In what U.S. Pacific Command’s logistics chief calls a groundbreaking development, officials from the United States and China plan to meet to discuss sharing logistical resources, including fuel, as they operate together during counterpiracy and humanitarian assistance and disaster response missions.
The United States has officially extended the invitation for a team of senior Chinese logisticians to visit Washington in early 2013 to discuss the possibility of a first-ever logistics cooperation agreement between the two countries, Air Force Brig. Gen. Mark M. McLeod told American Forces Press Service.
If adopted, the arrangement would enable the United States and China to share fuel, food, supplies, and even vessel parts to support their joint operations, he said.
Pacom officials pitched the idea last month during the 41st Pacific Area Senior Officer Logistics Seminar in Perth, Australia.
The forum of senior logistics and national security officers from Pacific, Asian and Indian Ocean area nations meets annually to exchange information, pursue bilateral and multilateral initiatives and encourage closer regional cooperation. This year, PASOLS participants focused on ways to promote multinational and multiagency logistics collaboration.
Navy Rear Adm. Yang Jianyong, who led the Chinese delegation at this year’s seminar, called the U.S. proposal “a good area for future discussion [and] cooperation,” McLeod reported.
Such an arrangement was floated in the past, but didn’t get traction because of strained U.S.-Chinese relations.
But the timing could now be right, McLeod said, as both countries begin looking for ways to strengthen their military-to-military relationship. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Pacom commander Navy Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III recently visited China to promote closer cooperation and collaboration.
Logistics cooperation with China provides a perfect forum for that relationship-building, McLeod said, particularly as China assumes a growing global role. For example, in addition to counterpiracy operations, China periodically deploys its naval hospital ship, the Peace Ark, to provide medical services in other nations.
“As they go from an internal defense-focused military and begin to push off their shores and take on more regional security roles, they are finding that their logistics chains are kind of strained,” McLeod said.
PASOLS, and a potential logistics agreement with the United States, offer China an opportunity to learn from the experience of the regional partners it now operates with, he said.
“Based on them reaching out and starting to perform some of these more joint missions that other nations are doing,” he said, “we thought this was an opportunity for us to enter into an agreement with them to share resources.”
McLeod called the potential agreement a great foundation for other military-to-military cooperation that supports both the United States’ and China’s national security strategies.
“Obviously, both militaries are interested in regional security. Both militaries are interested in freedom of passage through areas. There are a lot of things going where we share common interests,” he said.
“But this is the first time, at least from a logistics standpoint, that we have reached out and they have been very receptive to those ideas,” McLeod said. “That is pretty groundbreaking for us.”
McLeod called these developments important building blocks toward closer logistics collaboration that enables regional nations to partner together and respond more effectively to natural disasters and other contingencies.
Responses to regional natural disasters and other contingencies will be far better, he said, if the nations understand how each other’s operations, share basic principles and learn from each other’s experiences. “There are things that each of us can bring to the fight that ultimately helps all of us provide support,” he said.
McLeod said he will share the lessons from PASOLS with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and other regional organizations. “What we are trying to do is operationalize what we do in the theater by branching out to some of these other large organizations,” he said.
Ultimately, he hopes to promote sharing arrangements that enable more countries to participate in regional operations. “Many nations have difficulty when they reach beyond their logistics chains and have to go about gathering supplies and equipment,” he said.
Setting up an infrastructure so nations can share resources, water, even cybersecurity expertise could help eliminate that roadblock, he said.
But McLeod said he sees particular promise in operationalizing fuel across the theater. “That is an interest area that many, many nations have, from our high-end partners all the way down to our developing partners that are expanding their capabilities as they go forward,” he said.
“That helps you not only during operations, when transiting vessels or operating equipment in that [particular] nation, but it [also] can be important when there is a supply interruption because of a typhoon or some other natural disaster,” McLeod said. “In essence, you diversify your fuel capabilities so, no matter where you go, you have that capacity.”