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Walker's World: Asia's New Naval Map

For the first time, Japan has agreed that a nuclear-powered U.S. aircraft carrier can be based in Japan and to deploy powerful X-band radar systems, used to track long-range ballistic missiles.

Pearl Harbor, Hawaii (UPI) Oct 29, 2005
The agreement to re-locate 7,000 U.S. Marines from the Japanese island of Okinawa to the U.S. territory of Guam in the South Pacific is just one component of a far more ambitious transformation of U.S. military strategy in the Asia-Pacific theater.

This includes a much closer coordination between U.S. and Japanese forces, while making them more mobile and flexible and less static.

Japan, which is planning to re-write its post-1945 constitution to modify its celebrated "pacifist" clauses, has agreed to expand its own defense forces and to train and operate them alongside U.S. troops. For the first time, Japan has agreed that a nuclear-powered U.S. aircraft carrier can be based in Japan and to deploy powerful X-band radar systems, used to track long-range ballistic missiles.

The expansion of the U.S. base at Guam with new submarine and stealth bomber deployments alongside the 7,000 Marines fits into a broader U.S. strategy of "forward deterrence," which is revolutionizing traditional naval doctrine and practice. Ships are now kept at sea for much longer periods simply by rotating crews.

The destroyer USS Fletcher has been kept at sea for 24 continuous months by the use of replacement crews from the USS Kinkaid and then the USS Oldendorf and then the USS Elliot - saving the usual monthlong transit time from California bases.

The old Marine Expeditionary Units, which lacked defensive and offensive firepower, are being transformed into Expeditionary Strike Groups that include attack submarines and guided missile cruisers and destroyers to become far more powerful and self-reliant forces for amphibious attack.

The Navy has already deployed two of these new task forces in the Pacific, led by the amphibious landing ships Peleliu and Belleau Wood and another in the Mediterranean led by the amphibious landing ship Wasp. The Belleau Wood task force was commander by a Marine general, as part of the broader effort to overcome the traditional demarcation lines between the different services and to inculcate the practice of working jointly.

The commander of the U.S. Pacific fleet, for example, has been assigned the additional duties as commander, Joint Task Force 519. The Navy calls this "a fully deployable joint task force capable of planning and executing any contingency, whether it's evacuating civilians from danger zones or fighting a major conflict for the U.S. Pacific Command."

The deputy commander of the Joint Task Force is an Air Force three-star general (who is also the vice commander of U.S. Pacific Air Forces) and the chief of staff is an Army two-star general, who is also the deputy commander of U.S. Army Pacific.

After the first Expeditionary Strike Group deployment, Col. Michael Regner, commander of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, told reporters that the strike group had forged "the closest working relationship between the two sea services" that he had seen in 27 years of service.

All of this transformation could yet go much further. Vice Adm. Arthur Cebrowski, now retired but widely seen as the father of force transformation in the U.S. Navy, and the man who coined the penetrating term "global systems administrator" to define the U.S role in the world, notes that the performance of the Navy's amphibious ships has traditionally been measured by the number of sailors it takes to support a Marine who is going ashore.

"The most efficient U.S. Navy ship will be the LPD-17 at 1.77 Marines per sailor," Cebrwoski famously told a Center for Naval Analyses seminar. "On the other hand, if you look at what the Australians did in East Timor, using commercial high-speed catamarans, they are between 25 and 50 Marines per sailor. Using a ship that is one-tenth the cost and three times the speed. And the commercial ship has less than half the draft so consequently it can go into five times as many ports to include many unprepared."

On the record, the Navy is both coy and bland in talking about the new threats and missions these changes are meant to address.

"The Asia-Pacific region is more important today than it has ever been for the United States", says the official mission statement for the U.S. Pacific fleet. "Since Sept. 11, 2001 one of the Fleet's primary operational missions has been fighting and supporting the Global War on Terrorism. At the same time, the mission of dissuading and deterring potential regional threats from traditional and trans-national threats alike has continued to grow. Increased Navy visibility in the Western Pacific as a means to accomplish these missions has become paramount."

But it is no secret that the new challenge in the region, and the new spur to Japan's willingness to intensify its alliance with the United States, is less the threat of terrorism and even the threat of North Korea's nuclear ambitions, and rather more the growing economic power and military potential of new emergent powers like China and India.

Terrorism, after all, is hardly the threat that inspired the Navy to open last year a operational command in San Diego, the Fleet Anti-Submarine Warfare Command, charged with reviving the atrophied Cold War skills that had been honed against Soviet submarines. And while part of the threat is still Russian-built submarines, it is increasingly because they have been sold to China.

The threat is complicated, however, by India, the only other power operating an aircraft carrier in the Asia-Pacific theater, and currently buying the very advanced French-built Scorpene submarines that incorporate stealth technology. And while the U.S. strategic partnership with India is strengthening fast, just keeping track of the new Indian subs may furnish the graduates of the new San Diego anti-submarine warfare school with their toughest challenge.

But then the graduates of the new San Diego school are going to include Japanese naval personnel as well as Americans, under the new defense agreement. And depending on the progress of diplomacy, Indian naval officers may also be heading to the San Diego school, all as part of a transformation of Asia-Pacific geo-politics that is more a result of China's surging growth than of the war on terror.

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Fairfax VA (SPX) Oct 26, 2005
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