Navy, Marines Offer Options for Syria, North Korea

Sea service leaders work to pivot their forces to the Pacific as they balance sequestration cuts and and offer military options on Syria and North Korea.

The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps continue to develop military options for the White House in light of  increased tensions in Syria and North Korea all while progressing with the strategic pivot to the Pacific, senior service leaders told lawmakers May 8 during House Appropriations Defense subcommittee hearing.

Chief Naval Officer Adm. Johnathan W. Greenert told the subcommittee that the service has one carrier strike group in the Western Pacific and another one in the Arabian Gulf region. He said the Navy would be very capable of rapid response should they be called upon for a potential mission related to the situation in Syria, Iran or North Korea.

Rep. Tom Cole (R)- Okla., asked service leaders if they would be able to respond to requests for military action should they be called upon when considering the forthcoming budget cuts associated with sequestration.

“We are in an unusual and difficult situation. I think for all of us right now we have an unfolding crisis in Syria where the President may or may not have to do something. We’ve got nuclear capability efforts in Iran and we’ve had a lot of saber-rattling in North Korea,” Cole told Navy and Marine Corps leaders.

“I am absolutely comfortable that we would have the assets that we would need. It is the Navy and Marine Corps’ job to give the president options. You mentioned Libya, we sent a big-deck amphib there which provided the air cover. We also had a submarine firing Tomahawk missiles and we had a destroyer firing Tomahawk missiles,” Greenert told lawmakers. “We have very flexible, multi-mission platforms that can do a lot of different things depending upon the mission, so I am comfortable.”

However, Greenert said that the Navy normally has three carrier strike groups and three amphibious ready groups fully mission-capable on a moment’s notice. Only one of each is currently available because of potential cuts from sequestration.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus underscored Naval readiness. He said the Navy’s ability to forward-deploy assets near Japan proved worthwhile when tensions recently escalated with North Korea.

“We need to be where it matters when it matters. As we proceed through this decade we will be out and about in more places. If it was not for a forward-deployed naval force, we could not be on station in a couple of days providing the missile shield that was necessary during the heightened tensions. Ships matter, ships forward matter most,” Mabus told lawmakers.

Greenert told the committee he would like the Navy to be “in those critical crossroads that resonate with the needs of the combatant commanders of the future.”

He went on to explain that the service had set potential Pacific-region threats as a benchmark against which to train and prepare for future contingencies and scenarios.

“We sat down and benchmarked the challenges in the Western Pacific toward ASW [Asymmetric Warfare], toward electronic warfare, strike and cyber and said that is the theater we benchmark against and we have invested in capabilities to that benchmark. We also have migrated home ports toward the Western Pacific so that by the end of this decade we will have 60-percent of our ships in the west,” Greenert told the subcommittee.

Greenert also explained that the Navy was stepping up the complexity of exercises with allies in the region such as India, Japan and South Korea, among others.

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James F. Amos outlined recent recent unit transitions to alter his service’s force structure to adapt to the Pacific pivot.

“We are all in with regard to the rebalance to the Pacific. We just put our third infantry battalion in the Pacific whereas we had one in there a year and a half ago. We just put a force back on the ground in Australia. We’re training in Guam, we’re training in the Philippines, so we’re committed to the re-orientation to the Pacific to support the President’s strategy,” Amos told lawmakers.

About the Author

Kris Osborn
Kris Osborn is the managing editor of Scout Warrior.