Pearl Harbor seen as possible site for new ships
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
HONOLULU — A new study on U.S. military forces in the Pacific recommends placing another three-ship amphibious ready group in the region — possibly in Hawaii — in addition to the 2,700 extra Marines already moving here.
The report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, commissioned by the Pentagon, also calls for more submarines in Guam and additional ballistic missile defenses there and in Japan and possibly South Korea.
The study released last week includes recommendations as well as alternatives that would increase U.S. capabilities in the region. Among the latter is the suggestion to add at Pearl Harbor an amphibious ready group — consisting of a carrierlike amphibious assault ship, a transport dock ship and a dock landing ship that together can transport 2,200 Marines, helicopters and Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft to trouble spots.
"There is currently insufficient (amphibious ready group) coverage for Marines in the Pacific, particularly when compared with assets available for (the Middle East), and this gap in the ‘rebalancing' of forces is striking," the center's report said.
Also suggested as ways to increase U.S. sea power are the doubling of attack submarines in Guam to six and basing an aircraft carrier group in Perth, Australia.
Asia and the Pacific are becoming the new center of gravity for the U.S. military with the Iraq war over and Afghanistan winding down.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said that by 2020 the Navy will reposition its forces from today's 50-50 split in the Pacific and Atlantic to a 60-40 split favoring the Pacific.
Three U.S. senators — Carl Levin, D-Mich.; John McCain, R-Ariz.; and Jim Webb, D-Va. — pushed for the independent strategic review the center conducted as the expected cost of relocating nearly 9,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam, along with other Okinawa relocations, ballooned to an estimated $29.1 billion.
The Guam plan has since been revised, and the Marine Corps realignment now envisions an $8.6 billion effort, removing about 9,000 Marines from Okinawa and redistributing them among Guam, Hawaii and Australia, according to the report.
The report says 2,700 Marines will be shifted to an undetermined location in Hawaii, 2,500 Marines will be sent to Australia and of 4,700 Marines now expected to be in Guam, 1,500 would be permanently stationed there and 3,200 would be on temporary rotations.
Kaneohe Bay Marines recently resumed so-called Unit Deployment Program tours to Okinawa, and some have been sent to Australia. The Guam plan raises the possibility that Hawaii Marines could deploy there temporarily as well.
The Pentagon was not able to provide comment Monday by the Star-Advertiser's deadline.
Also still unclear is where the additional 2,700 Marines would be housed. Pearl City Peninsula and the old Barbers Point Naval Air Station are being considered.
"These troop movements are being made with the greatest concern for our current and future defense posture while understanding the unique needs of Hawaii's community," U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye said in a statement. "The appropriate steps are being taken to provide adequate housing for the Marines and their families. Final decisions about logistics and location are still being discussed by the military and the Department of Defense. It would be inappropriate for me to comment until all the details are worked out, but I am confident the community will welcome these Marines and their families with aloha."
The center said it found a "strong consensus" within the Defense Department to re-balance forces toward Asia and the Pacific, but it also found "no durable operational framework guiding the specific efforts toward that goal."
The Pentagon has not "adequately articulated the strategy behind its force planning, nor aligned the strategy with resources in a way that reflects current budget realities," the study said.
Current U.S. force posture is heavily tilted toward Northeast Asia, including South Korea and Japan, where it "focuses properly" on deterring threats of conflict on the Korean Peninsula, off Japan and in the Taiwan Strait.
"However, as evidenced by recent Chinese activities in the South China Sea and throughout the Pacific islands, the stakes are growing fastest in South and Southeast Asia," the report said.
To be successful, a U.S. strategic re-balancing needs to do more in those areas, the report said.
Some of the Marines in Okinawa would evolve into four Marine Air Ground Task Forces to be located in Okinawa, Hawaii, Guam and Australia, according to the study.
The center advises moving an amphibious ready group to the region from the Atlantic to bolster such a group already in Japan and working in support of the III Marine Expeditionary Force. But its recommendation is only to move the ship grouping to the "Pacific theater."
In a list of "increased posture" possibilities, the center specifically suggests adding the group to Pearl Harbor. Costs associated with an expansion of U.S. force posture make some of the suggested additions unlikely, but deploying a second amphibious ready group to the region is less costly and deserves merit, the report said.