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US deploys most advanced warships, jets to Asia

03:14 AM June 13, 2012

US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii—The commander of the Pacific Fleet on Monday said the US Navy would be sending its most advanced warships, submarines and fighter jets to the Asia-Pacific region as China modernized its own naval forces at breakneck speed.

Adm. Cecil Haney said a policy recently outlined by US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to deploy 60 percent of the US Navy’s ships to the Pacific by 2020 was about capabilities as well as quantity.

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“It’s not just numbers—it’s also what those platforms, what those units, bring to the table,” Haney told The Associated Press in an interview at his headquarters in Pearl Harbor.

Haney cited as an example the Littoral Combat Ship that could could operate in shallower waters than other vessels. The US Navy plans to deploy one such ship to Singapore next year.

The Pacific Fleet commander said squadrons of the EA-18G plane—which could jam enemy air defenses and fly faster than the speed of sound—would also soon be coming to the region.

Also up for deployment in the region is the US Navy’s most advanced submarine—the Virginia-class, several of which are based at Pearl Harbor.

The US Navy now has about 285 ships evenly divided among the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Six of its 11 aircraft carriers, however, are already assigned to the Pacific.

“Yes, it’s about having numbers in that 60-40 split, but also about having the right capability,” Haney said.

The policy outlined by Panetta offers further details to the Obama administration’s announcement earlier this year of a new defense strategy that places greater emphasis on a heavier US military presence in the region in response to Asia’s growing economic importance and China’s rise as a military power.

“Make no mistake: In a steady, deliberate and sustainable way, the United States military is rebalancing and bringing an enhanced capability development to this vital region,” Panetta recently told the Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual security conference in Singapore attended by civilian and military leaders from Asia-Pacific and Western nations.

Pivot welcomed

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Nations in the Asia-Pacific region, including those with a history of adversarial or distant relations with the United States, are embracing Washington’s strategic pivot to Asia as China steps up the modernization of its naval forces amid escalating tensions in the energy-rich West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), especially Beijing’s standoff with Manila over Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal.

“In recent years, because of the tensions and disputes in the South China Sea, most regional states in Southeast Asia seem to welcome and support US strategic rebalancing in the region,” said Li Mingjiang, an assistant professor and China security policy expert at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University.

“Very likely, this trend will continue in coming years,” Li added.

For some of China’s smaller neighbors like the Philippines, there is a pressing urgency to build warmer security ties with the United States.

A two-month standoff between the Philippines and China over Panatag Shoal shows no sign of resolution, with both sides deploying paramilitary ships and fishing boats to the disputed chain of rocks, reefs and small islands about 220 kilometers from the Philippines.

President Benigno Aquino met US President Barack Obama on Friday at the White House, where the two leaders discussed expanding military and economic ties.

Obama later told reporters that clear, international rules were needed to resolve maritime disputes in the West Philippine Sea.

While the standoff continues, reports last week in China’s state-controlled media and online military websites suggested that the first of a new class of a stealthy littoral combat frigate, the type 056, had been launched at Shanghai’s Hudong shipyard with three others under construction.

Naval analysts said the new 1,700-ton ship, armed with a 76mm main gun, missiles and antisubmarine torpedoes, would be ideal for patrols in the West Philippine Sea.

These new warships would easily outgun the warships of rival claimants in the strategic waterway, according to the analysts.

The type 056 is the latest example of an accelerated military buildup that allows China to dominate its offshore waters.

While these warships were designed for lower-level regional conflict, experts say one of the primary goals of Beijing’s wider deployment of advanced, long-range missiles, stealthy submarines, strike aircraft and cyber weapons appears to be countering the growing US military presence in the Asia-Pacific region.

Basic challenge to US in Asia

“China is investing in a whole raft of capabilities to undermine the US presence in the Western and Central Pacific,” said Ross Babbage, a defense analyst and founder of the Canberra-based Kokoda Foundation, an independent security policy unit.

“It is a fundamental challenge to the US in Asia.” said Babbage, a former senior Australian defense official.

In a report last week on the US military, the China Strategic Culture Promotion Association, a nongovernment security analysis group, said Beijing should be on alert in response to the US military’s “return to Asia” and any attempt to intervene in disputes in the West Philippine Sea. AP

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TAGS: Asia-Pacific, China, Foreign affairs, Global Nation, International relations, Maritime Dispute, Military, Scarborough Shoal, United States, US Navy
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