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U.S. Asia-Pacific Presence ‘Healthy, Robust, Valuable,’ Dunford Says

By Jim Garamone
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
SYDNEY, June 4, 2017 — The U.S. military presence in the Asia-Pacific region is "healthy, robust and valuable," the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today after attending the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.

Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford told reporters traveling here with him for a U.S.-Australian ministerial conference that Asian nations' fears of a U.S. retreat from the region are unfounded.

Today, 60 percent of all U.S. Navy ships, 55 percent of U.S. Army forces and about two-thirds of Fleet Marine Forces are assigned to the U.S. Pacific Command area of operations. Soon, 60 percent of U.S. tactical aviation assets will be based in the Asia-Pacific region.

What’s more, the United States is sending its newest and most capable platforms to the region. F-22 Raptors – a fifth generation aircraft – are based in Alaska and Hawaii and have deployed to Japan. F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighters are due to deploy to the area. The E-8 Poseidon aircraft is based in Singapore. Littoral combat ships operate in Pacific waters, and the list goes on.

Exercise Program

The exercise program in the region is robust as well. Pacom's most recent Rim of the Pacific exercise had forces from 24 nations participating. A total of 29 nations participated in the most recent Cobra Gold exercises.

The United States has vigorous bilateral training routines with South Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and more. The program with India is growing.

The perception of some Asia-Pacific officials that the United States is retreating from the region is simply not borne out by facts, Dunford said.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis made these same points during his talk at the Shangri-La Dialogue titled "The United States and Asia-Pacific Security," Asian defense leaders were reassured by the secretary's presentation, Defense Department officials said, noting that Mattis reiterated the U.S. strategy in the many bilateral talks he had with partners and allies on the sidelines of the conference.

North Korea

One aspect that is not reassuring is North Korea's push for nuclear weapons and the means to launch them. President Donald J. Trump has said the time for strategic patience with North Korea is past.

"[The North Koreans] have been on this path for some time, and we are at the point now where sooner than later they will have the capability to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile, and we're concerned with them matching that with a nuclear weapon," Dunford said.

North Korea signed a framework agreement in 1994 to halt all work on a nuclear program and obviously has reneged. The U.S. policy remains denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula. Dunford said that across Asia and the globe, there is a shared understanding and a shared sense of urgency about the North Korean program.

 "North Korea's provocative behavior has caught China's attention as well," Dunford said. "If you look at some of the timing of [Kim's] activities, it's been insulting to the Chinese."

The United States deployed a terminal high-altitude area defense battery to protect South Korea and conducted a successful test of a ground-based midcourse defense system May 30.

More moves in regard to North Korea are possible in the future. "This is a dynamic situation, so our posture has to reflect changes in the facts on the ground," Dunford said. "As time goes on, I am sure [Navy Adm. Harry Harris Jr., the Pacom commander] will make recommendations for changes, and we will bring those to the secretary and make sure we have the right posture in respect to the conditions."