipbuilding plans.
He said the submarines were needed to keep track of China’s rapidly expanding submarine force and the Russian subs that are returning to the Pacific after the post-Cold War lapse.
Although currently there is “no comparison” between the US Virginia-class attack subs and the most capable Chinese boats, Harris warned that in the future “China will close that gap” which would “put us in a bad place.”
Harris also cited a shortage of certain munitions, including the small diameter bomb, the AIM-9X Sidewinder and AIM-120D AMRAAM anti-air missiles and the sub-launched Mark 48 torpedo. He explained that the precision-guided small diameter bombs are being taken from his command to support the on-going fight against ISIS extremists in the U.S. Central Command.
Asked about the complaints repeatedly issued by the service chiefs of readiness problems due to the shortage of funds, Harris said, “My forces are ready to fight tonight. The readiness problems the services have is in the follow-on forces,” which could create a problem in a major conflict, he said.
In response to other questions, Harris said he “is a big fan” of the littoral combat ships (LCSs), which have been making single-ship deployments to Singapore. He said he would particularly like “the upgunned” frigate version the Navy is planning, which would have anti-ship missiles. He said those LCSs would reinforce the Navy’s distributed lethality plan.
Harris stressed the value of the nation’s strong bilateral defense relations with Japan, South Korea and Australia and the growing partnerships with other nations, such as Vietnam, the Philippines and India.