Navy, Marine Corps Will Seek Allies' Cooperation in Asia-Pacific

By Dan Parsons
PANAMA CITY, Fla. — A U.S. defense budget crunch will force the Navy and Marine Corps to lean on regional partners to establish a constant presence in the Pacific, officials said.
Within 10 years, Marines will be spread across the Pacific theater, stationed on a rotating basis everywhere from Darwin, Australia, to mainland Japan, said Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Thomas L. Conant, deputy commander of U.S. Pacific Command. With such a distributed force -- the largest concentration of which will be 11,500 Marines in Okinawa -- the "distances alone can defeat your efforts,” Conant said.
The challenge is how to cover an enormous expanse with existing ships and a dwindling number of troops, said Undersecretary of the Navy Robert O. Work.
For that reason, Marine Corps and Navy leadership are seeking regional partners to close the gaps. Modern, more flexible ships and weapon systems also will be key to executing the U.S. strategy in the Pacific, Work said.
“We can’t afford very expensive platforms,” said Work. “We’ve got to make the platforms we have better.”
In an endorsement of the Littoral Combat Ship, Work cited the vessel to hype “capability containers” as the future of naval shipbuilding. Together with the newfangled Forward Afloat Sea Base and the introduction of the F-35B short takeoff and landing Joint Strike Fighter, the Navy and Marine Corps’ force will have advanced capabilities, Work said.
The Navy will be seeking “energy efficient vessels with smaller crews” that save money while delivering capabilities equal or better than currently available, Work said.
“The people who cry about [the LCS’] capabilities are missing the forest for the trees,” Work said.
The ship’s open payload space, like that of a large-deck amphibious ship or the joint high-speed vessel, is prime real estate for Marines, aircraft, ground vehicles or unmanned systems. The same goes for the afloat forward sea base, which at $600 million is a relative bargain compared to a $12 billion aircraft carrier.
“It’s just a big box,” Work said. It what goes inside that counts, he added.
By 2020, 60 percent of the Navy’s fleet — including 6 of 11 aircraft carriers — will be based in the Pacific. That will happen regardless of defense spending cuts, Work said. The availability of 11 aviation-capable amphibious ready groups means the U.S. presence worldwide could jump from 11 aircraft carriers to 22, he said.
Using forward sea bases, of which two are planned, the military then has another platform from which to launch helicopters and smaller craft. Those aircraft and small boats will carry unmanned vehicles that extend their reach, he said.
Work noted that much of the ongoing planning could be jeopardized if Congress allows sequestration — the automatic, across-the-board 10 percent cut to defense spending looming on Jan. 2 — to occur, he said.
“The big unknown is sequestration,” Work said. “You could not implement the current strategy at the sequestration level. At the current level, it’s hard but manageable. At the sequestration level it becomes hard and unmanageable.”
Photo Credit: Navy

Topics: Expeditionary Warfare

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