[caption id="attachment_121" align="alignleft" width="240"] Adm. Samuel Locklear, commander of U.S. Pacific Command[/caption]
The U.S. Pacific Command is working with its service components to maximize the assets they have today and bring in new ones where feasible, and PACOM Commander Adm. Samuel Locklear said those platforms could be used in some nontraditional deployment models to get the most out of the capability the military has bought, he told reporters at the Pentagon Thursday.
Locklear said the U.S. Pacific Fleet is developing a plan that includes bringing more submarines to the Asia-Pacific area and incorporating the new Littoral Combat Ships into its plans as they’re built and delivered to the Navy. He added, “I think long-term we’d be looking at the possibility of forward-deploying more maritime assets throughout the theater.”
Though budgets are tight, with minimal sequestration relief planned for the upcoming fiscal year 2015 budget cycle and full sequestration in effect after that, Congress has been supportive of the Navy’s shipbuilding and maintenance needs as the military continues its rebalance to the Pacific. Congress provided more money than the Pentagon requested for several ship programs that would contribute to Pacific operations–an extra $1.2 billion to allow for a 10-ship block buy of Virginia-class attack submarines, and $2.4 billion to keep seven cruisers and two amphibious dock landing ships in the fleet despite Navy plans to retire the ships. Congressmen have said over the past two budget cycles that retiring nine ships with a collective 100-plus years of remaining service life does not make sense given the ongoing rebalance to the maritime-centric Pacific and therefore will not allow the Navy to shrink its fleet size.
Locklear said the Navy and Marine Corps have initiatives for maximizing their forces in the Pacific, and the Army was working on several concepts for “putting them in the Asia-Pacific in a meaningful way,” such as being prepared to contribute to crisis response efforts when needed, and training with regional partners and allies beyond the Army’s current presence in South Korea.
The admiral said the military was making good strides in implementing the Pacific rebalance. This year, the United States will look at its defense policy with Japan for the first time since the 1990s, Locklear said, which will help shape the alliance’s future. He said negotiations with Japan on the Futenma Replacement Facility for the Marine Corps is moving in a positive direction, and completion of the new air field will allow the Marines to proceed with their plan to realign forces throughout the area, including moving Marines to Guam and Hawaii.
Locklear touched on the U.S. military’s relationships with several other countries as well, including China. After an incident last month in which a Chinese warship tried to block the USS Cowpens (CG-63) in international waters and came within 100 yards of the cruiser, Locklear said the United States would not back down from operating in international waters but that it did need to work on its crisis management with China and others.
“I don’t have the ability to pick up the phone and talk directly to the [People’s Liberation Army], Navy admiral or general at the time of a crisis, and we need to work on that,” he said, noting that encounters would only increase as China builds up its navy and operates more in deeper waters.