Thu, Jan 03, 2013 - Page 9 News List

US remains committed to the security of the Asia-Pacific region

As part of its efforts to rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region, the US is strengthening its alliances with Asian allies through joint training and exercises

By Leon Panetta

Moreover, the US is focused like never before on working with our allies and partners in South and Southeast Asia. With India, we have developed an unprecedented bilateral initiative that will streamline our export processes and deepen our defense trade and co-production. We are also pursuing new areas of cooperation in defense exercises, such as submarine salvage and rescue, reflecting this key partnership’s growing dynamism.

In Southeast Asia, we are expanding our engagement with ASEAN, increasing bilateral engagement with traditional allies and partners like Thailand, the Philippines and Singapore, and developing our cooperative partnerships with Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia.

One of the most important ways to enhance alliances and partnerships is through joint training and exercises. Last year, the US increased both the size and the number of bilateral and multilateral exercises across the Asia-Pacific region. For example, the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise was the largest ever, including more than 42 ships and 25,000 personnel from 22 countries, while the US and China staged their first-ever maritime counter-piracy exercise near the Horn of Africa. This year, we will engage for the first time in multilateral military exercises led by ASEAN, while China has been invited to send ships to RIMPAC 2014.

In support of this increased engagement — aimed not at establishing new permanent bases, but rather at building stronger allies and partners through a greater rotational presence — the third pillar of America’s rebalancing is to enhance our presence across the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

In Northeast Asia, where the US military has traditionally maintained a strong presence, we are modernizing our posture. This year, we deployed F-22s and MV-22 Ospreys to Japan and reached an important agreement to relocate our forces on Okinawa. We continue to develop Guam as a strategic hub, and plan to establish fully capable Marine Air-Ground Task Forces in Japan, Guam and Hawaii. Meanwhile, we are retaining and upgrading US Army capabilities in South Korea.

The US military is also rebalancing within the Asia-Pacific region to place more emphasis on new partnerships in Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean. Last spring, 200 US Marines arrived in Darwin, Australia, for the first six-month rotation to serve and train alongside Australian troops and operate with regional partners. We also increased the number and frequency of US Air Force aircraft rotating through Northern Australia. Finally, we agreed with Singapore to deploy up to four littoral combat ships there on a rotational basis to join it and other countries in the region for exercises, training and responses to challenges.

The final pillar of the US rebalance is force projection. We plan to have 60 percent of our naval fleet based in the Pacific by 2020, and the US’ defense budget has preserved, and even boosted, investment in new and more capable assets needed in the Pacific theater. Our spending plan prioritizes the development and fielding of the newest, most capable technology, including Virginia-class submarines, fifth-generation F-22 and F-35 fighters, P-8 maritime patrol aircraft, new electronic warfare and communications capabilities and improved precision weapons and cruise missiles. These are some of the capabilities that will maintain our forces’ ability to project power should our access and freedom of action be challenged.

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