Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The New Center of Gravity

As the need for a strong U.S. Navy in the North Atlantic has withered and the need for one in the Mediterranean Sea has faded, we are placing more emphasis on the Pacific and Indian Oceans. This makes sense.

The main duty for our Atlantic naval forces these days is to provide humanitarian relief in the Caribbean Sea. Naval missions in the Mediterranean can be handled with much smaller forces reinforced if needed. Without the Soviets to fight, all that holds our Navy in the Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea is inertia, really. Well, and some respect for the unknowns of the future. But otherwise, our focus must be the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

It also makes sense to strengthen our ability to switch forces between these two theaters, just as the Panama Canal allowed us to switch forces between the Atlantic and the Pacific when those oceans were our primary theaters.

These authors make the case for Australia to provide this capability:

Australia boasts numerous advantages, occupying as it does a central position between the Indian Ocean and Western Pacific theatres, meaning forces based there could shift easily between the two oceans. For instance, Allied submarines operated from Fremantle, Western Australia, during World War II. Nor would they be forced to venture through a chokepoint to reach the high seas—a welcome contrast to the Persian Gulf hub, where all or part of the fleet could wither on the vine in wartime.

Hardened facilities along the Australian coast would also prove defensible and could be readily resupplied overland. Such seaports would likely meet the Mahanian standards of position, strength, and resources, while the Australian government—Washington’s most dependable ally in Asia, alongside Tokyo—would likely prove agreeable to such an arrangement. It‘s certainly worth exploring.

While we could not abandon our forward deployments in Japan, I'm as nervous about those ships in the shadow of China's growing aero-naval power that I fear they'd meet the same fate as our Asiatic squadron in the Philippines in 1941. That's one reason we are beefing up Guam. Looking for other basing options farther from China's first strike capabilities yet forward enough to support deployments against China would be wise as well.

I'd think it would be in Australia's interests to promote this capability, given that they need to ensure American reinforcements should China's looming shadow surge toward Australia the way Japan did in 1942.