Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense,” the new strategic guidance for the Defense Department, begins with a letter dated January 3, 2012, by President Obama. In this letter, the president states, “Our nation is at a moment of transition…. As commander in chief, I am determined that we meet the challenges of this moment responsibly and that we emerge even stronger in a manner that preserves American global leadership…. Indeed, as we end today’s wars, we will focus on a broader range of challenges and opportunities, including the security and prosperity of the Asia Pacific.” The new strategy was released by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta on January 5, 2012, with emphasis that the United States will maintain a balance between readiness and the need to address budget issues and debt reduction.
The new strategy leads to a strategic inflection point after more than a decade of war. This strategic view suggests that the United States will shape a new force structure that will be fundamentally joint, that will be smaller and leaner, and that will leverage technology to be agile and flexible. The United States clearly intends to maintain a full-spectrum capability.
As NATO forces, including the United States, withdraw from Afghanistan over the next couple of years, the new strategy calls for a U.S. strategic “rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region.” This concept involves a strategic shift to the Asia-Pacific region while maintaining U.S. relationships in the Middle East and Europe. Officials believe that this can be accomplished by applying some of the resources that have been dedicated to Iraq and Afghanistan over the past 10 years.
In an address delivered August 1, 2012, in New York titled, “The U.S. Strategic Rebalance to Asia: A Defense Perspective,” Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter provided some detail on the extent of this strategic shift. He reminded the audience that, while the Asia-Pacific region has enjoyed more than 60 years of general peace and security, no multinational organization such as NATO exists to ensure the continuing peace. The United States must maintain a strong presence in the region. According to Carter, the United States continues to hold a commitment “to free and open commerce; a just international order that emphasizes rights and responsibilities of nations and fidelity to the rule of law; open access, by all, to the shared domains of sea, air, space, and now, cyberspace; and the principle of resolving conflict without use of force.”
Carter said that intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance resources will return to the Asia-Pacific region, including unmanned aerial vehicles that have been committed to Afghanistan. He said that by 2020, 60 percent of U.S. naval assets will be stationed in the region—an all-time high.
The U.S. Air Force, Army and Marine Corps will return units and assets originally diverted from the Asia-Pacific region to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he added. The Army’s presence in Korea will be protected from any budget changes. There will be no reduction in the strength of the Marine Corps west of the International Date Line. Marines now are rotating through Australia, and four littoral combat ships are rotating through Singapore and forward stationing in Guam, which itself is seeing considerable investment as a strategic hub in the Western Pacific. Carter said that, while the Air Force overall is reducing the number of tactical aircraft squadrons globally, this would not be the case in the Asia-Pacific region. The Air Force recently has deployed an F-22 squadron to Kadena Air Base, Japan, and this also will be the first overseas base to permanently station the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
This commitment in the face of massive budget cuts is impressive. Attention to the U.S. infrastructure will be required throughout the Asia-Pacific region, in both the physical and the cyberdomain. The sheer scope of this theater alone—covering half of the globe—continues to make effective communication and command and control a challenge.
November 13-15, 2012, AFCEA International and the AFCEA Hawaii Chapter will present TechNet Asia-Pacific, “Rebalancing Toward the Asia-Pacific—Challenges and Opportunities.” This event will be held at the Sheraton Waikiki and Royal Hawaiian Hotels in Honolulu, Hawaii. The conference will explore in detail this massive effort to increase presence in the Asia-Pacific theater along with the issues and benefits. Representatives from U.S. Pacific Command, the U.S. component commands and commands throughout the Pacific will be present, along with representatives of a number of allied governments. It will be a great opportunity to learn and discuss this significant strategic shift.