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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Asia-Pacific U.S. Military Overview

Washington, DC
February 17, 2011

Date: 02/17/2011 Location: Washington, DC Description: Admiral Robert Willard, Commander, U.S. Pacific Command, briefs at the Washington Foreign Press Center on ''Asia-Pacific U.S. Military Overview.'' - State Dept Image

2:30 P.M. EST


ADM WILLARD: Thank you, everyone, for being here, and I’m very pleased to be back in the Foreign Press Center. Just shortly after I took command, I think, was the first opportunity that I’d had to be here, and I’ve now been in command for about 16 months at U.S. Pacific Command and have extensively traveled the Asia Pacific during that time, have worked many of the Asia Pacific issues here in Washington as well. And I would tell you that after 16 months, the major challenges within the Asia Pacific region remain the same. Certainly, the focus of U.S. Pacific Command to provide for the security of the region and to protect the commons of the region remains the same.

We have continued to attempt to foster our relationships in the region, and I’m optimistic about the future of the Asia Pacific. It not only remains the center of gravity for global prosperity at the moment, but I think will continue to do so into the foreseeable future. And I look forward to U.S. Pacific Command continuing to contribute the security of this critically important region of the world.

I very much look forward to your questions, and I’m sure we’ll cover the region during that time. Thank you.

MODERATOR: As we move to the Q&A portion of this event, please wait for the microphone, which could be coming from either your left or right. State your name and publication, and please limit yourself to one quick question because we are pressed on time. Come right down here.

QUESTION: [Shin Shoji, NHK TV Japan] Thank you very much. The National Military Strategy that was released last week talked about how the U.S. wants to help Japanese Self Defense Forces work beyond the area of operation. Would that mean cooperating with the U.S. Marines between ground Self-Defense Forces in Afghanistan and so forth?

ADM WILLARD: The relationship between the United States military and U.S. Pacific Command and the Japan Self-Defense Forces is very strong. As we’re all aware, Japan is certainly a cornerstone alliance for the United States in northeast Asia. We have a longstanding, very close relationship with Japanese Self-Defense Forces across all the Services. They are a very, very accomplished force very similar to our own, frankly, in capability. We have discussed and continued to encourage the Japanese Self-Defense Forces to provide for the larger Asia-Pacific region as they can. Certainly, a government decision to do so, but the Japanese Self-Defense Forces themselves have arranged into many places in the region, as you well know. They have supported us in the past in Operation Enduring Freedom in the Indian Ocean Region. They continue to engage with many partners in the Asia Pacific. So I think you see in the national military strategy the encouragement to continue that relationship and that evolution to the extent the United States can help with it.

MODERATOR: Okay, come down here.

QUESTION: Admiral, thank you. Guohua Zang with CTI TV of Taiwan. President Ma Ying-jeou of Taiwan today in an interview with the Washington Post has again called on the United States to sell F-16 C/Ds to Taiwan because he wants to proceed from a position of strength as he negotiates in talks with the mainland China. Admiral, what is the military balance or imbalance situation across the Taiwan Strait? Would you recommend to the Secretary and the President that F-16 C/Ds be sold to Taiwan? Thank you very much, sir.

ADM WILLARD: Yeah, thank you. It’s a question that recurs. In fact, I recall taking this question the last time that I was with you here. And it’s – I mean, the idea that Taiwan views into its own defense capabilities with an eye toward recapitalization is nothing new, and they will continue to do so. U.S. Pacific Command’s role in this is to oversee what we view to the be the defensive needs of Taiwan and to provide that information back to the Pentagon ultimately to reside within our interagency and the Administration for decision.

So we have a small part to play in that oversight. I think there will come a time when the Taiwan forces, be they air forces or any others, will have to be recapitalized, and I think that’s the view that was being projected by President Ma in that particular discussion. So once again, we’ll continue to play our part in overview of Taiwan’s defense needs and the recommendation that I’m required to provide back to the Pentagon for consideration.

MODERATOR: Come to the center here.

QUESTION: Thank you. Satoshi Ogawa with Yomiuri Shimbun. My question is about Chinese ballistic missile capability. The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission 2010 report raises the concern that U.S. bases in Japan would be attacked by Chinese ballistic missile. So do you share the same concerns? And if so, how are you accommodating the U.S. posture or operation to that?

ADM WILLARD: Yeah, not to speculate on the risks to Japanese bases but to comment broadly on the proliferation of ballistic missile capability within China, certainly they have a formidable ballistic missile capability that has continued to grow for the past couple of decades, and we watch over this very carefully. The idea that in combination with other dimensions of PLA capabilities that this would – could constitute a broader anti-access or area denial threat to the region, be that Japan or the Philippines or their neighbors, Vietnam, or the Republic of Korea, can become a regional concern. So I think it’s very important that China be open with and prepared to dialogue with the United States and other countries in the region with regard to these developments and what the intention behind them truly is.

