YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — The Navy will send new stealth destroyers, littoral combat ships and an amphibious ready group to the Pacific, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said Monday, reiterating the U.S. commitment to its military “pivot” to the region.
“The rebalance to the Pacific is real,” Mabus told sailors gathered at Yokosuka’s Fleet Theater for an all-hands call.
President Barack Obama announced plans for the Pacific pivot as the interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan were winding down. But conflicts in Syria, Ukraine and Gaza have since heated up, raising questions about the best use of forces amid dwindling military budgets. Obama reassured Pacific allies of his support during a recent visit against a backdrop of Chinese expansionism and North Korean threats.
“We are sending our newest and most modern platforms to the Pacific,” Mabus said. “What the Navy and Marine Corps give is presence … to reassure allies, deter potential adversaries and be ready for whatever comes over the horizon.”
The first of three new stealth destroyers — the $3.3 billion USS Zumwalt — is under construction, and two more ships in its class will follow. Mabus told the sailors, “We don’t know exactly where we are going to put them,” he said, but added, “at least some of these will come to the Pacific.”
Mabus arrived in Japan fresh from a visit last Thursday to the USS Independence, the second littoral combat ship to be commissioned, while it participated in exercises off Hawaii.
The ships, designed to operate in shallow waters, can be configured for a range of missions such as mine clearing, anti-submarine warfare and surface combat.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in February that the Navy would not contract for any more than 32 littoral combat ships, 20 less than the Navy planned for. The LCS has come under criticism in recent years for its lighter armament and lower survivability standard than some of the larger ships currently in the fleet.
However, Mabus told the sailors: “The LCS is going to be one of the most crucial ships we have.”
Four of the ships will deploy to Singapore, he said, noting that the ships can travel “way faster than 40 knots” and access more places in the Pacific than other vessels.
The $800 million cost for each of the first experimental versions of the LCS has dropped drastically to about $350 million each, he said.
“We can afford these, and we can buy a lot of them,” he said.
The next LCS to deploy to Singapore will be the USS Fort Worth, which is the same type of vessel as the Freedom. It’s expected to deploy later this year for 16 months after it completes operational tests, The Associated Press reported.
Mabus said also that the Navy will send an additional amphibious ready group to the Pacific.
There is already one such group in Japan comprised of thousands of sailors and Marines based on Okinawa and at Sasebo.
The Navy also plans to add 1,000 more sailors to its ranks of cyberwarriors in the next few years, he said.
“It is the warfare of the future,” Mabus said, noting that Russia has conducted cyberattacks in Georgia, Crimea and Ukraine.