The plan, which is being developed by John Aquilino, head of the US Indo-Pacific Command, which oversees US military operations in the region, is likely to require Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s approval. He will also, at least broadly, be briefed on President Joe Biden, several US officials said.
“As you might expect, every time a senior official travels to the region, we plan how to keep that official safe,” a senior Defense Department official told CNN.
The Pentagon, and the Navy in particular, already maintain significant forces in the region. Key assets such as the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan with fighter jets and reconnaissance aircraft on board could be moved closer to Taiwan, heading for a position in the South China Sea. The Air Force could also be used for additional air surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities. Other assets may be located at longer distances, ready to be moved in the event of unforeseen circumstances.
“There are always levels of force protection,” a second defense official said of such planning.
The Pentagon can also move reconnaissance satellites over the region if necessary to receive a continuous stream of intelligence about Chinese military movements, officials said.
Concerns about possible miscalculations
But US officials are constantly concerned that miscalculations or unintended incidents or accidents could occur if China and the US significantly increase their air and sea operations in the region.
While the Pentagon will not publicly acknowledge the war plan, “you should expect the department to consider what assets are available in the area,” a second official said.
“It would be inappropriate to comment on any congressional travel opportunities,” Defense Department spokesman Lt. Col. Martin Meiners said.
However, officials say they are open to China continuing to engage in potentially aggressive air or sea engagements with the US or its allies in the region. Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley has put together a classified summary of Chinese interceptions of US and allied aircraft over the past five years.
But a key US Department of Defense policy official went even further, highlighting the short-term issues.
“I want to make it clear that these are not isolated incidents, that over the past five years, the number of unsafe interceptions by the PLA, including US allies and partners, legally operating in international airspace in the South China Sea has increased dramatically, with dozens of dangerous events in just first half of this year,” Eli Ratner, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security, said in a speech this week.
Risks for Pelosi
Austin admitted to reporters on Wednesday that he spoke with Pelosi, adding that he remains “concerned … about China’s aggressiveness and the things we’ve been seeing in the region lately.”
“And so I think we have to be vigilant, you know, in everything, even when we are working in this region. But in terms of the specific security requirements that we will have to provide in support of Speaker Pelosi, I can’t comment on that,” he said.
Last week, Pentagon officials briefed the speaker on Taiwan and rising tensions in the region, according to people familiar with the matter. The briefing was also attended by representatives of the White House.
The White House said Tuesday that because Pelosi is in the presidential line of succession, the administration is focusing on her safety when she travels abroad.
The president mentioned last week that the US military opposed Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan now, but the White House declined to expand on his comments. Pelosi said at a press conference last week that she didn’t quite understand what Biden meant.
“I think the president meant that maybe the military was afraid that my plane would be shot down, or something like that. I don’t know for sure,” she said.
Kevin Liptak of CNN and Caitlan Collins contributed to this report.