Forbes: Ukriane and ISIS Put Pacific Re-balance at Risk

The chairman of the powerful House Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee is concerned that current emerging global threats and conflicts will slow down the implementation of the Pentagon’s much-discussed Pacific rebalance.

Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Virginia, is concerned that Pentagon plans to rebalance to the Pacific could be neglected in light of ongoing military operations against ISIS in the Middle East and continued tensions between Russia and Ukraine.

Forbes advocates building and maintaining a large enough Navy to address global presence concerns, support the war against ISIS and also ensure progress toward the planned Pacific rebalance.

“One of the major components to the Pacific pivot is the relationship we have with our allies in terms of all coming together. We can’t do that pivot all by ourselves. It is not just a U.S. thing,” Forbes told reporters Feb. 3.

The Pacific rebalance includes a variety of measures including rotating Marine Corps units through Darwin, Australia and moving up to four Littoral Combat Ships through ports in Singapore. The effort also includes ongoing work to build a live fire range able to train up to 4,700 marines slated to relocate to Guam by 2021, service officials said.

When discussing the 2016 budget submission, senior Navy leaders said the Pacific rebalance is already underway.

“There are an additional 30,000 sailors and 27,000 Marines forward ashore, including over 40,000 sailors and Marines in East Asia and the Pacific.  Consistent with the QDR{Quadrennial Defense Review}, you see 51 ships deployed to the Pacific and 34 to the Middle East, reflecting the directed strategic focus in these regions,” said Rear Adm. William Lescher, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Budget.

Forbes emphasized that resources need to be allocated to ensure the right technologies and platforms are available to U.S. force to support the Pacific rebalance.

“Some of the programs included in the FY16 (fiscal year 2016) budget, like the overhaul of an aircraft carrier, investment in maritime patrol aircraft, and the development of a new long-range bomber are essential to demonstrating our seriousness in the region—but we need to make sure they are fully funded. Devoting credible resources to the capabilities required to ensure U.S. presence in Asia is the only way to ensure that the ‘rebalance’ is more than just a slogan,” he said.  “Both our allies and our competitors judge our commitment to the Asia-Pacific region by the capabilities we maintain. The Administration’s rhetoric about ‘rebalancing’ to the region is seen in the context of continuous cuts to national defense, including a Navy among the smallest since the First World War and an Air Force that is the smallest in the service’s history.”

Navy officials say global commitments will not slow ongoing plans to rebalance to the Pacific.

“There is nothing to suggest that the Pacific rebalance will not proceed as planned. The CNO (Chief of Naval Operations) has said we’re going to do a 60–40 force structure rebalance there by 2020. There is nothing to indicate that won’t happen,” a Navy official said.

Speaking several months ago, CNO Adm. Jonathan Greenert said the Navy was still making progress with effort to home-port 60-percent of the fleet in the Pacific region.

“60 percent represents the percentage of our Navy that is home-ported west. The idea is it’s easier to rotationally deploy or to react if you have to, if you’re home-ported where you believe your focus of attention should be. We’re on track for that.  As we build ships, we look toward home-porting them to the West and keeping that process going, because it’s not just numbers; it’s also the numbers with the most capability,” Greenert said.

Forbes said increasing presence in the Pacific is even more important in light of recent global events.

“We never left there and came back. Enhancement is a better word (than pivot or rebalance) because we have the Russian concern and of course ISIS and Africa that we are concerned with.  Things don’t happen singularly they happen in multiple situations. That is why we have to look at why we have to increase presence,” Forbes explained.

Forbes added that U.S. allies emphasize trade is a vital part of the rebalance to the region as well and said allies are likely to be concerned about the Pentagon’s move to close the AirSea Battle office.

The Pentagon closed up the AirSea Battle office and moved the effort into a broader joint concept, sparking concern that the much discussed concept was being sidelined. The AirSea Battle concept was created as an attempt to find successful strategic avenues through which to potentially counter sophisticated air defenses, long-range anti-ship missiles and other technologies designed to thwart or prevent the U.S. military from projecting power.

Drawing primarily upon Air Force and Navy platforms and technologies, the AirSea Battle concept was aimed at using high-altitude, deep-strike aircraft in tandem with naval assets to open up ports and waterways to U.S. planes and ships.

The concept was created to counter what Pentagon analysts call anti-access/area-denial, or A2/AD, a term used to describe weapons, technologies and tactics designed by potential adversaries to deny the U.S. an ability to operate closer to the coastlines in strategically important areas.  A2/AD tactics, for example, refer to long-range anti-ship missiles able to hold aircraft carriers at risk for up to 1,000 miles off the coast or high-tech, next-generation air defenses able to track and fire upon cargo plans, drones or fighter aircraft at much further distances than previous systems can.

“Why do we need it in the first place? There are A2/AD defenses that we need to penetrate. It is not just China but Iran and all over the globe.  When you take something and say we’re no longer going to make it a priority to find the answers to how to deal with this, I think you dilute it and water it down. Dilution means we don’t get the overall solutions and results that we need. The need is still there I just really question whether we have the right resources to get what we need,” Forbes explained.

Forbes added that closing up or moving the ASB concept could send U.S. allies in the Pacific the wrong message.

“I worry because taking away the AirSea Battle concept is sending a huge message to them about whether we are going to be players or not,” he said.

While some critics have dismissed ASB as an inside-the-Pentagon effort to secure funding for various weapons projects, the concept did have widespread recognition and support as representing and intelligent method for addressing emerging and next-generation threats.

While not specific to a potential Chinese military threat, the Pacific rebalance and AirSea Battle are not oblivious to the implications of rapid Chinese military modernization. In fact they are, at least in part, inspired by the circumstance.

When asked about reports of China’s nuclear-armed submarine patrol capability, Forbes said U.S. planners should recognize and address the competition.

“None of this stuff surprises those of us who have been looking at it. It shows the importance of recognizing China is a very serious competitor. It does not have to mean they are an adversary but we have to recognize the competition that is there. We have to talk about strategies regarding how to deal with that competition. If we don’t do that we do it to our own peril,” he explained.

Forbes emphasized that U.S. planners and military developers should not base their decisions upon interpretations of Chinese intention or motivation but should instead ground their calculations purely according to Chinese military capability.