US force in Asia to become smaller but deadlier
By Karl Wilson
‘What military planners want is to be able to deploy small units at short notice to attack terrorist groups or rogue states that pose a threat to US security’
The United States military commitment to Asia is undergoing a profound change that analysts and diplomats say will have a direct impact on the security of the entire region.
In the coming years tens of thousands of US troops will be withdrawn from Europe and Asia as part of the biggest realignment of US military might since the end of the Korean War 51 years ago.
The reduced troop numbers will make US military power in the region smaller but deadlier, relying on rapid deployment and sophisticated air and naval power, analysts say. Renato de Castro, who teaches international studies at Manila’s De La Salle University, said: “The days of big armies are over.
“US thinking today is less on massive troop deployment but rather on extending its military clout via the forward basing of air and sea power and logistics facilities for the rapid deployment of small numbers of highly trained troops.
“The new thinking will rely heavily on strong alliances with allies, access to facilities and training.”
The United States has yet to reveal full details of its realignment of troops in Asia, although it has announced plans to reduce the 37,500-strong force in South Korea by a third. It is thought 47,000 US troops will remain at bases in Japan.
De Castro said the new US strategy calls for what US defence planners call ‘Lily Pads’ or ‘Warm Bases’, small lightly-staffed facilities which can be used as jumping-off points in a crisis.
These facilities will be linked to a few large, strategically located, heavy infrastructure bases likely to be in Japan, Australia and Singapore.
“In Asia these heavy infrastructure bases would include the naval base in Yokosuka in Japan and the airbase in Misawa,” de Castro said.
“Singapore is already being used as a heavy infrastructure base as it has a major ship repair facility which can handle aircraft carriers.
“At the southern end, you have Australia which is considered as one of America’s closest allies in Asia and has, over the years, developed a number of military bases in the north west of the country.”
The United States has been developing a series of logistic facilities in the Philippines following the closure of its bases, notably the airbase at Clark in central Luzon and the deep water naval facility at Subic Bay northwest of Manila. In General Santos City in southern Mindanao island, the United States, through air programmes, has developed a deepwater port and a modern airport which are connected by one of the best roads in the Philippines.
At Fort Magsaysay in central Luzon the airport has been upgraded and runway strengthened to take C-130 transport aircraft.
“What military planners want is to be able to deploy small units at short notice to attack terrorist groups or rogue states that pose a threat to US security,” said de Castro.
Regional security analysts say technological advances are the biggest factors allowing the United States to undertake its military reforms while retaining the same effective presence in Asia. As a result the US Pacific island of Guam will play an increasingly important role in projecting US military power in Asia. Strike bombers, cruise-missile submarines and a new aircraft carrier group based at the island would be capable of striking across the region.
In a recent report in Foreign Affairs magazine called New Battle Stations, analysts said the new US policy may also includes possible access to naval and air bases in Vietnam and India.
The changes announced by US President George W Bush this week have been expected for some time. The theme of both the 2002 National Security Strategy and the Quadrennial Defence Review in 2001 was the need for military forces that can strike quickly anywhere in the world. afp