|LCS 1 USS Freedom (File Photo)|
By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 9, 2013 – U.S. allies and partners in the Asia-Pacific are seeing more Army, Marine Corps and special operations forces as they “come home to the Pacific” from Afghanistan and as the Defense Department enhances its forward presence across the region, Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter said here yesterday.
In remarks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the deputy secretary said the Defense Department is focused on delivering capacity, managing resources and following through on its investments in the region.
“We're watching every dollar, every ship and every aircraft to implement the rebalance successfully,” Carter said. “We also recognize that as the world is changing quickly, our operational plans need to change, and we're changing them accordingly. We are therefore taking into account new capabilities and operational concepts, advanced capabilities of potential adversaries and global threat assessments.”
Carter described the rebalance in terms of initial force structure decisions, presence and posture, investments, and innovations in operational plans and tactics.
“As we draw down from Afghanistan, the Navy will release naval surface combatants and eventually carriers,” he said, “as well as naval intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, [or] ISR, and their associated processing capabilities.”
EP-3 signals reconnaissance aircraft already have moved from U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility to that of U.S. Pacific Command, Carter said. The Navy also will release Fire Scout unmanned aerial vehicles from Afghanistan, and several electronic surveillance aircraft are available for redeployment.
Navy P-3 maritime patrol aircraft that have conducted surveillance missions in the Middle East for a decade will return to Pacom, he noted, and the Navy is adding a fourth forward-deployed fast-attack submarine to Guam in fiscal year 2014.
By 2020, 60 percent of naval assets will be assigned to the Asia-Pacific region -- “a substantial and historic shift,” Carter said, which the Navy is accomplishing in three main ways:
-- The Navy will permanently base four destroyers in Rota, Spain, to provide ballistic missile defense to European allies. This mission had been performed by 10 destroyers that rotated from the United States to the Mediterranean Sea, and now six will be released to shift their deployments to the Asia-Pacific region.
-- Destroyers and amphibious ships that have conducted security cooperation and humanitarian assistance missions in Africa, South America and Europe will be replaced for the missions by new joint high-speed vessels and littoral combat ships under construction. The destroyers and amphibious ships will deploy to the Asia-Pacific region.
-- The Navy will generate more forward presence by fielding ships such as the joint high-speed vessel and littoral combat ships, along with new mobile landing platforms and float-forward staging bases that use rotating military or civilian crews.
The Navy also is fielding the broad-area maritime surveillance sensor called BAMS aboard the Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle to expand the range and capacity for ISR in the region, Carter said, and the EA-18G carrier-based next-generation jammer aircraft will boost electronic warfare capability.
The first of four Navy littoral combat ships will arrive in Singapore later this month, he added, providing a key capability to work bilaterally and multilaterally with partners in the region.
New investments will help the Navy sustain undersea dominance in the region and elsewhere, Carter said. These include a Virginia-class nuclear-powered submarine, including the submarine itself and a new payload module for cruise missiles, as well as the P-8 maritime surveillance aircraft and the anti-submarine MH-60 helicopter.
For its part, the Air Force will capitalize on its inherent speed, range and flexibility in the region and shift capacity from Afghanistan to the Asia-Pacific region, including ISR assets such as the MQ-9 Reaper, the U-2 reconnaissance aircraft and the Global Hawk, Carter said.
The Air Force also will allocate space, cyber, tactical aircraft and bomber forces from the United States to the Asia-Pacific region with little new investment, because 60 percent of its overseas-based forces are already stationed there, he added, including 60 percent of combat-coded F-22 fighter jets.
“Our ability to strengthen the ongoing continuous-bomber-presence missions in the region will also benefit from reduced presence in Afghanistan,” the deputy secretary said. “As operations in Afghanistan end, for example, more B-1 [bombers] will become available, augmenting the B-52 continuous rotational presence in the Asia-Pacific region. The ability to provide forward strategic presence with round-trip missions by the stealthy B-2 will remain a valuable option.”
Some reductions have been made in tactical air squadrons worldwide by removing older or single-purpose aircraft to make way for newer aircraft, the deputy secretary said, “but we have made no changes in our tactical air posture for the Asia-Pacific region.”
“We have continued to invest in the fifth-generation joint strike fighter, a new stealth bomber, the KC-46 tanker replacement and a host of ISR platforms,” he added.
The Army and Marine Corps also have important roles in the Asia-Pacific rebalance, Carter said.
The Army has about 91,000 soldiers and civilians assigned to the region and maintains a forward presence of eight active-component brigade combat teams, 12 batteries of Patriot missiles and many theater-enabling units, Carter said.
“The Army is ensuring that after a decade of using Pacom assets in the Centcom area, the Pacom commander regains command control of the other 60,000 soldiers assigned to the broader Asia-Pacific region,” he said.
As part of the regionally aligned rotational concept, Army units assigned to Pacom will focus during their training cycle on specific Pacom mission areas, Carter said, including participating in bilateral and trilateral training exercises and building partnership capacity.
“I should add that during the months of [severe budget cuts represented by] sequestration and beyond, the Army is preferentially protecting the readiness and modernization of more than 19,000 soldiers we have in South Korea so they are able to decisively respond to any North Korean provocation,” the deputy secretary said.
Carter said the Army also continues to invest in ballistic missile defense capabilities that are being deployed and improved.
“And at the DOD-wide level, we are protecting investments in future-focused capabilities that are so important to this region, such as cyber, certain science and technology investments, and space,” he added.
Also in the region, roughly 18,000 Marines are forward deployed, Carter said, split among Air Station Iwakuni, where a fighter squadron is based; Okinawa, from which the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force operates; and Darwin, Australia, which has a new rifle company. Another 5,000 Marines are on Oahu in Hawaii, he added.
The Marines have three infantry battalions on the ground in Okinawa and will put another there later this year, he said.
“These are rotational battalions that will move in and out of the Western Pacific every six months,” the deputy secretary explained. “All of this will be accompanied by an EA-6 Prowler squadron in Iwakuni this fall, along with more heavy-lift and attack helicopters in Okinawa.”
In Australia, he added, the first company of Marines rotated through Darwin last year, a key first step toward using their presence to engage in bilateral and multilateral exercises as partners in the region.
“With regard to our military installations, we are making critical investments in training ranges and infrastructure, including in Guam, which we're developing as a strategic hub, as well as in Marianas, Saipan and Tinian,” Carter said.
“In addition to investing in technical capabilities,” the deputy secretary added, “we are also investing in our people, in language and culture skills and regional and strategic affairs to ensure that we cultivate the intellectual capital that will be required to make good on our rebalance.”