Carter: Slowdown unlikely for Navy’s Japan-based fleet
By ERIK SLAVIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 6, 2016
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — The Navy’s operational tempo in the Asia-Pacific region isn’t likely to relax anytime soon as the threat from North Korea continues, Defense Secretary Ash Carter told sailors in Japan on Tuesday.
The 7th Fleet ships at Yokosuka, home of the largest Navy base overseas, include several ballistic missile defense-capable destroyers and cruisers that represent a major defense component against a potential North Korean attack.
“We’re very busy these days, and you guys know that out here in the Asia-Pacific — your ops tempo is extremely high,” Carter told the crew of the destroyer USS John S. McCain. “North Korea, for example, [there is a] serious need for deterrence and defense that only we can provide.”
North Korea has continued developing its nuclear program and testing ballistic missiles despite international sanctions and condemnation.
Carter’s trip to Japan, which is likely his last as defense secretary, is largely viewed as a visit to reassure a key ally in the weeks prior to President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration.
Carter was scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Japanese officials have expressed concerns about what Trump’s foreign policy will look like when he assumes power.
During his campaign, Trump stated that Japan was not paying for the basing of about 50,000 U.S. troops in the country, then later said it was not paying enough.
Japan pays an average of 189.3 billion yen ($1.66 billion) per year — which has fluctuated depending on the exchange rate — to support U.S. bases in the country as part of a five-year deal signed in 2015.
Japan also spent 176 billion yen ($1.55 billion) in 2016 toward realignment of U.S. forces in the region, which includes transferring Marines to Guam in the 2020s.
However, Abe, who was the first foreign head of state to meet Trump following his election victory, expressed confidence in future relations with the new administration while speaking to reporters last month.
On Tuesday morning, Carter stressed the importance of the bilateral alliance while touring the Japanese helicopter destroyer JS Izumo.
Izumo’s construction drew some criticism following its commissioning last year for its resemblance to an aircraft carrier, though it isn’t set up for such flight operations.
Izumo and its embarked helicopters were used for humanitarian operations following the Kumamoto earthquake earlier this year.
“This ship right here represents the newest technology, and it’s very important that Japan not only has very strong military forces as it does, but that it is continuing to change and adapt the ways that it uses the Japan Self-Defense Forces,” Carter said.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter talks with Japan State Minister of Defense Kenji Wakamiya, right, while touring the helicopter destroyer JS Izumo, Monday, Dec. 6, 2016. Afterward, Carter spoke with USS John S. McCain sailors, then headed to Tokyo for a meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
ERIK SLAVIN/STARS AND STRIPES