The US Valiant Shield 22 exercise: a warning to Beijing

The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (U.S. Secretary of Defense, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Geopolitical Report ISSN 2785-2598 Volume 20 Issue 16
Author: Riccardo Rossi

Between June 6th-17th, June, the United States Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM) coordinated from its base in Guam the Valiant Shield exercise conducted near the second island chain and in the Philippine Sea.[1] The battle groups of the nuclear aircraft carriers USS Ronald Regan and Abram Lincoln, the LHA USS Tripoli,[2] the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force, the 36th Guam Wing,[3] and a KC-46 squadron based in Yakota (the Japan) participated in this manoeuvre.[4]

Because of the above, an attempt will be made to understand the purpose of the Valiant Shield operations and assess its function in Washington’s geopolitical vision for the Asia-Pacific region.

The Geostrategic Sense of Valiant Shield 22

With the Valiant Shield 2022 exercise, the United States has set itself the goal of improving interoperability between the U.S. Navy, Army, Airforce, and Marines in search and rescue (SAR), combat and air defence, maritime patrol and maritime power projection operations:

«[…] prepares the Joint Force to rapidly respond to crises and contingencies across the spectrum of operations from humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to armed conflict. VS22 assists U.S. forces in developing regional and global power projection capabilities. Integrated training provides a full range of options to succeed in defence of U.S. interests and those of its allies and partners around the world».[5]

The United States attributes this type of training activity an important role in implementing a foreign policy line they promote for the Asia-Pacific called Pivot to Asia, which identifies North Korea and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as the main contributors to geopolitical instability in the region.[6]

The Biden presidency, similar to the Obama (2009-2017) and Trump (2017-2021) administrations, implemented the Pivot to Asia has developed a politico-military strategy agreed with Japan and South Korea [7] aimed at countering the atomic development of the Kim-Jong Un regime and containing the PRC’s growing influence in the space between its Asian coastline and the first island chain.[8]

Washington, within this area, concentrates most of its attention on the Xi Jinping presidency’s territories of interest, namely the island of Taiwan and the straits of Formosa, Korea, Miyako, Luzon and Malacca, as they are obligatory passages for the Sea Lines of Communications (SLOC) that interconnect China’s most important ports (Dalian, Ningbo, Qingdao, Qinhuangdao, Shanghai, Shenzhen) with the leading international sea routes.[9]

The People’s Republic of China, referring to the trade routes, attaches particular importance to the Malacca route, deeming it an indispensable part of the 21st-century maritime silk road (MSR) project.[10] Presented by Xi Jinping in 2013 during a speech to the Indonesian parliament, the MSR aims to:

«[…] to serve a range of China’s core interests, these include the development of its more than $1.2 trillion blue economy, improving food and energy security, diversifying and securing sea lines of communication (SLOC), upholding territorial sovereignty and enhancing its international discourse power. The Road has the potential to expand China’s maritime strategic space far beyond its enclosed adjacent waters and allow it and Road participating states to co-shape the changing global maritime order. Within this construct, China, like previous and existing powers, is seeking to reduce the impact of disruptive forces on key supply chains-the Road is not anomalous. The initiative will allow China to build resilience to economic or diplomatic isolation that could negatively impact its economy and subsequently domestic stability. At the same time, however, by investing in fragile states China is taking substantial risks, which could affect the economy it is trying to protect».[11]

In recent years, the People’s Republic of China has planned an investment plan for the 21st-century maritime silk road, bringing it to about 10 per cent of the national gross domestic product, intending to increase its value by five points of GDP by 2035.[12] In response, the Xi Jinping presidency has developed a tactical-strategic plan for securing the SRM in two main steps:

1) Develop the military tool by increasing anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities,[13] by developing new missile (DF-16/ DF-21) area (J-20) and naval platforms.[14]

2) Increase the presence of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) near the Spratly and Paracelsus archipelagos, respectively, close to the main checkpoints crossed by the Sea Lines of Communications, responding to the Miyako, Taiwan, Luzon and Malacca Straits.[15]

Conclusions

By conducting the Valiant Shield 2022 exercise, the United States confirmed its interest in the Asia-Pacific region and its geopolitical will to contain Chinese militarisation near the Korea Straits, Miyako, Taiwan, Luzon and Malacca. The Biden administration has strengthened its relations with Seoul and Tokyo to be supported by the Japanese Army (JSDF) and in managing the U.S. Navy, Airforce, Marines, and Army bases in South Korea, Japan, and the Philippines with greater freedom and efficiency.[16] Through the combination of these two factors, Washington will be able to maintain localised sea control to the island of Taiwan and the Straits of Korea, Miyako, Luzon and Malacca checkpoints for Sea Lines of Communications (SOLC). Concerning the latter, in the event of a conflict on the Korean peninsula or with the PRC, President Biden will be in a position to deny Chinese military and cargo ships access to maritime trade routes in the region. Washington exercising this manoeuvre would cause severe damage to the Chinese economic-industrial system that is 60% dependent on the sea routes through the Taiwan and Malacca straits. [17]

The People’s Republic of China considers this United States operation a danger to its national security as an expression of the so-called U.S. containment policy, prompting the Xi Jinping presidency to militarise its territories close to the straits mentioned above.[18] Overall, this type of scenario triggers an arms race by speeding up a process of militarisation within the geo-maritime space of the China Sea, increasing the instability of the area and the risk of possible incidents and armed clashes.

