[VIEWPOINT]New commander details plansHardly had Admiral Gary Roughead taken the helm as the new commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet than the Chinese and Russian militaries gave him something to think about.
Those two forces in the western Pacific have just completed eight days of joint maneuvers centered on the Qingdao Peninsula, across the Yellow Sea from Korea. The drills were conducted with 10,000 troops ― about 8500 of them Chinese ― on land, at sea and in the air.
That’s not large as those things go, but it was the first such exercise since the breakup of the Soviet Union 15 years ago. It marked another step in a gradual Sino-Russian reconciliation after decades of rivalry during the days of the Soviet Union.
The exercise evidently had three purposes: Put the U.S. on notice that it has military competitors in the western Pacific; show the Taiwanese once again that China would use force if that island nation declared formal independence; and market more Russian weapons to a China that has already bought Russian warships and aircraft.
Admiral Roughead suggested that he was more interested in the Chinese than the Russian navy, much of which has been laid idle through a lack of funds. “Clearly, the Chinese are developing a very capable modern military, especially the navy,” he said in an interview at his Pearl Harbor headquarters. “The question is: What do they see as the intended use of that navy?”
“If it is to ensure the free flow of commerce, that would not be surprising,” he said, referring to sea lanes in the South China and East China Seas through which pass the oil and raw materials that feed China’s billowing economy, not to say its soaring exports. The admiral added, however: “What if the intent is not purely to defend the sea lanes?”
Roughead said he had been keenly interested in learning what ships and aircraft the Chinese and Russians sent into the exercise, how they operated together, and how they integrated commands and communications.
His Pacific Fleet was not invited to send observers to the exercise nor would he or any other officer discuss ways in which intelligence was being gathered. It does not take rocket science, however, to guess that a couple of U.S. submarines, several reconnaissance aircraft, and surveillance satellites have been watching and listening closely.
Roughead, who took command of the Pacific Fleet’s 200 warships, 1,400 aircraft and 190,000 sailors and marines on July 8, said he would not drastically change course from that set by his predecessor, Admiral Walter F. Doran. “When you come on watch,” Roughead said, “normally you don’t try to trim the sails right away.”
Much of his attention will be directed to continuing the transformation of the armed forces ordered by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. In the Pacific and Asia, that is adding to Navy responsibilities as the U.S. plans to depend on seapower and airpower rather than ground forces in most contingencies.
On the dispute over Taiwan, for instance, the U.S. would rely on ships and airplanes to help defend Taiwan if China sought to enforce its claim to sovereignty with an assault and if President Bush decided it would be in the U.S. interest to resist.
Roughead said he planned to invite more Asian and Pacific navies to take part in multilateral exercises, in contrast to bilateral drills. To increase their ability to operate together, he would like to persuade allied navies to codify their procedures.
That would be true not only with blue water navies, such as those of Japan, Australia and India, but also with the smaller navies of Southeast Asia fighting pirates that prey on merchant ships in those constricted waters. The admiral stressed, however, that he would seek informal arrangements, not another North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
The need for codified procedures is also present within the U.S. Navy, Roughead said. Not many years ago, the U.S. really had two navies, the Atlantic and the Pacific, each with its own way of operating. With a smaller Navy today, ships may be deployed from one fleet to another and must be able to fit into new assignments seamlessly.
With an eye toward China’s expanding submarine force, Roughead emphasized anti-submarine warfare. It relies on submarines, said to be the best weapon against another submarine, surface ships equipped with sonar, torpedoes and new anti-submarine missiles, and low flying aircraft.
“This is an area,” the admiral said, “that we want to be able to dominate.”
* The writer is a former Tokyo correspondent of the New York Times.
by Richard Halloran