By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 23, 2014 – America’s rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region is on track, and U.S. Pacific Command is staying on top of the growing sophistication of today’s weapon systems in what PACOM commander Navy Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III calls “the most militarized region in the world.”
Locklear briefed the press at the Pentagon this morning on PACOM’s progress in leading the Defense Department’s rebalance to the Indo-Asia-Pacific and the United States’ relative dominance in the region with such systems heading into the 21st century.
“The rapid technological advancement of warfare capabilities and the proliferation of these capabilities across the globe will challenge us in the future,” Locklear said.
“We must also ensure that we invest in the proper mix of defensive and offensive capabilities for our ships,” he added, “… and that the [ships’] capabilities are both lethal and dominant.”
The security push in the region comes with the growth of economies and because of the increasing defense requirements of Asia-Pacific nations.
“They’re buying … 21st-century weapons. They’re not the same weapon systems we dealt with 30 years ago … so it stands to reason that our relative dominance in those technologies and weapons systems will have diminished over time,” the admiral said.
“That’s not something to be afraid of,” he added. “It’s just something to be pragmatic about.”
Discussing country-by country highlights of ongoing operations, Locklear began with PACOM’s contribution to the multinational Operation Damayan, established to help the Philippine government with the deadly aftermath of November’s supertyphoon Haiyan.
“There was a quick transition in that operation to the armed forces of the Philippines and ultimately to the government of the Philippines to be able to continue that recovery,” Locklear said, adding that the operation “demonstrates the value of working together on [humanitarian assistance/disaster response] –related training and initiatives so we can respond more quickly and more effectively” during natural disasters.
Locklear also traveled to Thailand and Vietnam.
In Thailand, which is experiencing political unrest, “it’s important to highlight that the Thai military has responded favorably in support of their government, a democracy that’s working through these challenges,” Locklear noted.
“In my time talking with the government and the military leadership, they highlighted their efforts to maintain peaceful democratic processes and we wish them all the best,” he added.
Locklear’s recent trip to Vietnam was the first visit by a PACOM commander since last July, when Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang and President Barack Obama met at the White House for the first bilateral meeting.
Afterward they announced the establishment of a new Comprehensive Partnership to increase trade and commerce, military-to-military cooperation, multilateral work on issues like disaster relief, and scientific and educational exchanges.
“We’re working closely with the Vietnamese military and we’re looking for opportunities to expand and grow our partnerships, especially when it comes to humanitarian [and] disaster relief operations,” Locklear said, adding that the second PACOM-sponsored disaster management center opened in Vietnam while he was there.
In answer to a question about the December South China Sea incident in which the U.S. Navy guided-missile ship Cowpens took evasive action to avoid colliding with Chinese Navy ship Liaoning, Locklear described an evolving environment.
“As we look at the growing number of navies that are operating and the growing number of security concerns in this region, we have to expect militaries are going to have to encounter and operate around each other,” he said, including the U.S. and Chinese navies.
“This highlights to the [People’s Liberation Army] and the U.S. military,” the admiral added, “that we have to do better at being able to communicate with each other in a way that allows us [avoid] a miscalculation that won’t be productive in the security environment.”
Locklear said PACOM has had defense officials in Beijing for the past two days.
“We have a mechanism in place with the Chinese where we meet routinely to talk about maritime incidents and how we interact with each other,” the admiral said, adding that he hopes “we will … continue to learn to interact and progress in the professional manner that we exhibit toward each other. This is the best way forward.”
Ultimately, Locklear said, for mutual security, China and its military must be regional leaders and coexist in its part of the world with U.S. allies and with U.S. and allied militaries.
“They’re going to have to work hard to get through some of the … territorial disputes they’re having with their neighbors. We don’t take sides on the territorial disputes,” the admiral said, “but we do expect them to be done peacefully.”
In the end, he added, U.S. forces in the Pacific area of responsibility will operate freely in international waters and international airspace.
“That’s the bottom line,” Locklear stated. “We will operate there and we’ll operate professionally and we’ll operate peacefully. That’s the message to all the militaries that operate in that region.”
In South Asia, India has a critical role in security for a peaceful Indian Ocean, the admiral said, and the United States welcomes that role.
The January 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance directs Locklear “to develop a long-term strategic relationship with India and we’re moving in that direction,” he said.
A cornerstone of that long-term key relationship is to determine how the countries will partner in areas of similar interests and capabilities, the admiral said, and how to make this happen despite radically different procurement systems.
“The Indian government and military recognize their procurement system is different than our[s] … and we’re working through how to streamline those differences,” Locklear explained, “… so we can move forward with some of the key technologies and key capabilities we want to develop.”
Elsewhere in the region, Japan and the U.S. soon will have a defense review to determine elements such as force laydown that will describe the future alliance, the admiral said, and the nations seem to be moving in a positive direction on the Futenma Replacement Facility in Okinawa.
In the land domain, he added, DOD is pursuing an initiative with its Australian partners involving the Marine Corps and the Air Force, and PACOM is inspecting the shared infrastructure in each alliance country to ensure it is set for the 21st century.
In response to a question about North Korea and its threatened use of weapons of mass destruction, the admiral said that nation’s continued nuclearization and pursuit of missile technologies under the control of an unpredictable young leader make North Korea a “potentially very dangerous” place.
“In the end,” Locklear said, “we must demand a total denuclearization of North Korea. It’s in the interest of not only South Korea and the United States but of all the people in the region. And now it’s in the best interests of everybody in the world.”
(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter: @PellerinAFPS)
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