South China Sea: US warned Beijing of ‘major military breakthrough’ in bid to secure area

South China Sea: Military exercises ‘must continue’ says expert

The US and Beijing have been embroiled in a war of words over the South China Sea for years, and more recently major fears of conflict over the area, dubbed the most expensive waters in the world, have arisen. Should conflict occur, the US says it will be ready as it begins to use drones to work alongside unmanned technology to help its combat scenarios from 2021. The importance of its inclusion was raised by Rear Admiral Robert Gaucher, a director of maritime headquarters with US Pacific Fleet.

He said: “We’re shooting for early 2021 to be able to run a fleet battle problem that is centred on unmanned [technology].

“It will be on the sea, above the sea and under the sea as we get to demonstrate how we can align to the [U.S. Indo-Pacific Command] directives to use experimentation to drive lethality.”

The decision has been hailed as a “major breakthrough” for the US, according to operations routinely occur in the waters, by all nations who lay claim to the region.

The US Navy regularly runs fleet battle problems, which allow the military to test how it would deploy its forces should conflict erupt.

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It reportedly also wants around $2bn (£1.5bn) to produce 10 unmanned surface vessels during the next five years, a request Congress is currently raising objections about.

RDML Gaucher added: “I want to be able to put an unmanned surface ship inside the adversary’s denied areas.

“If I lose it, I’m losing a much less expensive ship and I’m not losing American lives, but I’m still creating a problem — whether I’m making them shoot it and I’m finding out where they are… or I’m making them waste a weapon on it or I’m getting a couple of shots off before I lose it.”

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The dispute is centred around the waters, which are the richest in the world.

China claims almost all of the strategic South China Sea.

Others arguing their rights to the waters include Brunei, Indonesia, Taiwan and the Philippines.

For years, Washington has stepped in to support neighbouring Asian nations, who are threatened by China’s military.

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This, along with other criticisms from the US surrounding China’s handling of Hong Kong, have seen the diplomatic stresses fray to new lows.

Among the worries many experts have over this ongoing row is the possibility that heightened patrols from US Navy ships could lead to accidental conflict.

Professor Oriana Skylar Mastro, from Georgetown University, is one of them, who detailed exactly how this could spark conflict fears when she talked to the Council of Foreign Relations this year.

She said: “I think there are some factors that show if China cannot achieve its goals, de facto control of the South China waters, it could escalate.

“The US could act more assertively, leading to aggression on the part of China.

“It’s possible that China will come to the conclusion that the diplomatic way of dealing with the situation isn’t working.

“Couple that with new power projection capabilities, military power for the first time… lastly, you could see China taking military action, such as seizing islands of kinetic action against US vessels in the South China Sea waters.”

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