US to move bulk of its naval fleet to Asia-Pacific

Singapore: In a major re-posturing, US today announced it will shift the bulk of its naval fleet including as many as six aircraft carriers to the Pacific by 2020 as part of new strategic focus on Asia. The American move outlined by the Defence Secretary Leon Panetta at the ongoing Security Forum here would reconfigure US forces 50-50 split between the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean to 60 per cent of the naval assets being moved to the Asian region.

The decision to deploy more warships to the Pacific Ocean, Panetta said was part of a "steady, deliberate" effort to bolster the US role in the area, deemed vital to American interest recently by President Barack Obama. Besides the carriers, the redeployment, he said would comprise the majority of navy`s cruisers, destroyers, littoral combat ships and submarines and this new posturing would be fortified by an increase in the number and size of military exercises in the Pacific and the number of port visits right up to Indian Ocean.

The US Navy currently has 285 ships with about half off these warships deployed or assigned to the Pacific. "Make no mistake – in a steady, deliberate and sustainable way — the US military is rebalancing and bringing enhanced capabilities to this vital region," Panetta said. Though he acknowledged differences between the US and China on a range of issues, including the South China Sea, the US Defence Secretary sought to dispel the notion that the shift in US focus to Asia was designed to contain China`s emergence as a global power.

Panetta`s comments came at the start of a seven-day visit to the region to explain to allies and partners the contours of the new US military strategy unveiled in January. The trip includes stops in India and Vietnam and comes in the background of rising tensions over competing sovereignty claims in the South China Sea, with the US ally, the Philippines and China in a virtual standoff.

Unlike previous years, China has a downgraded presence at the Security Forum. Last year Beijing was represented by Defence Minister Liang Guanglie, but this year Chinese military is being represented by the vice president of Academy of Military Sciences. Among the new weapons, Panetta mentioned to be deployed in Asia are the advanced fifth generation fighters known as joint strike fighter, the enhanced Virginia-class fast attack submarines that can operate even in shallow water and new precision weapons.