Welcoming new Marine rotational deployments in Australia and Navy rotations planned for Singapore, the top U.S. Pacific Command officer said he’ll seek similar arrangements, possibly to include the Army, that expand U.S. presence in the region without the need for more permanently based forces.
Navy Adm. Samuel J. Locklear Jr. noted the arrival of about 200 U.S. Marines in Darwin, Australia, last month for the first six-month rotations serving alongside the Australian Defense Force.
“It’s only a small group thus far, but over the next several years, we would like to grow that to about 2,500,” he said during an interview with American Forces Press Service.
Based at Australia’s Robertson Barracks outside Darwin, the Marines are bolstering U.S. theater engagement in the Asia-Pacific region – a major goal in the new defense strategic guidance – without the need for new infrastructure or permanent U.S. bases, Locklear noted. The Marines provide “an increase in your ability to be forward, which provides a tremendous ability to work with our partners and build those relationships,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Navy’s new littoral combat ship, USS Freedom, is scheduled for its first 10-month rotational deployment to Singapore beginning next spring. If Singapore agrees, Locklear said, he ultimately would like to expand the arrangement to include additional littoral ships.
All, he said, will be positioned alongside a strong, reliable partner near the strategic Straits of Malacca that links the Indian and Pacific oceans. “It will give us a unique, credible combat credibility for our maritime security, particularly in one of the largest choke points in the world,” he said.
Locklear said he’d like to build on these models as he implements the new strategic guidance that emphasizes the importance of Asia and the Pacific. Already, the Army has approached him with an interest in rotating units into Asia and the Pacific as operations wind down in Afghanistan. That makes sense, he added, noting that five of the world’s largest armies are in the region.
“Our ability to operate effectively, cross-Army to cross-Army, has not been good in the last decade or so, because most Army assets were tied up in the Middle East,” he said. “So we are really going to pursue some good opportunities in that regard.”
Rotational forces provide “an uptick in presence” that he said complements that provided by the 330,000 service members permanently based within the U.S. Pacific Command area of responsibility.
“What they provide is an ability to work with our allies and to leverage the capabilities of the allies across all aspects of peace to conflict,” the admiral said. Meanwhile, he added, the additional presence rotational forces provide creates regional footholds that could pay off if the United States had to flow more forces to protect U.S. or allies interests there.
That presence, and the experience base it helps to build, would be particularly valuable in a disaster requiring humanitarian assistance, such as the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, or any other crisis, he said.
“It gives training to the forces that rotate in and out,” he explained, so they are familiar with the region and the regional militaries if they need to work together. He cited last year’s Operation Tomodachi in Japan as an example. “So there is a lot of value to it,” he said.
While anticipating no change in the number of permanently assigned U.S. troops in the region, Locklear said, he expects to see a “reshaped military” that’s able to deploy more throughout the region, particularly to allies and partner countries. He noted the realignment of base infrastructure under way or planned in Japan, Guam and South Korea. The United States and Japan agreed last month on a plan to relocate about 9,000 U.S. Marines from Okinawa. About 5,000 will move to Guam, with the rest to transfer elsewhere in the region.
In addition, almost all of the 28,500 U.S. service members in Korea will have completed the move south of South Korea’s capital of Seoul, most of them to Camp Humphreys, in the coming years. All but a tiny residual force will leave U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan, current home to U.S. Forces Korea and Combined Forces Korea in the heart of Seoul, and the 2nd Infantry Division and its supporting elements will relocate from Camp Casey and its tiny satellite bases north of the capital.
“We are working hard, between the U.S. government and our allies, to ensure that we do the right things now to ensure the success of both moves,” Locklear said. Meanwhile, the Japanese government has the lead in setting a timeline for the movement of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to a more remote area of Okinawa.
As this reshaping takes place, Locklear said, members of Pacom should “expect to stay busy” and continuing doing the “great work they are doing today.”
“They need to stay focused on the job at hand,” he said, and be ready to carry out whatever mission is asked of them.
“When required, they have to be able to produce what is necessary – either build relationships, provide better security, and to deter and dissuade [aggression],” he said. “And if deterrence fails, they have to be able to fight and win. And that is what we get paid to do.”