Enormous Buildup of US Military Forces in Western Pacific
February 17, 2012 • 10:25AM

Anyone who thinks that the Obama Administration's "Asia pivot" began last fall with NerObama's trip to Asia, hasn't been paying attention. The US military build-up in the Western Pacific began even before the 9/11 attacks, as documented by a new report from the Congressional Research Service on the stationing of US forces on Guam. Air-launched cruise missiles were stockpiled in Guam for the first time in August 2000, followed by precision-guided munitions. In early 2001, the Navy announced that three nuclear-powered attack submarines would be forward based in Guam, in order to shorten transit time from USA naval bases to likely crisis areas. The first of those subs arrived in October of 2002, and the last arrived in July of 2007. The three submarines based in Guam are the leading edge of the reposturing of 60 percent of the US Navy's submarine force into the Pacific. Guam is also expected to be a base of operations for the Navy's converted Ohio-class guided missile submarines, which can carry up to 154 Tomahawk missiles and detachments of special forces troops. And while no aircraft carriers will be based at Guam, in 2008, the Navy announced that it would be upgrading the harbor facilities there to support up to three visits a year by aircraft carriers for up to three weeks at a time.

In 2002, the commander of the Pacific Air Forces requested a significant boost in airpower on Guam, to include KC-135 tankers, C-17 cargo aircraft as well as additional stockpiles of munitions and fuel. In March of 2003, a new expeditionary air wing was activated on Guam to support rotational deployments of B-2 and B-52 bombers, deployments of which began in February of 2004. In 2005, rotational deployments of F-15 fighters began, followed by F-16's in 2006 and F-22's in 2007. Three Global Hawk drones were added in 2009. Since 2006, Pacific Command has held three "Valiant Shield" exercises out of Guam, involving both aircraft carriers and Air Force combat units.

During the entire time of this build-up, Pacific Command officials have gone out of their way to deny that the build-up is aimed at China, according to the CRS report. And yet, the ring will tighten further around China. The Navy has about 50 ships on deployment in the Western Pacific at any one time, about half of the total number of its ships deployed worldwide. And Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus noted in an interview this week, that four of the new Littoral Combat Ships (LCS's)will be forward-based in Singapore beginning in 2016, providing that the government of Singapore agrees (and that technical problems with the ships are overcome by then). The LCS's are designed to operate in shallow seas and close to shore, in other words, the type of environment you would find in the South China Sea.

And, as if that weren't enough, Philippino officials revealed to Japan's NHK news network that the US is seeking to relocate some Marines from Okinawa to Ulugan Bay on Palawan Island, which lies just east of the disputed Spratly Islands. The officials said the two sides are hoping to reach an agreement at a meeting of foreign and defense ministers in Washington next month. This was confirmed by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who told the Senate Armed Services Committee that "We've just developed an agreement with Australia to do a rotational presence there. We're working with the Philippines on hopefully a similar arrangement there as well." China is expected to object to such a deployment, but in the meantime, a joint US-Philippino exercise is scheduled to go ahead in Palawan, next month. According to news reports, the two sides will be practicing how to retake an offshore oil platform that has been hijacked by hostile forces.

While most of the Philippines public is focused on the ongoing impeachment trail of Chief Justice Corona of Supreme Court at the behest of President Aquino, some Filipinos have taken note. "American military bases seem to be returning to the Philippines under President Aquino's government, despite the 1987 Constitution banning the stay of foreign military bases. It is being done in such a circuitous way that circumvents the constitutional proviso on military bases," writes Michaela P. del Callar of the Tribune. While Congressman Walden Bello, says "Let us remember that the people of Okinawa have been vehemently opposed to the US bases on their island ... We must be wary of this creeping increase of US military activity in the Philippines."