WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter on Wednesday offered a broad defense of the U.S. military’s shift in focus to the Asia-Pacific region, insisting the Pentagon had the resources to implement the new strategy despite concerns about tight budgets.
Carter, speaking at the release of a new study on the military challenge from China, said the Pentagon would increasingly focus its resources on the Asia-Pacific in coming years, adding new ships in the region as well as F-35 joint strike fighters as they become available.
“The Pentagon leadership is focused intently on executing the rebalance,” Carter told a forum sponsored by the National Bureau of Asian Research. “We’re watching every dollar, every ship, every plane, to make sure that we execute our rebalance effectively.”
Analysts have raised questions about whether the Pentagon will ultimately have funds to implement the new strategy. A recent report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies expressed concern about the disconnect between Pentagon planning for the rebalance and congressional funding.
Carter’s remarks came at the launch of the National Bureau’s new study on “China’s Military Challenge,” which analyzed the modernization effort the People’s Liberation Army has been undergoing since the 2004, when Chinese Hu Jintao expanded the PLA’s role beyond territorial defense.
The authors of the study said much of China’s modernization effort has been driven by concern about Taiwan. Beijing has developed missiles capable of hitting Taiwan and threatening warships in the seas off China’s coast. The range of its missiles continues to expand.
“If trends continue, one should not dismiss the possibility of it having a mirror program to the U.S. Prompt Global Strike,” said China analyst Mark Stokes, referring to U.S. efforts to develop the ability to deliver a conventional warhead anywhere on the planet in about an hour.
Chinese strategists also have adopted the view that modern wars are likely to be short, sharp campaigns, like the Falklands War or the first Gulf War, the authors said. As a result, China emphasizes striking first and delivering a critical blow to the enemy’s communications infrastructure.
“This places a premium on us to be able to have good defenses for our (communications and reconnaissance) systems,” said Kevin Pollpeter of Defense Group Inc., who wrote the study’s section on cyber and electronic warfare. “We have to be prepared for some sort of losses.”
He noted that the United States currently relies on a few highly valuable and very capable systems and is facing budget constraints that make it difficult to fund additional systems.
“How to conduct information warfare in an age of budget austerity is central to the question of how we respond to China’s military modernization,” he said.
Carter insisted, however, that the U.S. strategic rebalance to Asia was “not about China,” but about ensuring “a peaceful Asia-Pacific region, where all countries can enjoy the benefit of security and continue to prosper.”
“We do have the capacity to resource the rebalance and meet our commitments,” he said. “With our allies and partners, I think you’ll see we are in fact across the Asia-Pacific region able to invest to sustain peace and prosperity.”
Carter said the end of the war in Iraq and the transition of security control in Afghanistan would free up a great deal of U.S. military capacity, much of which could be used for missions in the Asia-Pacific.
Warships, amphibious assault ships and eventually aircraft carriers would be freed up by the end of the conflicts, as would Air Force unmanned reconnaissance planes and cyber and space assets. Some of those could also be redeployed, he said.
Carter said the Pentagon was investing in new systems that would be relevant for the region, from the new Virginia class submarine to a new refueling aircraft and a stealthy bomber.
The U.S. Navy will have 60 percent of its assets in the Pacific by 2020. Carter said the Pentagon would have 2,500 Marines in Australia on a rotational basis, four new Littoral Combat Ships stationed forward in Singapore and would complete a transfer of forces from Okinawa to Guam.
He said B-1 bombers would rotate into the region to augment older B-52s already there. The United States has already moved radar-evading F-22 fighters to Japan, and the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will be deployed to the region as it becomes available, Carter said.
Building up the capabilities of U.S. allies and partners is a key part of the strategy, he said. But so is developing a broader political and military relationship with China.
“Our relationship, defense relationship, with China is an essential part of our rebalance,” Carter said.
Editing by David Brunnstrom