Thu, Aug 12, 2004 - Page 1 News List

US is planning to station second carrier in Pacific

AFP , WASHINGTON

The US is seriously considering stationing a second aircraft carrier in the Asia Pacific region in the face of threats posed by nuclear-armed North Korea and a potential crisis across the Taiwan Strait, officials and analysts say.

The move is more likely, they said, because the US Navy need not send aircraft carriers anymore on a rotational basis to the Persian Gulf, where it had to enforce no-fly zones before Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's ouster.

The USS Kitty Hawk is the only aircraft carrier in the Asia-Pacific region at present and is permanently based in Japan to provide immediate response in case of a crisis across the Taiwan Strait or in the Korean peninsula.

The top US military commander in the Asia-Pacific region, Admiral Thomas Fargo, recently recommended to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that an additional Navy carrier be permanently placed in the region "somewhere between Hawaii and Guam," a government official told reporters.

"He made this recommendation in response to defense planning guidance, which states that emphasis be placed on the East Asian Littoral," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Fargo wanted the carrier to be maintained at a "high state of level readiness," the official stressed.

"The final decision on which carrier should be moved and from where and to which new home port" is likely to be made as part of the base realignment and closure process for fiscal year 2005, he said.

The new fiscal year begins in October and the process is mandated to review and close bases or move military units if necessary.

Fargo, who heads the Hawaii-based US Pacific Command, directing Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force operations across the region, told a naval forum recently it made sense for a second aircraft carrier in Asia Pacific.

"I believe I've stated pretty clearly we need to move another Carrier Strike Group to the Pacific that can operate on the same model as the Kitty Hawk -- collocated with its air wing and funded to level readiness," he said.

Aircraft carriers covered by such a high state of readiness are provided enough training, spare parts and ammunition resources so that the ship is always ready to move on just a four or five-day notice, the official said.

The US has 12 aircraft carriers -- six each in the Atlantic and Pacific region. Their main role is to deploy aircraft, allowing the military to project air power at great distances without having to depend on local bases for land-based aircraft.

"The need for a second aircraft carrier in East Asia is long overdue, perhaps since 1996," said military expert Richard Fisher, vice-president of International Assessment and Strategy Center, a Washington-based think tank.

He was referring to tensions that year when the US sent two aircraft carrier groups to the Taiwan Strait after China tested ballistic missiles by lobbing them near Taiwan's major ports.

That deployment was its biggest to the region since the Vietnam War.

Fisher said another aircraft carrier could deter conflict across the Taiwan Strait and prevent North Korea from being adverturesome.

It would also reassure American friends and allies in Asia that the US remained commited to a peaceful region, the official said.

John Tkacik, research fellow at the Heritage Foundation's Asia Studies Center, said China was becoming "very aggressive and assertive" in the East China Sea and waters in the Japanese exclusive economic zone.

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