Look out china
The U.S. Locks and Loads in the Pacific

Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs David Shear spoke to the press on Friday as the DoD released a new strategy report mandated by Congress on America’s plan for handling the tensions in Asia, primarily over maritime territory. His comments go a long way towards clarifying Washington’s policies, which haven’t in recent months always been clear.

The new strategy’s focus on the tools of the hard power trade begins, finally, to justify the phrase “pivot to Asia.” Chief among the takeaways is the redoubled U.S. commitment to deploy twice the number of littoral combat ships to Asian waters, in a drive to build up a fleet of powerful vessels that, unlike the USN’s biggest ships, can operate and dock in the shallow waters that combat in, say, the South China Sea, would require. DoD Buzz has more:

“The LCS is ideally suited for a role in the South China Sea. It is fast, light and flexible and it has a fifteen foot draft so it can go places other vessels cannot go. We plan to have four LCS ships in Singapore on a rotational basis by 2018,” David Shear, assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs, told reporters on Friday. […]

Shear explained that stepping up LCS missions in the South China Sea is part of a broader strategic effort to maintain presence and patrol the area in light of China’s recent efforts to build artificial land structures in the contested Spratly Islands. […]

“US forces currently present in the South China Sea conduct a variety of presence operations. We are in the South China Sea on a regular basis,” Shear said.

All of the recent signs from Washington indicate that the U.S. means to put its money where its mouth is in Asia, and the strategy document’s introduction explains the main reason why:

Maritime Asia is a vital thruway for global commerce, and it will be a critical part of the region’s expected economic growth. The United States wants to ensure the Asia-Pacific region’s continued economic progress. The importance of Asia-Pacific sea lanes for global trade cannot be overstated. Eight of the world’s 10 busiest container ports are in the Asia-Pacific region, and almost 30 percent of the world’s maritime trade transits the South China Sea annually, including approximately $1.2 trillion in ship-borne trade bound for the United States.1 Approximately two-thirds of the world’s oil shipments transit through the Indian Ocean to the Pacific, and in 2014, more than 15 million barrels of oil passed through the Malacca Strait per day.

The doubled LCS fleet will seriously increase the credibility of American threats to do what it takes to ensure freedom of navigation. And to complement the growing arms power, the Pentagon is upping the frequency and intensity of the drills it holds with China’s regional counterclaimants, preparing the forces to fight together smoothly should the need arise.

While China hasn’t yet seemed to back down from its aggressive policy in the Spratlys in response to increased American pressure, strategists in Beijing will most certainly take note of the growing power of the force that could rise up to stop it if it pushes things too far.

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