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NEWS | April 15, 2015

Asia-Pacific Shift Creates Opportunities, Security Needs

By Cheryl Pellerin, DoD News, Defense Media Activity

The Defense Department’s ongoing rebalance to the thriving Asia-Pacific region comes with many opportunities and a few pressing requirements: to upgrade security relationships, maintain specific military capabilities and redouble efforts to boost U.S. technological superiority, defense officials said today.

Christine Wormuth, undersecretary of defense for policy, testified before the House Armed Services Committee on implications for aspects of the department’s Asia-Pacific rebalance of losing military technological superiority.

Joining the undersecretary were Navy Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, and Army Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti, commander of U.S. Forces Korea.

The past seven years have been a time of tremendous change and opportunity for the Asia-Pacific region, Wormuth told the panel.

“As nations there rise and become more prosperous,” she said, “it's created a lot of opportunity at the same time that dynamism in the region has created a much more complex security environment in which we are now operating.”

Challenges in the Region

The department faces several challenges in the region, including those that come from China, she said.

“China's very rapid military modernization, its opaque defense budget, its actions in space and cyberspace and its behavior in places like the East and South China Seas,” she added, raise serious questions for the department.

China's expanding interests are a natural part of its rise, Wormuth said, but its behavior in the maritime domain, for example, has created friction for its neighbors.

“The government's efforts to incrementally advance its claims in the East and South China Seas and its extensive land reclamation activities, particularly the prospect of further militarizing those outposts, are very concerning to us,” she said.

China and North Korea

The United States and China are not allies, but they don’t have to be adversaries, Wormuth added, noting that the department is speaking with China about its concerning actions and about activities to improve understanding, especially through military-to-military engagement with the People’s Liberation Army.

Elsewhere in the region, she said, DoD’s greatest concern is North Korea's pursuit of ballistic missiles and its weapons of mass destruction program.

Other challenges in the region, Wormuth told the panel, “are magnified by a growing range of nontraditional threats, such as the increased flow of foreign fighters both to and from Asia, the trafficking of illegal goods and people, and devastating natural disasters such as the cyclone we saw last month in Vanuatu.”

DoD is focused on the rebalance along several lines of effort, Wormuth said.

Strengthening Security Relationships

These include strengthening security relationships with allies and partners, including Japan, South Korea, Australia and the Philippines, and strengthening new relationships in South and Southeast Asia. These include Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam.

The department also is investing in its partnership with the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which leads an effort to build a more robust regional security architecture, the undersecretary said. The U.S-India relationship also is an important partnership, she added.

The department is updating its forward presence, putting more assets into the region and using its assets in new ways, Wormuth said.

“We've developed a more distributed model for our Marine Corps that is reducing our concentrated presence in Okinawa [by] relocating Marines to Australia, Guam, Hawaii and mainland Japan,” she added.

Sustaining the U.S. Technological Edge

The Navy is working on its rotational-presence concept, including being on track to have four littoral combat ships rotating through Singapore by 2017. Two ships are already there, the undersecretary said.

And the Army will initiate its first rotational deployment of a brigade combat team to the Korean Peninsula later this spring.

“We're making significant investments to sustain our American technological edge into the future in the air, land, sea and undersea domains,” Wormuth added, investing in precision munitions and working on new capabilities for operating freely in space and cyberspace.

In his remarks to the panel, Locklear said that the United States is a Pacific nation, but also an island nation.

“We rely very heavily on power projection, which means we have to be able to get the forces forward [and] sustain them forward,” he said.

U.S. forces “rely heavily on systems that several decades ago weren't even known about or thought about too much, and that exist now in the cyber world and in the space world,” Locklear said.

Dominant Military Power

Such systems also could reveal vulnerabilities that the department will have to pace with technological advancements, the admiral said.

“It's my assessment that we remain the most dominant military power in the world in all aspects,” Locklear said. “And I think that not a country in the world would disagree with that today, even though I think they would recognize that … the relative gap between how good we are versus how some of the other forces may be developing is shrinking.”

But Locklear said he believes the United States clearly has the best ships, the best submarines, the best aircraft carriers, “and the best people running them in the world.”

He added, “What’s important to me is making sure that the force we have, number one, is dominant … and it needs to be technologically superior across multiple domains.”

Relevant in All Domains

From space to cyber to air to integrated air and missile defense, to sea, maritime, subsurface maritime, the admiral said, there are technological challenges as all the militaries of the world get better in these domains. “We must continue apace to be relevant in the domains that allow us to project U.S. power in defense of U.S. interests,” he said.

In his remarks, Scaparrotti focused on the Korean Peninsula.

The North Koreans are developing asymmetric capabilities, he said, “and specifically orienting on what they consider to be some of our vulnerabilities, and through their development they are trying to close our dominance.”

Specific asymmetric capabilities that Scaparrotti said he thinks about most are North Korea’s ballistic missile capability and the continued ability to counter it, along with its intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.

Maintaining Dominance

“Many of our adversaries are becoming more proficient in determining how to work inside our capabilities -- our intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities -- and also how to use deception and other means in order to limit the advantage we have today,” the general said.

The Defense Department has to continue to develop its capabilities, to change its posture, its concepts and its employment to ensure that we maintain dominance, Scaparrotti added.

“My top concern is that we will have little to no warning of a North Korean asymmetric provocation, which could start a cycle of action and counteraction leading to unintended escalation,” Scaparrotti said.

This underscores the need for the alliance to maintain a high level of readiness and vigilance, he added, noting that last year the alliance took significant steps to improve its capabilities and capacities to deter aggression and reduce operational risk.

Steadfast Strategic Partner

“But our work is not done,” the general said. “In 2015, we will maintain this momentum by focusing on my top priority -- sustaining and strengthening the alliance -- with an emphasis on our combined readiness.”

Strengthening the alliance includes ensuring the rapid flow of ready forces into Korea in the early phases of hostilities, he said, and improving ISR capabilities and critical munitions.

Based on both nations’ national security strategies, Scaparrotti said, the United States will continue to be a steadfast strategic partner to South Korea, “and South Korea is poised to be a long-lasting and important ally to America.”

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