Allies Confused By Pivot-To-Asia Strategy

(NATIONAL DEFENSE 04 JUN 13) … Yasmin Tadjdeh

U.S. military leaders have talked about a so-called strategic shift to Asia, but allies in that region don’t truly understand what the Defense Department is planning to do, a congressman said June 4.

“As far as meeting with ambassadors and other military leaders in that area, they like the concept, [but] they don’t understand the concept because we didn’t do very good messaging,” said Rep. J. Randy Forbes, R-Va., co-chairman of the Congressional China Caucus.

Asian allies are waiting to see more U.S. assets brought into the region, but so far, there has been little additional presence, Forbes told Washington, D.C.-based reporters.

While there may be an intention to send more ships and troops to the Asia-Pacific region, Pentagon leaders underestimated what would be needed in the Middle East. Continuing unrest there has delayed the movement of assets to the Pacific, Forbes said.

“I think somebody was either misleading just a little bit in terms of how they were going to get these capabilities, or they were totally misreading what was going to happen in the Middle East and how we could just pull out all those resources from there,” said Forbes. “I’m very, very concerned about us getting the capabilities necessary to do what we need to do.”

It is essential that the new strategy come to fruition because more pressure needs to be placed on China, said Forbes.

“I think the key to China is … you’ve got to have a presence there because it’s just the natural tendency that if we’re not there, China is going to continue to think they can expand more and more,” said Forbes.

While Forbes stressed that China is not the United States’ enemy, it is a competitor economically and militaristically, he said. The United States must be firm and display its military capabilities in order to counter China’s growing inventory of weapon systems.

China’s anti-satellite missiles could severely hamper communications during military operations, if employed, he said.

“If I am a major competitor of the United States, and I want to deal with them militarily, the place I would go is to try to disrupt their eyes and ears so they can’t see what’s going on,” said Forbes.

“If they’re going to have capabilities … [that can knock] out our satellites, that doesn’t mean they are our foes, but it means we need to at least put that on the table and say, ‘Hey, this is the stuff they are doing to compete with us,'” said Forbes.

Meanwhile, Forbes also touched on the growing importance of U.S. dominance on the seas.

Seapower will be an important component of the military over the next decade, said Forbes, who also serves as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee on seapower and projection forces.

Forbes criticized the Navy’s 30-year shipbuilding plan that calls for 300 ships in the service’s fleet. With the current budget crisis, the Navy needs to be realistic about what it can and cannot afford.

“No one in that Pentagon has sat down and said, ‘When I look at the threats that we face and the capabilities we need, here is the number we need: 300 ships.’ That isn’t what happened. What happened is they did a dollar figure and they said, ‘How many ships can we make fit into this mold?'” said Forbes. “That’s wrong, and we need to change that.”

The Navy will face a $4 billion shortfall if it continues with plans to grow its current fleet of 283 ships to 300 over the next 30 years, Forbes said. He noted that many of the ships currently in the Navy’s fleet will be decommissioned during the coming decades.

“That’s not what you’re going to be able to afford to build unless we have some major changes in how we do business,” said Forbes.

One ship that will likely face scrutiny in the coming months is the Littoral Combat Ship, said Forbes. The program has been mired in controversy because of growing costs and questions over its survivability in combat. The first LCS, the USS Freedom, was deployed to Singapore earlier this year.

In February, the Navy reduced the number of Littoral Combat Ships it plans to purchase from 55 to 52.

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