Japanese and U.S. ships — including the aircraft carrier George Washington, right — participate in a 2012 exercise in the East China Sea. Japanese ships soon could be further integrated with U.S. forces, the Navy's top officer said. (MCC Jennifer A. Villalovos / Navy)
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As the Pentagon shifts its focus to the bustling Pacific region, the Navy is weighing how to work with more countries and to manage more ships. The Navy’s top officer spoke about these issues after a recent trip to the area.
Planners have broken the Asia-Pacific area into two regions where different kinds of warships are needed. Combatants such as cruisers, submarines and aircraft carriers will patrol the East China Sea and Sea of Japan to deter a bellicose North Korea and an assertive Chinese navy. Meanwhile, smaller ships like the littoral combat ship will focus on the Indian Ocean region, training partner navies and offering relief when needed.
“The shift to Southeast Asia: It’s about forging deeper partnerships and building new ones,” said Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert in a May 21 speech at the Center for a New American Security think tank in Washington, D.C.
Two nations the Navy can forge deeper ties with are Japan and China.
Japan, one of America’s closest allies in the region, is assessing whether to bolster its defense by operating closer with the U.S. Navy, a vision that could have Japanese ships steaming in U.S. strike groups. “Think NATO, think U.K.,” Greenert said, describing the arrangement Japanese leaders are considering.
China’s naval might is felt throughout the region, including in territorial disputes, but Greenert sees plenty of chances for cooperation. For the first time, China’s fleet will participate in the Rim of the Pacific exercise in 2014. And the CNO will host his Chinese counterpart, Adm. Wu Shengli, on an upcoming visit.
“We just gotta keep being persistent,” Greenert said of engaging with China’s navy. “I think we want the same thing: Prevention of miscalculation.”
The Navy is also building closer ties with the Air Force. The services are developing a new strategy to counter adversaries capable of mining waters and shooting down aircraft to deny U.S. forces access. This Air-Sea Battle concept focuses closely on joint missions between the Air Force and the Navy and is widely believed to be the blueprint for countering China, an application officials rarely address. But it will require the U.S. military services to break down their barriers, Greenert said.
The LCSs also have a part in the Pacific strategy. The Navy’s first LCS, Freedom, is testing Singapore as a base and logistics hub, where crews can onload mission packages and head out without spending weeks in transit to and from U.S. bases.
“We think it’s the right size for Southeast Asia,” Greenert said of LCS in a May 15 speech in Singapore. “And by 2020, we’ll have about seven operating in and around this region.”
Four are to be based in Singapore and three in Japan.