This could have serious consequences for the economic and financial system of the Asia-Pacific region, which is characterised by a high degree of interconnection between the People’s Republic of China and the more economically advanced countries: South Korea, Japan and Australia. [19]

Sources

[1]American Navy (2021) U.S. Indo-Pacific Forces Come Together: Valiant Shield 22. Retrieved from: https://www.navy.mil/Press-Office/News-Stories/Article/3053294/us-indo-pacific-forces-come-together-valiant-shield-22/.

[2] The USS Tripoli heads an Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), defined: ‘[…] typically consists of: One amphibious assault ship (LHA or LHD): the primary landing ship, resembling a small aircraft carrier, designed to transport troops into the war zone by air using transport helicopters[…]” Kiley.G, Szechenyi. N (2012), U.S. Force Posture Strategy in the Asia Pacific Region: An Independent Assessment, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, DC, p.73.

[3]The 2015 report by the U.S. Department of Defence defines the island of Guam as “[…]the regional hub for the Air Force’s Global Hawk fleet and the Navy”, an explication reflected in the deployment of part of the SSNs on Guam, and a logistical support platform for jets (F-16, F-35, F-22), strategic bombers (B-1 Lancer, B2, B-52) and tanker aircraft. Engman. M, Stünkel. L (2020), The Question of Guam: A Pivol Island’s Changing Realities, Issue Brief.

[4] Dvids (2022) Yokota supports McConnell Air Force Base with a hot-pit refuel. Retrieved from: https://www.dvidshub.net/image/7272618/yokota-supports-mcconnell-air-force-base-with-hot-pit-refuel.

[5] American Navy (2021) U.S. Indo-Pacific Forces Come Together: Valiant Shield 22. Retrieved from: https://www.navy.mil/Press-Office/News-Stories/Article/3053294/us-indo-pacific-forces-come-together-valiant-shield-22/.

[6] Riccardo Rossi (2021) Geostrategy and military competition in the Pacific, Geopolitical Report ISSN 2785-2598 Volume 10 (1), SpecialEurasia Retrieved from: https://www.specialeurasia.com/it/2021/08/06/geostrategy-pacific-competition/.

[7] Riccardo Rossi (2022) Analysis of President Biden’s visits to Japan and South Korea, Geopolitical Report ISSN 2785-2598 Vol 20 (6), SpecialEurasia. Retrieved from: https://www.specialeurasia.com/it/2022/06/06/us-biden-japan-south-korea/.

[8] Department of Defence, (2020), Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2020 Annual Report to Congress. Retrieved from: https://media.defense.gov/2020/Sep/01/2002488689/-1/-1/1/2020-DOD-CHINA-MILITARY-POWER-REPORT-FINAL.PDF.

[9] Eric. H, (2015) The U.S.-China military scorecard: forces, geography, and the evolving balance of power, 1996-2017, RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, California.

[10]Zou.K, Wu S, Ye. Q, (2021) The 21st Century Maritime Silk Road Challenges and Opportunities for Asia and Europe, Routledge.

[11] Ghiasy. R, Su. F and Saalman L. (2018) The 21st century maritime silk road security implications and ways forward for the European Union, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, p.VII.

[12] Ibid.

[13] U.S. Naval War College (2013), Air-Sea Battle: Service Collaboration to Address Anti-Access & Area Denial, U.S. Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island, p.2.

[14] Riccardo Rossi (2021), The People’s Republic of China will launch a third aircraft carrier, SpecialEurasia, Retrieved from: https://www.specialeurasia.com/it/2022/04/29/china-military-asia-pacific/.

[15] Riccardo Rossi (2021) The Asian coast and its geopolitical influence in the China Dream, Geopolitical Report ISSN 2785-2598 Vol 16 (3), SpecialEurasia. Retrieved from: https://www.specialeurasia.com/it/2022/02/15/asia-coast-china-dream/.

[16] Riccardo Rossi (2021) The Geostrategic Role of the Philippines in Supporting U.S. Interests in the Southwest Asia-Pacific Area, Geopolitical Report ISSN 2785-2598 Volume 15 (8), SpecialEurasia, Retrieved from: https://www.specialeurasia.com/it/2022/01/24/philippines-usa-geopolitics/.

[17] Ghiasy. R, Su F. and Saalman L. (2018) The 21st century maritime silk road security implications and ways forward for the European Union, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

[18] Riccardo Rossi (2021) The Asian coast and its geopolitical influence in the China Dream, Geopolitical Report ISSN 2785-2598 Vol 16 (3), SpecialEurasia. Retrieved from: https://www.specialeurasia.com/it/2022/02/15/asia-coast-china-dream/.

[19] Riccardo Rossi (2021) Australia’s Geostrategic Support for the U.S. Pivot to Asia Policy, Geopolitical Report ISSN 2785-2598 Vol 15 (3), SpecialEurasia. Retrieved from: https://www.specialeurasia.com/it/2022/01/11/australia-strategy-pivot-asia/.

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