MODERATOR: Down there in the second row.

QUESTION: Thank you for this opportunity. My name is Yushin Sugita. I’m from Kyoto News. My question – if I’m not wrong, the Pentagon is – has concluded the Global Posture Review all around the world. So could you give us a sense on the Asia Pacific area of that? And the troop levels have been kept since mid-’90s, 100,000, I believe. Would there be a change on that? Thank you.

ADM WILLARD: Yeah, thank you. Again, a relevant question now because the Global Posture Review has been ongoing since the conclusion of the Quadrennial Defense Review at the direction of Secretary Gates. This has been an important review that deals not only with the Asia-Pacific and U.S. Pacific Command, but with all the commands to view into the posture of our forces globally. As a global armed force, this is – this includes both the forward-based forces as well as the forces that deploy from the mainland. And so when we talk about Asia-Pacific posture, the posture of U.S. Pacific Command forces, it’s a holistic discussion, more than just the forward basing in Japan and the Republic of Korea. But rather it involves a discussion of my deployed forces as well.

When we assess the Asia Pacific posture, we – by virtue of history and necessity – have been biased in Northeast Asia when you consider the forces in the Republic of Korea that have been deterring North Korea and maintaining the armistice now for many, many years, our longstanding alliance with Japan, and the purpose of our forces in Northeast Asia, it’s understandable. At the same time, I am obligated to be present in the Southeast Asia region, in South Asia, and in Oceania, and I have to do so through the deployment and sustainment of forces, at great expense.

So my recommendations back to Secretary Gates have dealt with our ability to increase the accessibility in regions like Southeast Asia, South Asia, and Oceania to afford a more flexible rotational presence in those regions that relaxes somewhat this demand on deployment and sustainment of forces to maintain that presence. That said, we maintain a presence in all of those sub-regions all of the time. So the idea of a contribution to the posture review and the considerations that Secretary Gates will take has more to do with how to, perhaps, adjust the disposition of where those forces operate from to relieve some of the economic and other pressures on U.S. Pacific Command.

MODERATOR: We’re going to break away and take a question from New York. Please go ahead, New York.

QUESTION: Yes, my name is Renzo Cianfanelli of the Italian media group, Corriere della Sera. To follow up on the point that has been made already, I understand that the PLA has achieved limited operational capability in ASBM, antiballistic missile. Does this development, in connection also with the development of a stealth fighter plane by the Chinese army, involve a complete rethinking of the U.S. strategy in the Pacific?

ADM WILLARD: The short answer is no. I mean, it’s a fair question, but you’re really talking about two individual capabilities that have been developed amidst many. And when we think about the holistic development of the Chinese military in this case, it’s important to understand the contributions that submarines, that the PLA air force – advancements that the PLA navy, service navy advancements, and the ballistic missile advancements together provide in terms of overall capability.

This, again, leads us to the discussions that we think are so important to continue with the People’s Republic of China with regard to our military-to-military relationship and the respective capabilities that we have and how they’re intended to be used for the greater security of the Asia Pacific region. And this is an area that we will continue to share, and it’s, I think, very important that we all learn to contribute to that security together, and that’s our aim.

MODERATOR: Okay, gentleman in the back.

QUESTION: Thank you, Admiral. I am Seung Koh of Yonhap News Agency, South Korea news agency. I’d like to ask about a report that North Korea seems to have completed construction of new missile launching facilities. So what is your assessment of that?

And would you tell me what the military posture of U.S. Pacific Command against the possible provocations from North Korea as we have seen last year? Thank you.

ADM WILLARD: Yeah, thanks. I’ll avoid going into specific details of what we observed in terms of sites and capabilities in North Korea, but I would offer a couple things. 2010 was a very difficult year with regard to provocations. On the conventional side, there were two provocations in the sinking of the ship Cheonan and the attack on Yeonpyeong Island that cost South Korean soldiers and civilians their lives. And that has caused us to view very intently at North Korea with regard to a next provocation. And I think it has certainly got the attention of President Lee and the Republic of Korea Government and the people of Korea with regard to testing their tolerance to put up with another provocation from the North. So there is a great deal that we’re doing, both within the ROK-U.S. alliance and internationally to try to prevent occurrences like we experienced last December and earlier in 2010.

Currently, there’s a large-scale annual exercise going on that’s part of our routine exercise series between the United States and the Republic of Korea to demonstrate our defensive capabilities to protect the Republic of Korea. And I think on top of that, it’s important that we make an assessment of our ability to deter a next provocation, to shore up any vulnerabilities that we see throughout the Republic of Korea to try and prevent a next provocation. And then we conduct the necessary planning with our ally to determine how a next provocation, if we can’t prevent it, should be dealt with.

MODERATOR: Okay, come right down here.

