The US will carry out a series of major naval exercises in the Pacific this summer that will bring together the biggest armada of US aircraft carriers in more than a decade, the commander of the US Pacific Fleet, Admiral Gary Roughead, said in Washington on Tuesday.
Four carriers will be involved in the three exercises, which will be held in June, July and August, and in the case of the July exercise, will involve the ships of several other nations. One of the US carriers will be based in the US East Coast, the first time the US navy has brought a carrier from that area to ply the Pacific since the Vietnam War, Roughead's spokesman, Captain Matt Brown, told reporters.
The announcement came in the wake of the release earlier this month of the Pentagon's Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), a long-term strategy that has the shift of US seapower toward the Pacific from other parts of the world as a main focus.
"The QDR clearly stated an increased emphasis on the Pacific. We're taking that to heart. In the US there is a growing appreciation for the tie between the US and the Pacific," Brown said.
The exercises will involve "the largest number of aircraft carriers in close proximity in at least 10 years" in the region, Roughead said in an address to a luncheon arranged by the Asia Society Washington office.
While such exercises are often seen as aimed toward a potential conflict with China, Brown said that this was not the intent of the planned summer exercises.
"We think in terms of capabilities, as opposed to specific scenarios," he said.
"It's important for us to understand an environment where submarines operate, for example, and understand how to counter that threat," or "to understand an environment where there may be ballistic missiles, and then to be able to have the skills in place to counter that kind of threat," he said.
"But we tend to remove the flagpole [specifying a target country]" and focus on the war-fighting situation, he said.
In terms of any war in the Taiwan Strait, US military planners have been especially concerned about China's increasingly sophisticated submarine fleet and its increasingly numerous and accurate ballistic missiles facing Taiwan.
Roughead downplayed the threat from China in his speech, saying the US is "committed to improving relations with the People's Liberation Army [PLA] and the PLA Navy."
"I'm always asked about the Chinese threat and I say, `It's not a threat,' because you have to have two things to have a threat, and that's capability and intent. There is no question that the PLA navy is modernizing and building its capability and is moving very quickly, but what is the intent?" he said.
"We believe through increased transparency and the opportunity to work together, that will give us greater insights into one another, and will enhance our ability to operate together," he said.
Regarding any conflict in the Taiwan Strait, he said: "It is so important that we ensure the stability be maintained there so that we don't undergo the disruption that a conflict like that will cause."
The first and third exercises this summer, in June and August, will be in the Western Pacific.
The June exercise will include three carriers: the Japan-based USS Kitty Hawk, the San Diego-based USS Ronald Reagan, and another Pacific-based carrier.
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