Tuesday, August 27, 2013

• US bolsters island bases as insurance on China

US bolsters island bases as insurance on China
by MICHAEL EVANS - Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A TINY Pacific island that was the scene of a momentous World War II battle between US and Japanese forces is being viewed as key to the US military's gathering power shift against the growing might of China. Saipan, which is 200km north of Guam, the most substantial US military base in the region, is to have an expanded airfield capable of receiving fighter jets and refuelling tankers and heavy-lift transport aircraft. About 700 support personnel are expected to be based on the 20km-long island, which has a population of 48,220 and is a member of the Northern Mariana archipelago administered by the US.

Saipan is part of a web of locations in the Asia-Pacific region where the US military is increasing its presence and building up an array of firepower and back-up capabilities.
The Pentagon has decided the island should be transformed into an alternative military base in the event that Guam is targeted and removed from the battle plan.
China's growing number of ballistic missiles is regarded as a potential threat to Guam, which supports the US Pacific Fleet and provides a bomber forward-operating base for the US Air Force.

Pentagon officials deny President Barack Obama's shift of strategic emphasis to the Asia-Pacific region is aimed at China. US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel, who last week hosted a visit to Washington by General Chang Wanquan, China's Minister of National Defence, has emphasised the importance of building trust with Beijing.

He is to visit China next year.
However, the Pentagon's "insurance" to counter-balance China's growing military power is beginning to take shape. Apart from Saipan, the nearby island of Tinian is also being redeveloped, with US marines operating from there with FA18 Hornets. Across the whole region, all elements of the US armed forces are taking up new positions or planning to divert fighting assets to fulfil Mr Obama's defence strategy, which was announced in January last year. The US Air Force is planning to deploy aircraft on a regular basis to Darwin and Tindal in northern Australia, Changi East airbase in Singapore, Korat in Thailand and Thiruvananthapuram in India.

The Indian government has denied any US aircraft will be stationed there. A senior US Air Force commander disclosed last month there were also proposals to send aircraft on regular deployments to Cubi Point and Puerto Princesa bases in The Philippines, and to Indonesia and Malaysia. Mr Hagel and Leon Panetta, his predecessor at the Pentagon, were sent by Mr Obama to all these countries to negotiate military deals. The shift in emphasis began with the announcement that 250 US marines were to be sent to Darwin on a rotational system.

This number will rise to 2500 by 2016. The USAF also hopes to send B52 bombers and F16s to northern Australia. The US Navy is also planning to have 60 per cent of its warships -- up from 50 per cent -- in the Asia-Pacific region by 2020. Sixteen of them will be the new Littoral Combat Ships that can operate in shallow waters.
Critics of the ship claim it is under-gunned but US Navy chiefs say it is ideal for "dash" missions, causing damage to the enemy and swiftly departing, leaving bigger warships to take over.


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