Source: The Telegraph
By: Peter Foster
The US Navy says it is preparing for “any contingency” surrounding territorial disputes in the Pacific
The United States moved to reassure its jittery allies in the Asia-Pacific that it has enough firepower to maintain stability in the region that has seen increased Chinese muscle-flexing in recent years.
Admiral Scott Swift, the commander of the US Pacific Fleet, said that the US could increase deployment of combat ships, if necessary, and ramp up training exercises with its regional allies, including China’s historical enemy, Japan
Adm Swift said his 200-vessel US Pacific Fleet, by far the world’s strongest, “was ready and prepared to respond to any contingency that the president may suggest would be necessary.”
His remarks to reporters in Manila came a month after President Barack Obama called for an end to China’s “aggressive actions” in the South China Sea, saying that the coming superpower must not establish its claims by “throwing elbows and pushing people out of the way”.
Territorial disputes involving China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei have flared on and off for years, fuelling fears that the South China Sea could spark Asia’s next major armed conflict.
In recent decades China has rapidly increased its military spending and constructed a maritime missile defence system that has challenged US ability to enforce its will in the region.
Adm Swift said the US recognised the growing tensions and remained deeply committed to its role as security anchor, adding he was “very satisfied” with his resources, which total some 200 ships and submarines, nearly 1,100 aircraft and more than 140,000 sailors and civilians.
“The reason that people continue to ask about the long-term commitment and intentions of the Pacific Fleet is reflective really of all the uncertainty that has generated in the theatre now,” Adm. Swift admitted.
The US currently has the USS Fort Worth stationed in Singapore, one of four 3,500-ton coastal combat ships that are tasked with keeping watch on the South China Sea and other areas, and has plans to acquire 52 more of the ultra-modern craft for use around the world.
Admiral Swift said more of Freedom-Class ships, which are armed with torpedoes, missiles and Seahawk helicopters, could be deployed in the region if necessary.
He also praised Philippine efforts to hold exercises for military readiness with US allies like Japan, which held search and rescue drills for the first time with the Philippine navy last month, a move condemned by China.
“Multilateralism has always increased stability,” Adm Swift concluded, adding that the US would not be deterred from operating in the region by the latest round of Chinese island-building on the Spratly archipelago last month.
“I don’t feel any change from a military perspective about impacting any operations that the Pacific Fleet engages in,” he said.