WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States will build new long-range weapons in a hedge against potential rivals like China, the major power best-placed to challenge U.S. supremacy, the Pentagon said in a new strategic blueprint on Friday.
The plan also would boost U.S. special forces by 15 percent to fight terrorism, create a military task force to thwart transfers of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and expand psychological warfare capabilities.
The Pentagon released the congressionally mandated
Quadrennial Defense Review to outline its strategy for meeting anticipated security threats in the next 20 years.
The blueprint comes at a time of strain for the U.S. military, with 138,000 troops fighting a nearly 3-year-old war in Iraq and thousands more in
Afghanistan searching for al Qaeda network leaders.
It said the choices of “major and emerging powers,” including India, Russia and China, would be key to the 21st century international security environment.
“Of the major and emerging powers, China has the greatest potential to compete militarily with the United States and field disruptive military technologies that could over time offset traditional U.S. military advantages absent U.S. counter strategies,” the document said.
The United States is eager to head off any showdown with China over Taiwan, the self-governing island off China’s coast over which Beijing claims sovereignty. China has vowed to attack Taiwan if it formally declares independence.
The report said China was likely to continue making large investments in such weapons as ballistic and cruise missiles, air defense systems and submarines, adding, “The pace and scope of China’s military build-up already puts regional military balances at risk.”
The United States seeks to dissuade China and others from developing capabilities that could threaten regional stability and to defeat aggression if deterrence failed, the report said.
Referring to China’s large territory and a lack of U.S. bases in the area, the Pentagon said it places a premium on “forces capable of sustained operations at great distances.”
The blueprint, unveiled before Monday’s delivery to Congress of a 2007 defense budget request of $439.3 billion, recommended a new long-range “strike” capability to be fielded by 2018 and modernizing the current bomber force.
The new capability could include manned or unmanned bombers as well as directed-energy weapons such as lasers. The Air Force Air Combat Command began a yearlong analysis of options for such a capability in October.
The plan called for increasing the number of aircraft carriers in the Pacific to five or six and maintaining 60 percent of Navy submarines there, while doubling to two the number of attack submarines bought annually by 2012.
The Pentagon cited what it called the uncertain nature of threats in the post-September 11 world.
“More than on September 10th, 2001, I can tell you now that U.S. forces in all probability will be engaged somewhere in the world in the next decade where they’re not currently engaged,” senior Pentagon policy official Ryan Henry told reporters.
The document said
North Korea was developing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and sending weapons overseas. It cited
Iran for developing long-range missiles and taking steps toward producing nuclear weapons.
To combat terrorist networks, it said the Pentagon will increase special-operations forces 15 percent from the current 52,000 and boost the number of special forces battalions by a third. These forces, a favorite of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, are more highly trained and capable of taking on more sensitive missions than regular forces.
The document called for creating a military task force to keep terrorist groups from obtaining weapons of mass destruction, and spending $1.5 billion over five years to develop medical countermeasures to germ warfare agents.
The plan would increase purchases of unmanned aircraft like the Predator and the Global Hawk drones, nearly doubling such surveillance capabilities. It also would expand psychological operations and civil affairs units by a third.