HONOLULU — When U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld addressed the Shangri-la Security Dialogue in Singapore last weekend, most of the attention in the meeting and later in the press focused on his candid comments about China’s military strategy, spending and modernization.
The secretary barely touched on the fundamental revision in the U.S. defense posture that is intended to counter a potential threat from China or to respond swiftly to contingencies elsewhere, pointing only to “a repositioning of U.S. forces worldwide that will significantly increase our capabilities in support of our friends and allies in this region.”
American defense officials in Washington, at the Pacific Command here in Hawaii, and in Asia have spent many months seeking to bring Rumsfeld’s policy to reality. They have fashioned a plan intended to strengthen the operational control of the Pacific Command, enhance forces in the U.S. territory of Guam, tighten the alliance with Japan and streamline the U.S. stance in South Korea.
As pieced together from American and Japanese officials, who cautioned that no firm decisions have been made, the realignment shapes up like this:
ARMY: The U.S. Army headquarters in Hawaii will become a war-fighting command to devise and execute operations rather than one that trains and provides troops to other commands as it does now. The U.S. four-star general’s post in Korea will be transferred to Hawaii.
The 1st Corps at Fort Lewis, Washington, will move to Camp Zama, Japan, to forge ties with Japan’s ground force. Japan will organize a similar unit, perhaps called the Central Readiness Command, to prepare and conduct operations with the U.S. Army.
Japanese officials are considering elevating the Self-Defense Agency to a ministry and renaming Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force as the Japanese Army; same for the navy and air force. Shedding those postwar names would reflect Japan’s emergence from its pacifist cocoon.
In South Korea, the U.S. plans to disband the 8th Army, which has been there since the Korean War of 1950-53, to relinquish command of Korean troops to the Koreans and to minimize or eliminate the United Nations Command set up during the Korean War.
A smaller tactical command will oversee U.S. forces that remain in Korea, which will be down to 25,000 from 37,000 in 2008. That may be cut further since Seoul has denied the U.S. the “strategic flexibility” to dispatch U.S. forces from Korea to contingencies elsewhere.
MARINE CORPS: The Marines, who have a war-fighting center in Hawaii, will move the headquarters of the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force (III MEF) to Guam from Okinawa to reduce the friction caused by the U.S. “footprint” on that Japanese island. How many Marines would move was not clear, but combat battalions will continue to rotate to Okinawa from the United States.
Some U.S. officers are displeased because local politics rather than military necessity dictated the move. They asserted that the Tokyo government, despite its desire to “reduce the burden” on Okinawans, has blocked U.S. attempts to move forces to other bases in Japan.
Other officers saw an advantage to having III MEF in Guam. If a Japanese government sought to restrict the movement of U.S. forces, III MEF would be able to operate without reference to Tokyo.
AIR FORCE: The 13th Air Force moved to Hawaii from Guam in May to give that service a war-fighting headquarters like those of the other services. General Paul V. Hester, commander of the Pacific Air Forces, was quoted in press reports: “We’re building an air operations center and war-fighting headquarters that serves the entire Pacific region.”
The Air Force plans to establish a strike force on Guam that will include six bombers and 48 fighters rotating there from U.S. bases. In addition, 12 refueling aircraft essential to long-range projection of air power will be stationed at Guam’s Andersen Air Force Base.
Further, three Global Hawk unmanned reconnaissance aircraft will be based on Guam. Global Hawks can range more than 19,000 kilometers, at altitudes up to 21,000 meters, for 35 hours, which means they can cover Asia from Bangkok to Beijing with sensors making images of more than 100,000 sq. kilometers a day.
In Japan, the Air Force is willing to share Yokota Air Force Base, west of Tokyo, with Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force but has resisted opening the base to civilian aircraft, citing security concerns. Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara has demanded such rights.
NAVY: Kitty Hawk, the conventionally powered aircraft carrier based at Yokosuka, Japan, is scheduled to be replaced by 2008. The U.S. wants to station a nuclear-powered carrier there, although some Japanese politicians would prefer the last of the conventionally powered carriers, John F. Kennedy.
The Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor, whose war-fighting element is Joint Task Force 519, has moved three attack submarines to Guam to put it closer to the Western Pacific and will probably be assigned an additional carrier from the Atlantic to be based at Pearl Harbor.
All in all, these changes will take upwards of three years to complete during which time Beijing can be expected to object in no uncertain terms.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.