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Asia to get first dibs on latest U.S. weaponry

AFP-JIJI

The United States plans to deploy some of its newest warships and other high-tech weaponry to the Asia-Pacific as part of a strategic shift toward the region, a senior U.S. defense official said.

The Pentagon will send P-8 submarine-hunting aircraft, cruise missiles, Virginia-class submarines, coastal combat ships and F-35 fighter jets to Asian ports and bases in the coming years, the senior official told reporters Wednesday.

“What you’re seeing is part of a bigger effort, the Pacific theater will get the newest weapons systems first,” he said.

The Pentagon has promoted a tilt toward Asia after a decade of ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, reflecting concern over China’s growing military power and assertive stance on territorial disputes with neighboring countries.

The United States already plans to deploy more than half of its fleet to the Asia-Pacific region and to station four littoral combat ships — speedy new vessels designed to operate near coastlines — for rotational deployments in Singapore.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Tuesday that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a stealth jet that is still in development, could be deployed at U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture, Japan, by 2017. Washington also is providing Tokyo with another powerful X-band radar to bolster its missile defenses, a move announced in September.

Vietnam, the Philippines and other countries in Southeast Asia are locked in escalating territorial disputes with China and have sought to bolster military ties with Washington to counter Beijing’s influence.

Recounting recent talks in Southeast Asian capitals, the senior U.S. defense official remarked that “there was palpable concern and deep concern” over Beijing’s recent aggressive actions in the South China Sea.