By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 4, 2013 – U.S. force rotations in the Asia-Pacific region are bolstering key relationships there while as they extend the U.S. presence to reflect today’s security environment, the U.S. Pacific Command chief told American Forces Press Service.
Navy Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III called the rotations — currently in Australia, Singapore and South Korea — important contributions to the U.S. “rebalance” toward the region as outlined in the 2012 defense strategic guidance.
From a military perspective, the rebalance involves assigning available assets “where they are relevant to today’s security environment — not necessarily the one we had 50 years ago,” Locklear said. He called the movement of U.S. forces into nontraditional areas, particularly Southeast Asia, “an indication of a world that is changing.”
“The capacity of our allies has changed over the years. The scope of where our interests lie has shifted” beyond just Northeast Asia, he said.
Locklear emphasized that the goal of the rebalance is to increase regional security. “We position forces forward to maintain security, not to contain or threaten people,” he said.
He welcomed the newest rotational force in the region, an Army aviation unit deployed to South Korea, as an affirmation of the long-standing U.S.-South Korean alliance amid volatility on the Korean Peninsula.
Locklear noted destabilizing activities by Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s third-generation dictator, who he said not only refuses to denuclearize, but also pursues and proliferates weapons of mass destruction and the technologies to deliver them.
Rotational forces help to ensure that even as the military reduces in size, the United States will honor its commitments not just in South Korea, but elsewhere in the region, he said.
“The ability for us to start some rotational Army assets there should allay the fears of anyone that we would diminish our presence on the peninsula,” Locklear said. “It will actually bolster our presence and bolster our commitment to the alliance.”
Locklear reported success in two other rotational forces developed in accordance with the defense strategic guidance.
Marine Rotational Force Darwin concluded its second six-month rotation to Darwin, Australia, in September. The next rotation is expected to grow five-fold as it deploys next spring as a 1,150-member Marine air-ground task force.
“I would give the U.S.-Australian alliance an A-plus on being able to execute that in the way they have done it,” Locklear said. “None of these things is ever easy. … But they have been able to manage costs and work through the issues, demonstrating that our alliance relationship is as strong as it has ever been.”
Locklear also praised Singapore’s leaders for allowing the Navy’s first littoral combat ship to rotate through their port and to operate with and around the Singaporean forces. Because Singapore offers the exact conditions the littoral combat ship was designed to operate in, the rotations are giving crews valuable lessons in how to properly employ this new capability, he noted.
But by extending U.S. presence in Southeast Asia, the rotational ship also sends an important message to partners and allies across the region, he said. “We want to use it to help the regional security environment [in an area] that is becoming more and more important to the world,” he said.
Continuing to build on these successes will be vital as the United States continues to rebalance toward the region, Locklear said.
“My primary role is to maintain a security environment that protects U.S. citizens, U.S. assets and U.S. interests,” including the interests of U.S. partners and allies, he said. “And we all share a goal for a peaceful Asia-Pacific.”
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