The East Asia Pivot

Pentagon-sponsored report to Congress calls for buildup of forces in Asia


A Pentagon-sponsored report to Congress outlines the U.S. military’s new pivot to Asia and calls for adding attack submarines and Marines based throughout the Pacific to head off a future war with China.

The report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies presents three options based on impending cuts in defense spending. They include keeping the current status quo forces, mainly in Japan and South Korea, or modestly increasing military forces by adding attack submarines, Marine Air-Ground Task Forces, more warships and bombers, another aircraft carrier strike group, and more intelligence aircraft. A third option looks at sharply cutting forces throughout Asia, which the report said risks undermining stability.

The report is “consistent with the major elements of the [Defense] Department’s strategy for the region,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in a cover letter accompanying the report.

Panetta said in comments on the assessment that it supports the Pentagon’s efforts to “enhance [the] U.S. defense posture” and strengthen alliances and partnerships in the region. He also noted that the report is the independent assessment required by Congress last year and does not outline the official position of the Pentagon.

“The department is investing in the defense activities, presence and posture necessary to reassure allies and partners in the region, and shape the security environment, while also providing forward capabilities appropriate to deter and defeat aggression,” Panetta stated in summing up defense policy under the new pivot to Asia.

Panetta announced earlier this year that the balance of forces between the Atlantic and Pacific theaters would shift from 50-50 to 60-40, with the majority forces in Asia. He also announced that a small Marine Corps contingent would be based in northern Australia, near the contentious South China Sea where China is increasingly asserting maritime rights over the resource-rich waters in disputes with Vietnam and Philippines.

Panetta also said recently that four new Littoral Combat Ships would be deployed to Singapore as part of the Asia shift.

China’s large-scale military buildup and aggressive activities throughout the region have alarmed most states in Asia and are an understated reason behind U.S. plans to shift forces.

The 114-page report was required under the fiscal 2012 defense authorization act.

Congressional hearings on the report are scheduled for this week.

It is the first assessment of the Pentagon’s new strategy for Asia that is based on winding down the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and positioning forces to counter China’s buildup of high-tech weapons that the military calls anti-access, area denial arms.

They include anti-satellite weapons, cyber warfare programs, anti-ship ballistic missiles, submarines, stealth jets and other missiles designed to prevent the U.S. military from defending seaways and aiding allies in the region.

The main threats to peace and stability in Asia are China’s new missiles, including the DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile designed to strike U.S. carriers at sea, and China’s growing “diplomatic, informational, military and economic instruments for counter-containment in peacetime and counter-intervention in a crisis,” the report said. North Korea and terrorism also were mentioned as threats.

Despite U.S. economic and other engagement with China, “China’s increased defense spending and pursuit of advanced military capabilities and assertive behavior with respect to territorial claims in the South and East China Seas pose a potential military threat to the United States and its partners, and necessitate a comprehensive set of relationships in the region and a commensurate force posture to discourage any attempt to alter the strategic equilibrium,” the report said.

Based on U.S. conflicts in Iraq, the 1995 Taiwan Strait crisis, and recent U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, China has developed weapons to prevent the U.S. military from operating in Asia, including submarines, anti-ship cruise and ballistic missiles, advanced fighter jets, surface to air missiles, theater missiles, and land attack cruise missiles to threaten U.S. bases and alliances in the region, the report said.

The new anti-access arms are part of China’s “grand strategy to keep the United States from operating militarily in the Asia Pacific region, and in the event of conflict to defeat it in warfare,” the report said.

The power projection efforts by China have not been tested in combat, but are the underpinning of Beijing’s strategic planning now and for the future.

On current plans to bolster Pacific forces, the report questioned Panetta’s planned shift of forces to the Pacific, noting that he did not say whether new forces will be built or taken from force reductions in other part of the world.

The report recommends increasing sea power through adding three attack submarines to the three currently deployed at Guam, and adding a second Amphibious Readiness Group, a Marine Corps aircraft and troop carrier, to Pearl Harbor.

It also calls for putting a second carrier strike group in Australia in addition to the carrier group now in Japan and rotating two Littoral Combat Ships to Chinhai, South Korea.

For beefing up air power, the study suggested permanently basing an entire 12-aircraft squadron of B-52 bombers on Guam, in addition to the current force of four B-52s and two B-2 bombers there. It also recommends adding Global Hawk and MC-12 Liberty reconnaissance aircraft to Australia or Guam.

To protect against anticipated missile attacks on current bases, the report also recommends dispersing bombers and refueling tankers to a series of up to 50 bases throughout the Asia Pacific.

For the Army, the report calls for designating the Army’s I Corps, based in the state of Washington, as a dedicated troop provider for the U.S. Pacific Command. The corps is currently “not configured to operate as a Joint Task Force” with Navy and Air Forces, the report said.

To protect against missile strikes, the report also calls for adding the Army’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense and Patriot PAC-3 missile defenses to Andersen Air Force Base, Guam and Kadena Air Base, Japan, and possibly in South Korea.

Aircraft facilities at Kadena and Guam also should be hardened against attack.

Other support measures to strengthen the military in Asia recommended in the study include adding special operations forces ground and air units, and increasing stockpiles of critical ammunition and weapons and other supplies, including Tomahawk cruise missiles, and Patriot and SM-3 anti-missile interceptors.

The report also recommends cuts in deployed forces in Asia, should threats from China and North Korea diminish, including reducing the 28,500 troops now in South Korea by up to 18,000 troops and cutting F-16 deployments in Japan and South Korea.

The report also identifies the emergence of a non-threatening China in the future that would be a basis for reducing forces. China would need to become a state that “is characterized by transparency, reduced use of coercive instruments, adherence to international norms and agreements, a preference for market approaches over mercantilism, and participation in multilateral solutions to security problems.”

“It is difficult to describe exactly what that scenario looks like, but necessary to stress that its realization remains the primary goal of U.S. strategy in the Asia Pacific region,” the report said.

The report concludes that U.S. military presence in Asia is “critically important” for U.S. national security.