Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Wednesday issued a directive initiating Pentagon efforts to better address security challenges posed by China but the Defense Department offered few details.
In February, President Joe Biden announced the Defense Department stood up a new China Task Force to assess the department’s force posture and technology requirements for future competition with the near-peer competitor (Defense Daily, Feb. 10).
The task force was directed to both conduct a baseline assessment of China-related programs, policies and processes at DoD and provide Austin with a set of top priorities and recommendations for the department. This was all oriented to better align the objectives of prioritizing China to actions toward that end.
During a call with reporters on Wednesday, a senior defense official provided few specifics on the recommendations or new initiatives, citing some as classified.
“Here’s the bottom line – this directive from the secretary is ultimately about getting the department’s house in order in ensuring the department lives up to the stated prioritization of China as the number one pacing challenge. The directive itself is classified…and we’ll have more to report on the initiatives themselves as they develop,” the official said.
In a statement the Defense Department described the initiatives as “designed to focus Departmental processes and procedures and better help department leaders contribute to whole-of-government efforts to address the challenge from China. They were developed in consultation and coordination with our interagency partners and will complement the multi-faceted work on China policy of departments, agencies, and the White House.”
The announcement said many of these undisclosed initiatives intend to streamline and strengthen cooperation with U.S. allies and partners, especially those in the Indo-Pacific region.
The senior defense official underscored some major areas the task force looked at were alliances and partnerships, how the department approaches deterrence, operational concepts, emerging capabilities, future force posture, technology, and the civilian and military workforces.
More specifically, the official said that “for instance, to ensure the department has the people that we need to compete effectively, the Secretary of Defense has tasked the Undersecretary for Personnel and Readiness with updating professional military education and civilian professional development to align the department with the prioritization of China.”
The official added the task force’s work was feeding into the National Defense Strategy and Austin also directed the task force to provide the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy with recommendations on a number of relevant issues, including those related to deterrence as well as competition below the level of armed conflict.
The official said another result of the task force recommendations is that “to support the development of new operational concepts, Secretary Austin is going to personally be reviewing efforts to accelerate the joint warfighting concept through joint experimentation and prototyping.”
The Defense Department statement noted Austin intends to directly oversee DoD China-related policies, operations and intelligence as the task force recommendations are incorporated into ongoing reviews and Department-wide processes.
In a statement, Austin said these initiatives “are nested inside the larger U.S. government approach to China and will help inform the development of the National Defense Strategy we are working on.”
“The efforts I am directing today will improve the Department’s ability to revitalize our network of allies and partners, bolster deterrence, and accelerate the development of new operational concepts, emerging capabilities, future force posture, and a modernized civilian and military workforce,” he added.
DoD said the task force members came from across the department including all the services, several Combatant Commands, the Joint Staff, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and the intelligence community. They conducted hundreds of interviews and reviewed thousands of pages of policies, analysis and intelligence.
The task force will now stand down and initiatives in Austin’s directive are to be executed via normal DoD structures and organizational elements.
The 15-member task force was led by Ely Ratner, who currently serves as Special Assistant to the Secretary of Defense
“I want to thank everyone on the Task Force for their hard work and the skill they lent to what was a sprint-like effort. I especially want to note the leadership of Dr. Ely Ratner, who superbly organized and managed this body of work. Now, it is up to the Department to get to work,” Austin said.