US to increase military presence in Asia

Mon, Jun 4, 2012, 01:00

THE UNITED States will boost its military capabilities in Asia as part of its new “Pacific pivot”, US defence secretary Leon Panetta said at the weekend, but Washington was also keen to enhance military co-operation with China, the region’s growing power.

“By 2020 the Navy will re-posture its forces from today’s roughly 50-50 split from the Pacific and Atlantic to about a 60-40 split in those oceans,” Mr Panetta told a security conference in Singapore.

“That will include six aircraft carriers in this region, a majority of our cruisers, destroyers, combat ships and submarines.”

Washington has indicated that it is re-calibrating its defence strategy to see greater focus on the Asia-Pacific, shifting troops, ships and other assets to the region in coming years. Mr Panetta’s speech was the clearest indication yet of what his plans are.

The US presence in the region has been fairly minimal since the end of the Vietnam War in the 1970s and decreased further in the 1990s when US troops scaled back their bases in the Philippines.

The US has rotated hundreds of Marines into Australia, and it continues to have a major troop presence in South Korea and Japan.

Currently, the US Navy has about 285 ships, with roughly half of these assigned to each coast.

Mr Panetta also said the US was planning to invest heavily in defence sectors such as cyber and space technology, unmanned systems and special forces operations. However, he was keen to reassure China that the new focus was not aimed at raising tensions in the region.

“We both understand the differences we have, we both understand the conflicts we have, but we also both understand that there really is no other alternative but for both of us to engage and to improve our communications and to improve our relationship,” Mr Panetta said.