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Until every one comes home | The Magazine of the USO

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"We’re absolutely committed to this region. It’s as simple as that,” Rear Admiral Robert P. Girrier said.

The Navy has good reason to commit to the Indo-Asia-Pacific region, as the military refers to the area comprising most of U.S. Pacific Command’s area of responsibility. It has decades invested in developing, nurturing and protecting relationships in that part of the world.

Girrier, U.S. Pacific Fleet’s deputy commander and chief of staff, said these relationships have matured immensely since the end of World War II.

“Today, five of our seven bilateral treaty alliances … are with countries in the region,” he said, noting Australia, Japan, Philippines, the Republic of Korea and Thailand. “This foundation of cooperation makes us stronger and better postured to face new and emerging challenges when operating jointly with our regional partners and allies.

“The oceans across this whole area … are vast,” he added. “So we have to work together to maintain regional peace, prosperity, security and stability.”

USS George Washington, left, is underway with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Kongou-class guided-missile destroyer JS Kirishima during exercise Keen Sword 15, a joint-bilateral training exercise, in November 2014. Navy photo by Seaman Alonzo M. ArcherUSS George Washington, left, is underway with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Kongou-class guided-missile destroyer JS Kirishima during exercise Keen Sword 15, a joint-bilateral training exercise, in November 2014. Navy photo by Seaman Alonzo M. Archer

So how does the Navy accomplish this? By reinforcing its existing presence with improved capabilities and strengthening relationships with countries like India, which Girrier described as an important element to overall stability and security in the region.

One of the Navy’s top priorities is to move their most advanced and capable platforms to the Indo-Asia-Pacific so the equipment is “where it matters, when it matters.” By 2020, the service plans to base about 60 percent of its fleet in the region.

But all of this is part of long-range planning.

Shorter-term plans include increasing presence by forward-deploying three littoral combat ships to Singapore by 2017. This is in addition to USS Fort Worth, which is already on station in Singapore with crews rotating from San Diego to allow the Navy to stay on station in a critical area of the world longer without developing a large footprint ashore.

The region also is anticipating a future deployment of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters and is slated for the third deployment of the P8-A Poseidon, a flexible aircraft with an emphasis on anti-submarine warfare, Girrier said, adding V-22 Ospreys are already part of the mix in Japan. Three Zumwalt-class destroyers are expected to be based in Japan soon as well.

Sailors aboard the guided-missile cruiser USS Chosin wave while ships and submarines from international partner nations transit in close formation during RIMPAC 2014. Navy photosSailors aboard the guided-missile cruiser USS Chosin wave while ships and submarines from international partner nations transit in close formation during RIMPAC 2014. Navy photos“We’re working with South Korea on space and cyberspace issues, and we’re also increasing defense cooperation with India and the Philippines and many other friends in the region,” he said. “I think it’s important to note that the rebalance is really about more than just equipment. It’s also about bringing our intellectual forces to bear on the region.

“We’re increasing experimentation and validation of new tactics, techniques and procedures and operational concepts,” he added. “So it’s all those things together. It’s people. It’s talent. It’s ideas. Of course, it’s equipment.”

In the future, the Navy’s equipment will be multifunctional, according to A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower, a document released in March that details the way forward for the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. The strategy says, “Modularity will define our future force.” This means equipment will be interoperable and adaptable, allowing for greater flexibility.

“It’s both the agility factor as well as the efficiency piece,” said Lieutenant Timothy Hawkins, a Navy spokesman based at the Pentagon said. “The Navy is looking to emphasize modularity and open architecture in current and future platform designs to provide the nation the most modern, capable naval force through emphasis on warfighting readiness, innovation and efficiency.”

Of course, most equipment can’t operate itself, at least not yet. Enter what Girrier described as the Navy’s greatest strength.

“Our sailors and their families are the most valuable assets we have. That’s clear,” he said. “Without our families supporting us, we wouldn’t be able to keep our focus on being ready to ‘fight tonight,’ as we say.”

It’s the job of Navy leaders to take care of these assets, he said, adding it’s also a fleet priority. As the rebalance proceeds, though, personnel shouldn’t feel much of an effect.

“Our sailors stationed in this region recognize the tremendous opportunity that exists to work hand-in-hand with allies and partners of the world,” Girrier said. “We’re going to continue to do everything we can to assure we offer the resources our sailors and families need to smoothly transition when they receive orders.

The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force guided-missile destroyer JS Kirishima and guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Erie observe morning colors at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, during RIMPAC 2014.The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force guided-missile destroyer JS Kirishima and guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Erie observe morning colors at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, during RIMPAC 2014.

“The flip side of that coin is that, in some cases … it’s also about our personnel staying in theater and building on their regional expertise.”

While the Navy has a large role in leading America’s rebalance in the Indo-Asia-
Pacific, all of the services are making adjustments. The Army has already embarked on Pacific Pathways, a program designed to increase its readiness by participating in a series of exercises across the region.

The way Girrier sees it, there’s plenty of work to do in the Indo-Asia-Pacific and the Army’s Pacific Pathways will create even more Army-Navy synergy and serve as “an additive to the Marines’ ongoing rebalance efforts in the Pacific, as well.”

 “We view this as a very positive element in the [area of responsibility],” he said. “Working with the Army in this way allows us to practice working together so the joint team is able to respond faster and more efficiently when we’re called.

 “This makes our joint force stronger, absolutely.”

While a joint, coordinated effort is the name of the game, the Navy is helping build the foundation of trust on which current partnerships in the Indo-Asia-Pacific are being built or broadened.

“In the end, to put a simple cap on it, these relationships … build trust,” Girrier said. “And trust is a key enabler—especially in times of crisis.” 

Samantha L. Quigley is the editor in chief of ON★PATROL.