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Few Choices For US As China Militarizes South Pacific

By Sydney J. Freedberg Jr.

February 17, 2016

...Former Navy Undersecretary Bob Martinage was less concerned — for now. “In isolation, the apparent deployment of an HQ-9 air defense system to Woody Island has marginal operational significance,” he told me. “In the event of a conflict, it would pose a limited threat to air lines of communication in the vicinity, but could be quickly overwhelmed and neutralized. In peacetime, US reconnaissance aircraft” — mainly meaning those P-3s and P-8s — “operating within roughly 100 miles will now do so under constant threat, which may reduce crisis stability.”

But the deployment has much wider significance if it’s one step in a larger strategy, Martinage continued, “especially if this is a trial balloon to see how the United States and other regional states react….The deployment of large numbers of long-range surface-to-air missiles and anti-ship cruise missiles more widely across the South China Sea would be destabilizing, increase the threshold for US intervention in a crisis (or increasing the chances that the US would be self-deterred), and have significant operational ramifications.” Any one outpost might be manageable in isolation, but together they would form the kind of “anti-access/area denial” network that Martinage’s home institution, the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, has long warned about.

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