Showcase speakers: U.S. focuses on Ukraine-Russia war, but China remains top 'near-peer threat'

·5 min read

Jun. 3—JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — The United States was directing its international attention toward the Pacific Ocean and China's activities there during the early days of President Joe Biden's administration, Kevin Fahey said Friday.

But then Russia invaded Ukraine. The three-month war has impacted the nation and the world on military, economic and humanitarian levels.

Fahey, president of a company called Cypress International that consults with the U.S. Department of Defense, provided some insight into the conflict on Friday during his keynote address at Showcase for Commerce's John P. Murtha Breakfast.

"No matter what happens in the world, China is by far our near-peer threat," Fahey told a crowd at the Frank J. Pasquerilla Conference Center in downtown Johnstown. "We can't take our eye off that, and that's why we were pivoting. But ... as we were developing the national defense strategy, as you know, things were sort of evolving in Europe — and we realized, like we always realize, you can prepare for who's going to be your biggest adversary, but you're not going to choose where you go to war."

DoD Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment William LaPlante expressed similar thoughts as he gave remarks by video at the event's opening ceremony on Thursday.

"As current events go in the Ukraine, Russia poses acute threats every day to parts of Europe, and the U.S., and our allies and individuals," LaPlante said. "However, China is actually our most consequential strategic competitor."

Some positives have emerged through the horrors of war, though, in Fahey's opinion.

"I will tell you that there are some things out of the Ukraine that are exciting," Fahey said. "One is how close NATO is and how they're talking about all these things, and the other is other countries that are asking to be in NATO. The thing that we all should be excited about is how it's brought a lot of countries across the world closer together as we go through it."

Ukraine and economy

Russia's invasion is one of several factors — along with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, supply chain backups, inflation and surging fuel costs — creating uncertain economic times.

Those issues, along with the federal government operating under continuing resolutions that keep the government funded on a temporary basis, have impacted the U.S. defense contracting industry, especially in places such as Johnstown, according to Fahey.

"The biggest bottleneck in the Department of Defense is contracting," Fahey said. "It is the contracting act — right? — especially places like this. Right? For the most part, you're not on the Abrams tank or the Columbia submarine. Those are going to get their money. The ones that are doing the small things are going to be affected the most, because of the flow-down of that is ever harder. It's so inefficient. It just makes things hard."

Other countries across the world are feeling the economic pinch, too.

"(The war) has impacted the supply chain a lot and the inflation," said Dustin Wilden, a board member for Censec, a Danish primary cluster supplier to the defense, space and security sectors, who was in Johnstown for Showcase. "We feel the same pain that you're feeling here in the U.S. We're just closer to Ukraine than you guys are. What we're seeing now is that Europe stands more united now. First of all, how do we control this and make sure this never happens again?"

Wilden said the invasion caught many people by surprise.

"We should have read the signs," Wilden said, "but we didn't expect to see a dictator like (Russian President Vladimir) Putin invading the Ukraine, doing the stuff that he's done. We were just not prepared for this."

The United States has committed more than $50 billion to provide Ukraine with military assistance and foreign aid.

"That alone is a good indication of the contribution of the American people," said U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr., D-Pa. "When you have a community like Johnstown that has such great companies that are producing either component parts or parts of weapons or weapons systems or other equipment, you're going to have that kind of industrial base that we need, not only for our own security, but to help people in the Ukraine. I think that has become more apparent over the past couple months."

U.S. Rep. Glenn "GT" Thompson, R-Centre, said the nation is "doing exactly what we should be" in regards to the war.

"We have given Ukraine significant amount of arms," Thompson said. "In fact, it's put us in a situation where we've depleted our own stockpiles, so we need to build those back up — and we just passed legislation to be able to do that, so that our war fighters are ready for whatever would come in the future."

U.S. Rep. Dr. John Joyce, R-Blair, spoke about the personal impact of the war during his remarks at the Murtha breakfast.

"Many Ukrainian descendants are here in Johnstown," Joyce said. "I've talked to them. I've reached out to them. I've talked to them in their churches. They understand the horror of what's going on in Ukraine. And we see the resolve of the Ukrainian people — and with the help of the United States' lethal aid, produced ... some of it right here in Cambria and Somerset counties, the Ukrainian people are continuing to fight and continuing to work to defeat Vladimir Putin."