U.S. 7th Fleet to replace damaged Aegis destroyers next year

JIJI

Two Aegis destroyers will be assigned to the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet to replace the USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain, which were damaged by recent collisions, Adm. Harry Harris, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, said in an interview.

“As early as next year, there will be a backup,” Harris said Monday at Hawaii’s Camp H.M. Smiththe headquarters of the Pacific Command. The 7th Fleet is based in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture.

In June, the Fitzgerald collided with a cargo ship off the Izu Peninsula in Shizuoka Prefecture. The McCain collided with an oil tanker near Singapore last month.

Although the number of Aegis destroyers in the 7th Fleet is down, Harris said its overall missile defense capability was unaffected.

“Our ability to defend Japan and South Korea is as strong as ever,” he said.

When needed, ships will be ready to deploy to the 7th Fleet, he added.

Harris said an Aegis destroyer based in San Diego will move to the 7th Fleet next year and be joined by an additional Aegis destroyer from either San Diego or Hawaii.

According to the Pacific Fleet, the USS Milius will be sent to Yokosuka from the San Diego-based 3rd Fleet.

Harris said cooperation by Japan, the United States and South Korea is critical to addressing North Korea’s nuclear and missile development programs.

He called on Japan and South Korea to improve relations by overcoming issues of history, saying they “together must work through the challenges of history.”

Harris, who is the first Japanese-American to head the Pacific Command, will retire in May next year.

News reports have said Harris may be assigned to serve as U.S. ambassador to Australia.

Noting that next year he will have been in the navy for 40 years, he said with a smile, “I hope to travel everywhere.”