Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Ten Ships

I've wondered about a pivot to the Pacific that increases the percent of our Navy in the Pacific if the total fleet goes down in numbers. Would the pivot even mean anything in those circumstances? Now we have a number for the western Pacific, anyway.

From my Jane's email updates:

The United States' re-balance to the Asia-Pacific region will bring a range of new naval and aviation capabilities to address specific concerns throughout the region, the US Navy's (USN) chief said on 15 May at the IMDEX Asia 2013 exhibition in Singapore. As part of the strategic pivot to the Western Pacific, the USN is shifting its fleet force structure to support deployments of about 60 ships to the region by 2020 - a boost of about 10 ships to the 50-vessel force that the USN has operated in the Asia-Pacific region since the 1990s[.]

Mind you, for the entire Pacific stretching back to our West Coast, my concern over shrinking numbers is still valid. But the pivot will mean 20% more hulls in the western Pacific. Or ten vessels, if you prefer. By 2020.

Not exactly what you'd expect from something that China claims is such a horrible thing for us to do.

UPDATE: It is true, of course, that the pivot is more than numbers since the best of what we've got is earmarked to watch China:

In a recent interview with The Asahi Shimbun, Mark Lippert, former assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs, explained that that was precisely why the United States not only announced the deployment of 60 percent of its entire naval fleet to the Pacific, but also “moving our most capable assets,” including the newest attack submarines and stealth fighter jets.

And the military side is bolstered by a political side of making sure our friends and allies know we are capable of fulfilling guarantees we give:

Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel will reassure allies in a trip to Asia this week that the United States intends to "follow through" on its promised strategic shift to the Pacific region, officials said Tuesday.

In his first trip to the area since he took over as defense secretary in February, Hagel was expected to discuss Washington's "rebalance" towards Asia and recent tensions with North Korea in meetings with his counterparts at a Singapore conference.

And since no good pivot goes unpunished, the Strategic Studies Institute reminds us of a problem with a more robust American presence and political follow through:

[At] this time of U.S. strategic reorientation and military rebalancing toward Asia-Pacific, the most dangerous consideration is that Asia-Pacific nations having disputes with China can misread U.S. strategic intentions and overplay the “U.S. card” to pursue their territorial interests and challenge China.

That's why our senior people are paid the big bucks. We want our military presence large enough to promote stability by keeping our allies safe from aggressive actions by others, but not provoke war by having allies drag us into wars we do not want.

One thing that would help is avoiding a problem we discovered in 1996 when China started a Taiwan Strait crisis by firing missiles over Taiwan. President Clinton dispatched two carriers to the waters around Taiwan as a signal of our support. But we lacked the communications with Taiwanese leaders to know what they were doing and intended to do!

Luckily, back then China couldn't detect our carriers let alone attack them. But what would we have done if Taiwan had attacked Chinese military targets on the mainland? With our carriers nearby, it would have looked like we were directly backing the attacks.

So we need robust and regular communications with our allies so that unexpected things don't just happen that then spin out of control.

Yeah, ten more ships is just the beginning of the issue, eh?

UPDATE: The Jane's email has been bugging me. I noticed that the before and after pivot ship numbers reflected old and projected ship percentage numbers. Before, based on Cold War deployments, half of our fleet was in the Pacific while half was based in the Atlantic; the pivot was shifting our forces up to 60% in the Pacific. So I checked the western Pacific 7th Fleet's web site, which states:

The U.S. 7th Fleet is the largest U.S. numbered fleet, with 60-70 ships, 200-300 aircraft and approximately 40,000 Sailors and Marines operating in the region on a typical day.

In addition to U.S.-based carrier and expeditionary strike groups that conduct rotational deployments to the region, there are 23 ships forward deployed to U.S. facilities in Japan and Guam.

So 7th Fleet already counts 60-70 ships in its count. So I'm not sure what that email meant. So I guess the updates are better than the original post.