WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Pentagon planners will consider adding bombers and attack submarines as part of a growing U.S. focus on security challenges in the Asia-Pacific, a senior Defense Department official said on Wednesday.
“We will take another look” at sending more such muscle to the strategic hub of Guam in the western Pacific, now that this has been recommended by an independent review of U.S. regional military plans, Robert Scher, deputy assistant secretary of defense for plans, told lawmakers.
U.S. strategy calls for shifting military, diplomatic and economic resources toward the region after a decade of land wars in Iraq and Afghanistan sparked by the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and the Pentagon.
The Defense Department, however, must weigh the issue from a broad global perspective and take into account competing requirements, Scher testified before the U.S. House of Representatives’ Armed Services subcommittee on readiness.
Guam, a U.S. territory about three-quarters of the way from Hawaii to the Philippines, played an active role during the Vietnam War as a way station for U.S. bombers.
The Air Force operates from the island’s Andersen Air Force Base, which hosts a rotational unit of B-52 bombers. The major U.S. Navy presence includes a squadron of three attack submarines.
The new assessment of the U.S. military force posture in the region was carried out by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, or CSIS, a nonpartisan policy research group, subsequent to a congressional mandate.
It recommended in a report made public last week stationing one or more additional attack submarines in Guam to provide what it called a critical edge against “anti-access, area denial” - technologies being developed by China to keep the U.S. military at bay.
CSIS listed as another option permanently relocating a B-52 squadron of 12 aircraft to Guam, rather than the current practice of rotating in from bases in the continental United States.
The central geostrategic uncertainty that the United States and its allies and partners face in the region “is how China’s growing power and influence will impact order and stability in the years ahead,” the CSIS review said.
It said U.S. forces can help shape the peacetime environment by standing behind U.S. security commitments - a move the review said would “dissuade Chinese coercion or North Korean aggression.”
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has announced plans to “rebalance” U.S. naval forces from a nearly 50-50 split between the Atlantic and the Pacific to a 60-40 mix in favor of the Asia-Pacific. The details of this shift have not been spelled out, although officials have said much of the buildup will involve new ships.
Sher, in joint written testimony to the panel with David Helvey, an acting deputy assistant secretary of defense for the region, said the Defense Department agreed with the CSIS assessment that “there are opportunities to move forward with Guam and send an important signal to the region.”
Neither additional bombers nor additional attack submarines are in current U.S. plans for the region but will be considered based on CSIS’s “good work,” Scher told Reuters after the hearing.
David Berteau, director of the CSIS International Security Program and a co-director of the review, said Guam cold absorb additional submarines without a huge amount of extra military construction costs, for instance for pier space or shore facilities.
The Defense Department also will continue to explore opportunities with the Philippines, a treaty ally, of deploying forces to unspecified “priority areas” to enhance maritime security, the Defense Department officials testified.
Reporting by Jim Wolf; Editing by Lisa Shumaker