The United States will shift a majority of its warships to the Asia-Pacific region by 2020, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said yesterday, giving the first details of a new U.S. military strategy.
Fleshing out details of a strategic pivot to Asia announced in January, Panetta said the United States would reposition its Navy fleet so 60 percent of its battleships would be assigned there, up from about 50 percent now, while maintaining six aircraft carriers in the region.
The U.S. defense secretary, speaking at an annual security forum in Singapore, also sought to dispel the notion that the shift, after more than a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, was designed to contain China's emergence as a global power.
"We are not naive about this relationship, and neither is China. We both understand the differences we have. We both understand the conflicts we have,'' Panetta told the Shangri-La Dialogue attended by senior civilian and military leaders from about 30 Asia-Pacific nations. "But we also both understand that there really is no other alternative for both of us but to engage and to improve our communications and to improve our military-to-military relationships."
Panetta was at the start of a seven-day visit to the region to explain to allies and partners the practical meaning of the U.S. military strategy unveiled in January that calls for rebalancing forces to focus on the Pacific.
Panetta said he might be visiting China later in the summer, and that he was hoping for visits by some of the U.S. military commanders to China to help improve the communication in regard to what the United States is doing in the Pacific.
Under Panetta's plans, the Navy would maintain six aircraft carriers assigned to the Pacific. Six of its 11 carriers are now assigned to the Pacific but that will fall to five when the USS Enterprise retires this year. The number will return to six when the USS Gerald R Ford is completed in 2015.
The U.S. Navy had a fleet of 282 ships, including support vessels, as of March, but has a goal of a 300-ship fleet, according to a 30-year Navy shipbuilding projection released in March.
Panetta also urged restraint in the South China Sea disputes, saying that the United States is against provocation and that the disputes should be resolved through diplomatic efforts.
The Shangri-La Dialogue, or the 11th Asia Security Summit, is organized by London-based think tank the International Institute for Strategic Studies.