Even in the midst of the US government’s partial shutdown imbroglio and Great Britain’s Brexit fiasco, the two found time and energy to conduct joint operations training in the South China Sea.
Even though this only involved two ships—the Arleigh-Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell and Royal Navy Type 23 frigate HMS Argyll—it’s a critical beginning (not really a resumption; the last such joint exercise was eight years ago).
We need to expand on this, though. We need, also, to run joint flotilla- and fleet-level exercises in the South China Sea, and then we need to involve Vietnam, the Republic of Korea, and Japan in this sort of joint exercise. In their aggregate, they need to occur a couple of times per year—and they need to include island assault exercises.
It’s true that we also run RIMPAC exercises that involve US and Pacific Rim nations (excluding People’s Republic of China observers as of last year), and while these are advertised as warfare exercises, they’re only biennial, and they serve different warfare purposes: political, to promote stability in broader venues among the participating nations’ interactions, and occasionally to experiment with new weapons and new systems.
What I’m proposing has a more straight up military practicality: joint offensive training of actual assault operations against the sort of target we’re likely to face if the PRC decides to get overt in its occupation of the South China Sea, trying to enforce its seizure at gunpoint.
As an aside, it also would be useful to get the Republic of China started thinking about REFORGER-type exercises.