Spy balloon, growing fleet show the increased threat of China and its intent for worldwide influence, US Navy secretary says
Stars and Stripes February 21, 2023
WASHINGTON — Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro said Tuesday that the spy balloon shot down over U.S. waters and China’s rapid expansion of its fleet are signs that the country’s determined to extend its influence around the world.
Del Toro, who ascended to his post 18 months ago, said the Chinese military is aiming for a significant advantage by building warships at a pace quicker than the United States can match them.
“It’s a real challenge, but capacity does matter,” he said during a keynote address at the National Press Club in Washington. “We do need a larger Navy, we do need more ships in the future, more modern ships in the future that can meet that threat.”
Del Toro said China can build ships quicker because its government doesn’t need to go through lawmakers for money as in the United States. He also said Beijing uses slave labor to build its military vehicles.
“Unfortunately, China does have a significant advantage,” he said. “They have 13 shipyards. One shipyard has more capacity than all our shipyards combined. That presents a real threat.”
But the U.S. Navy can counter China’s ship advantage by making certain that American sailors are thoroughly educated and well-trained, Del Toro said.
“The advantage that we have … is our people,” he said. “Our shipbuilders are better shipbuilders. That’s why we have a more modern, more capable, more lethal Navy than they do.”
“They script their people to fight. We actually train our people to think,” he added. “That gives us an inherent advantage over anything the Chinese can put up.”
President Joe Biden and the Pentagon have identified China as the top “pacing challenge” for the United States. For years, Washington has been concerned about growing influence from Beijing, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region and how it relates to Taiwan, which China claims as a breakaway territory.
Those concerns rose dramatically a few weeks ago when the U.S. military spotted a Chinese surveillance balloon carrying a large payload as it hovered over the western United States. For several days, the self-propelled balloon took a path across the United States at about 60,000 feet above U.S. territory. A U.S. Fighter jet shot it down as soon as it reached the Atlantic Ocean off the South Carolina coast. Officials later said similar Chinese balloons had floated over U.S. soil on at least four other occasions in recent years.
“Only a few weeks ago, it’s fair to say most Americans were not sufficiently aware of the threat posed by [China],” Del Toro said. “Because of the incursion of a Chinese balloon into our airspace, most Americans’ alarm bells have now gone off. It is no secret that that People’s Republic of China seeks to upend our dominance on the oceans across the globe.”
In January, Del Toro caused some alarm when he suggested the Navy could possibly run out of weapons if the United States kept sending them to Ukraine to defend against Russian forces. He later clarified the remarks to say he’s confident the Pentagon and industry partners would not allow that to happen — that they would ramp up production and ensure the military has what it needs.
Del Toro said virtually the same thing Tuesday but stressed the importance of facing down authoritarian leaders such as Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“I don’t think we’re dangerously depleting [our weapons and equipment]. We are obviously keeping track on all our supplies,” he said. “Investments are now just starting to kick in place, I think. One thing Congress could do, obviously, is pass bills on time … and I think all those efforts will help collectively get us back to where we need to be.”
“We must ensure our forces are ready. We must expand and deepen our partnerships and our alliances across the globe,” Del Toro added. “God forbid we should one day have to say, ‘If only we had done more.’”