By Claudette Roulo
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 16, 2014 – The region of the globe that falls under the purview of U.S. Pacific Command is defined by superlatives, Navy Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, said yesterday at the Surface Navy Association’s annual convention.
Both geographically and in terms of population, Pacom is the largest combatant command, as well as the oldest, having been in existence since 1947. Five of the United States’ seven treaty-allied nations are in Pacom, Locklear said.
“My particular field of play each day is from Hollywood to Bollywood … as far north as you need to go and as far south as you want to go,” he said.
The world’s largest Islamic democracy and smallest republic lie within the Pacom area of responsibility, he said.
“It is the economic engine that drives the world today. Over half of everything that moves on the surface of the Earth generates out of the Indo-Asia-Pacific, and that number’s growing,” the admiral said.
Even the command’s challenges are defined by superlatives, Locklear said. Pacom is the most militarized area in the world, he noted. Seven of the ten largest armies in the world and five of the declared nuclear powers are in Pacom. More improvised explosive devices are detonated every month in Pacom than anywhere else in the world, the admiral said.
Terrorism plays out differently in Pacom than elsewhere in the world. The sheer sizes of countries and populations mean terrorist acts don’t receive as much notice as those in a place like Afghanistan, he said. Additionally, terrorist groups don’t have a long history in the Asia-Pacific region, the admiral noted.
“I think from a terrorist perspective, that we’re probably in the front end of the problem rather than the tail end of the problem … which means we have an opportunity to shape that environment if we stay engaged and we do it right,” Locklear said.
Climate change and other environmental events have significant implications on the security environment in the Asia-Pacific region, Locklear said.
About 80 percent of the world’s natural disasters happen in Pacom, he said. “And the impact on humanity, because of the numbers of people and where they live — many of them live in the littorals, a growing number of them live in the littorals — the impact of these on humanity is significant,” the admiral said.
Combatting transnational threats like drugs and human trafficking requires engagement on the ground, Locklear said.
“You can’t interdict drugs in the Pacific Ocean … it’s just too big,” he said. “You have to figure out: what are the networks, where are the networks being fed, where’s the money going to, where’s the money being funneled, and where are the implications for that money on our own security interests and the security of the American people.”
“And of course, there is an increasingly dangerous North Korea,” the admiral said.
He said his biggest worry is the unpredictability of Kim Jong Un and his ability to cause a cataclysm in South Korea that would disrupt the entire world. “The flash-to-bang for what could happen in Korea is very, very, very short.”
As the world focused on the Middle East, Locklear said, the Korean peninsula was put on the “back burner,” a situation that’s changing as the U.S. pivots its defense strategy to the Asia-Pacific region.
“We’re going to have to think through what the future holds here and how we’re going to manage a future with a North Korea that has the potential to threaten our homeland with weapons of mass destruction,” he said.
“After two decades of really difficult work in the Middle East, we have to look globally at where our long-term national interests [lie]…,” Locklear said. “The continuing vector, the consistent vector, is, in the long term, is to make sure we get it right in the Asia-Pacific.”
Another aspect of the rebalance is improving the defense relationship with India, Locklear said. The goal is to build a long-term strategic relationship that allows India to have a deeper role in the security environment of the region – particularly the maritime security environment in the Indian Ocean, he said.
“And then there’s the rise of China,” the admiral said. “China is going to rise. We’ve all known this for a long time. Questions remain about how China will contribute to the security of the region, but, Locklear said, he hopes they will eventually be a net provider of security and not a net user of security.
China only recently began operating its warships in international waters, the admiral said, noting that this inexperience with international maritime operations contributed to a Dec. 5 near-collision in the South China Sea.
The USS Cowpens was monitoring operations of the Liaoning, China’s first aircraft carrier, and they were forced to take evasive action when the carrier approached within a few hundred yards of the U.S. ship.
“I believe that there was a level of experience — lack of experience — on some of their smaller ships, and I think we have to understand that for now. Our [commanding officers] operate globally. They know how to operate across numerous scenarios… Our [People's Liberation Army] counterparts are just starting to do this,” Locklear said.
“In the end, the bottom line problem here is to make sure what all parties of the world understand — as well as the Chinese — is that we operate freely in international waters. Period,” he said. “And that we will act professionally, that we will act respectfully, and that we will act not in a dangerous way unless necessary and we expect that of other navies as well.”
“Finally, we’re seeing today throughout the periphery of Pacom, the struggle of fragile democracies,” the admiral said. Many countries in the Asia-Pacific region are dealing with how to align their governments and security apparatuses in a way that will allow them to live through democratic reforms, Locklear said.
It’s against this background that the U.S. has to determine what its role will be in the region, he said. Long the dominant power, the historic dominance of the United States is diminishing, the admiral said.
The decline in U.S. dominance isn’t necessarily a bad thing, he said. U.S. military efforts in the region fostered a security environment that allowed other nations to develop stable governments and economies. “It allowed these economic miracles that are happening to some of our allies and partner countries,” Locklear said.
Absent a NATO-like organization in the Asia-Pacific region, the U.S. Navy has been the backbone of maritime security, Locklear said. Despite that effort, the attention on the Middle East led to a loss of focus on some offensive capabilities, he said.
“To be honest with you, the lack of urgency on the development next-generation, surface-launched, over-the-horizon cruise missiles is troubling. We’re behind the need,” Locklear said. “As the Pacom commander, I need [commanders] to be thinking in the offensive.”
The Navy has seen success in the introduction of the littoral combat ship, the admiral said, and with the adaptation of the existing fleet to deal with an ever-changing security environment.
Going forward, he said, the maritime domain isn’t going to get any smaller. “You have to be there to be relevant,” he said. “Having forces that are rotationally forward, having forces that can sustain themselves forward and be there is important for surface warfare.”
Logistics and distance will continue to plague naval operations, Locklear said. The Navy is smaller than it’s been since 1916, he said. “Is it big enough? My testimony says it’s not. … it’s not big enough for the world we’re in and the way we deploy ships today and the emerging security environment.”
These two factors combine to place additional importance on competent, well-trained and well-led personnel, the admiral said.
“In the end, we can stack up all the great [ships] … put them all on the end of the pier and they’ll be a stack a mile high, but they don’t matter if you don’t have young men and women who can make them work,” he said.
“We have to ensure that we continue to have a force that’s vital,” Locklear said. “You need to start bringing the calculus of the Indo-Asia-Pacific more into your thinking about what it means for the future of the Navy. … This is your plum to pick, because there are so many opportunities for surface warfare in the battle space that could be defined by the challenges that are in the Indo-Asia-Pacific.”
(Follow Claudette Roulo on Twitter @rouloafps)
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