Pivot means smaller presence outside Pacific

Navy, Marince Corps and Coast Guard leaders try to balance the needs of other AORs as the U.S. military begins its Pacific pivot as part of the new defense strategy.

The “Pacific pivot” of U.S. forces to the region encompasses much more than the Pacific and will require close coordination and partnering with allies by the budget-stretched U.S. military, Navy and Marine Corp officials said Tuesday.

“It’s more than just the Pacific,” said Navy Rear Adm. Mike Smith. “We can’t lose sight of the Indian Ocean” and its vital sea lanes, Smith said at the Sea-Air-Space exhibition sponsored by the Navy League at National Harbor, Md.

“We want to work with the Indian Navy” to bolster security over vast stretches of sea, Smith said at the Sea Air Space Expo at National Harbor, Md. The Navy must look at “how best we can leverage that relationship” with India, he said.

“No longer can we continue to go it alone,” Smith said.

A major challenge for the services with the Pacific pivot is dealing with “the tyranny of distance,” said Marine Brig. Gen. Michael Rocco, the assistant deputy commandant for Plans, Policies and Operations. “The problem is huge,” he said.

The U.S. has no choice, given the vastness of the region, but “to work with any and all allies and partners,” said Rocco, who joined Smith at a forum Tuesday on “Engaging In Asia.”

“We’re long past the time when we could just plant the flag and say we’re here,” Rocco said. “In our absence, others will come in,” Rocco said without ever mentioning China’s spreading influence in the region.

Rocco and Smith said the entire strategy for rebalancing towards Asia was dependent on joint exercises with regional militaries to ensure a capability to cover more territory, but they warned that those exercises were threatened by the budget constraints imposed by Congress.

“That’s the 800-pound gorilla in the room,” Smith said. To enable the Marine Corps to meet its new commitments in the Pacific, “we are making sacrifices in other areas,” Rocco said.

Rocco and Smith also said they wanted to make more use of the unique capabilities of the Coast Guard to aid in the shift to the Pacific. In the past, when tensions rose in the region and China cut off military-to-military ties with the U.S., “they have been able to continue their relationship” with China, Smith said of the Coast Guard.

But Coast Guard Vice Adm. William Lee said the Coast Guard will be limited in its contributions to the Pacific pivot by budget constraints.

“We really don’t have the capability or capacity to forward deploy,” said Lee, the Coast Guard’s deputy for Operations Policy and Capabilities.

The rebalance to the Pacific for the Coast Guard is “almost impossible,” Lee said. “We also have another ocean opening up in the Arctic,” where the thaw of the polar ice cap was opening up sea channels, Lee said.

When it comes to Coast Guard assets, “there’s far more demand than there is supply to meet the demand,” Lee said.

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Richard Sisk
Richard Sisk is a reporter for Military.com. He can be reached at richard.sisk@military.com.