Russia, China Investing in Submarines to Threaten U.S. Homeland: Pentagon

The officer nominated to lead the U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command has warned that both Russia and China are investing in submarines and other strategic capabilities to threaten the U.S. homeland.

Lieutenant General Glen VanHerck told a Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing Tuesday that he expects a "full challenge" from America's adversaries if he is approved for the new position.

Chief among them will be Russia and China, VanHerck said, as the U.S. faces a new era of great power competition in which Moscow and Beijing are developing ways to challenge America's global military dominance.

"Over 32 years of service, I don't think I've ever seen as strategic and dynamic a national security challenge as we have today," VanHerck told senators. "Over the last three decades, our competitors and potential adversaries have watched the United States and our way of deterring and our way of competing and our way of conflict."

"They have taken the opportunity to adapt to that environment by watching us, specifically China and Russia, across all domains," he explained.

Russia, in particular, still poses a significant threat to the U.S. and is continuing to expand its capabilities, even though President Vladimir Putin's government has struggled to fund some of its more advanced military projects.

"Russia develops strategic capabilities, such as their submarines, which now are a significant challenge for tracking and pose the potential for cruise missiles that can strike the homeland," VanHerck said.

Military officials have long warned that Russian submarines have become increasingly sophisticated and more difficult for American forces to track. U.S. Navy Vice Admiral Andrew Lewis, for example, said in February that the east coast can no longer be considered a "safe haven" for American ships given Russian submarine activity.

VanHerck said China "will do the same" as Russia "in the not so distant future as they continue to develop their capabilities and become more expeditionary." Beijing is investing vast sums in building a modern military capable of force projection, though Chinese capabilities and military spending remain far behind the U.S.

Russia and China were the focus of the Pentagon's 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS). Unveiling the document—the first new NDS for a decade—then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis said that "great power competition, not terrorism, is now the primary focus of U.S. national security."

The NDS classified China as "a strategic competitor using predatory economics to intimidate its neighbors while militarizing features in the South China Sea," while it noted that Russia is engaging in "adventurism" and "has violated the borders of nearby nations and pursues veto power over the economic, diplomatic, and security decisions of its neighbors."

The committee also heard from Lieutenant General James Dickinson, nominated to lead U.S. Space Command. Dickinson told senators that the 2018 NDS reflects the current challenges facing the U.S. in space. He noted that both Russia and China have been advancing their anti-satellite capabilities—weapons that could be used to blind American forces in the event of conflict.

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This file photo shows Russian submarines at the Russian naval base in the Syrian Mediterranean port of Tartus on September 26, 2019. MAXIME POPOV/AFP via Getty Images/Getty