The Pentagon Rises to New Indo-Pacific Challenges


Welcome to this week’s installment of The Intelligence Brief… as the end of 2023 approaches, this week we’ll be looking at one of the areas that the U.S. Department of Defense currently cites as one of its greatest challenges. In our analysis, we’ll be looking at 1) what has had the DoD concerned in 2023, 2) how the U.S. has worked to advance its posture in the Indo-Pacific, and 3) what an advance look at a draft copy of a recent strategy assessment says about the U.S. and its inability to build weapons as quickly as our adversaries.

Quote of the Week

“We envision an Indo-Pacific that is open, connected, prosperous, resilient, and secure—and we are ready to work together with each of you to achieve it.”

– President Joe Biden, East Asia Summit, 10/27/21

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Now, it’s time to look at some of the challenges 2023 brought with it and what the Pentagon says has managed to hold its attention the most amidst a year filled with global tensions.

In a Year of Challenges, Here’s What Has the DoD Concerned in 2023

2023 has been a year of many firsts, as well as major challenges. Recognized by scientists as the hottest summer on record in the Northern Hemisphere, it was also a year of major developments in fields of science and technology, with notable advances occurring in the burgeoning field of artificial intelligence.

This year has also been a year of financial upheaval, with a crisis that first erupted back in the spring with the failure of Silicon Valley Bank in March, leading to what experts have called the second-largest banking crisis in U.S. history, followed by a similar upset involving the San Francisco-based First Republic Bank just weeks later.

However, 2023 has also been a game-changer for the Department of Defense, and in particular, our country’s military posture in the Indo-Pacific, where developments over the last several months have led to the characterization of 2023 by military leaders as having been “the most transformative year for U.S. force posture” in the region.

(Credit: Marine Corps Cpl Destiny Dempsey)

The Indo-Pacific Remains a Challenge in a Year Rife with Turmoil

The U.S. has remained focused on its Indo-Pacific defense strategy, “Even with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Hamas attack on Israel, terror attacks in the Red Sea and more,” according to assistant defense secretary for Indo-Pacific security affairs Ely Ratner, who spoke on the issue earlier this week.

The Department of Defense also said on Tuesday that the U.S. has made “steady and impressive progress” in the Indo-Pacific throughout the year, with concentrations among Pentagon leadership having remained focused on China.

Ratner, speaking with the Defense Writer’s Group, said that China “has been identified as the only country in the world with both the will and, increasingly, the capability to reshape the international order,” Ratner said. “That was the assessment at the time of the release of the National Defense Strategy, and that remains the assessment today.”

Ratner further characterized China and its ambitions as “the national security challenge of our time,” though emphasizing the historic work of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin since February, where the secretary traveled to the countries of key strategic allies in the region.

Lloyd Austin visits with U.S. and Australian troups during his visit to Australia earlier in 2023 (Credit: Chad J. McNeeley, DOD)

“Within a 50-day period the secretary met face-to-face with all five of our treaty allies in the Indo-Pacific region, Thailand, the Philippines, Australia, Japan and South Korea,” Ratner said.

“These are remarkable engagements with our allies during a time [when] there are other things going on in the world.”

China is Outpacing the U.S. Arms Industry

Despite the U.S. working to strengthen its posture in the Indo-Pacific, there are still significant challenges within the quickly changing geopolitical landscape observed over the last twelve months.

Last week, citing a draft copy of the new National Defense Industrial Strategy, Politico reported that the U.S. arms industry is currently unable to meet the demands of weapons development at the pace required per current global demands.

A draft version of the forthcoming report stated that the U.S. “does not possess the capacity, capability, responsiveness, or resilience required to satisfy the full range of military production needs at speed and scale,” Politico reported on December 2.

“This mismatch presents a growing strategic risk as the United States confronts the imperatives of supporting active combat operations,” the document reveals, “while deterring the larger and more technically advanced pacing threat looming in the Indo-Pacific.”

Despite the challenges—militarily and otherwise— that 2023 has presented, the Pentagon has continued to tout its successes, particularly in the Indo-Pacific. Ratner said this week that “through the investments we are making [the U.S. is] more capable in the region.”

“We’re more forward in the region due to the force-posture changes that we made,” Ratner added. Although the U.S. Department of Defense appears to feel confident about its progress amidst a quickly evolving global dynamic, it is one that, with the arrival of 2024, brings the promise of similar challenges, but also opportunities.

“We’re more together in terms of really remarkable progress,” Ratner said, “and deepening our cooperation with our allies and partners.”

That concludes this week’s installment of The Intelligence Brief. You can read past editions of The Intelligence Brief at our website, or if you found this installment online, don’t forget to subscribe and get future email editions from us here. Also, if you have a tip or other information you’d like to send along directly to me, you can email me at micah [@] thedebrief [dot] org, or Tweet at me @MicahHanks.

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