QUESTION: My name is Jenny Ilustre from Malaya, Philippine English news daily. Admiral, thank you for bringing the warm weather from Hawaii. (Laughter.)

ADM WILLARD: I’ve enjoyed it. Actually, it was drizzling in Hawaii when I left.

QUESTION: Anyway, my question is about the Philippines, how important it is to the U.S. regarding maintaining stability in the region, for example, maritime security, in view of the recent announcement by Assistant – Department of State Assistant Kurt Campbell to renew reengagement with the Philippines.

ADM WILLARD: Yeah, thank you. I was actually in a meeting with Secretary Campbell yesterday, and we spoke of this together. To answer the – your question, there is a very longstanding relationship, as you and I both know, between the United States and the Republic of the Philippines. The Philippines is an area that where military-to-military engagement was profound as I was growing up early in my career. So for the past 37 years, I have operated in and out of the Philippines and enjoyed the relationship very much.

The Philippines are located in an incredibly strategic location, adjacent to both the Philippine Sea and the South China Sea. And as I discussed with President Aquino the last time that I was in the Philippines, he regards the ability of the Philippine armed forces to be able to secure Philippine interests across that vast archipelago as very, very important and needing much in the way of effort. And so we look forward to continuing to work with the armed forces of the Philippines, continuing to work with the Government of the Philippines, to enhance the shape of the Philippine armed forces to deal with all their challenges. Their ground forces are obviously pretty well founded to deal with some of the internal challenges in the south. But as you suggest, the maritime security challenges and other challenges, especially in the area of the South China Sea, require a continued effort. And I look forward to working very closely with them to achieve that.

MODERATOR: Down here.

QUESTION: My name is Ichiro Kabasawa with NHK TV. Currently, U.S. Marine Corps and Japanese Self Defense Forces are having joint training on Camp Pendleton. And last week, they used a new Afghanistan-simulated facility there to conduct scenario-based training. Is this something U.S. wants or encourages Japan to do, I mean, operations in Afghanistan?

ADM WILLARD: First of all, I’m not – I know the facility that you’re referring to because I’ve gone through it myself, and it’s clever. It’s very, very high-end training at the squad level, so it’s very much a tactical level facility that’s located at Camp Pendleton.

The United States services ground forces – our Marines and our Army, the United States Navy, our United States special operations forces, and the United States Air Forces – work very closely at the operational level of command down to the very tactical level with our Japanese defense force friends. And I think the type of training that is being experienced in Camp Pendleton, which is very typical for our Marines, will be very useful for the Japanese ground forces that are experiencing them. Again, the facility that you refer to is a very high-tech, very intriguing facility, a different form of training that, if for no other reason than just to see the – what we’re capable of in the 21st century in terms of training soldiers at the squad level makes that particular experience invaluable.

So I would offer that it likely had much less to do with Afghanistan, much more to do with an exposure to a capability and a training facility that is unique in the world.

MODERATOR: Okay. We’ll break away to New York again. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Matthew Hall from SBS TV, Australia. Admiral, could you give us your perspective on the role of Australia in the region historically and for the future, and also how you see intended and actual outcomes of things like Talisman Saber?

ADM WILLARD: All right. Well, I’ll answer the last one first. Talisman Saber is an annual combined arms exercise between the United States Armed Forces U.S. Pacific Command and the Australian forces, generally held in the northern reaches of Australia in training facilities and training ranges that they have up there. Usually includes all of our forces, so Carrier Strike Group, amphibious forces to include our Marines, United States Air Force, and so on. And we usually combine it.

So when I commanded Talisman Saber years ago, my deputy commander was an Australian admiral. So we are very accustomed to performing this with an armed force between the United States and Australia that have worked together for many, many decades and are very similar in capability, very much interoperable. So this is a terrific training exercise that we experience and we actually use it to certify some of our three-star sub-commanders in Pacific Command in their combined, or their joint task force tasks.

The role of Australia is many-fold. Australia has a very small armed force by comparison to the United States, and yet they have international impact. They have served in every conflict with the United States since World War II – World War I, excuse me – and we continue to support one another in many, many ways. So I regard the Australian armed force as being essential to the region and stabilizing within the region. It also, because of its position in the sub-region Oceania, has an obvious view up into the Indonesian Archipelago and out, into the broader regions of the South Pacific Oceania, such that it maintains many partnerships in that region and contributes to the overall security of both the island nations as well as working very closely with Indonesia. So Australia plays a huge role throughout the U.S. Pacific Command AOR [Area of Responsibility], and are a great ally and partner.

MODERATOR: Okay. (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: My name is Yoso Furumoto, the Japanese Mainichi newspaper. My question is on the joint air-sea battle concept. When you have the new concept completed, I’m wondering how that concept could influence or change the operational relationships with alliances in the region, especially when you think about the undying* capability of Chinese military. I’m wondering how it could change their operational character of the U.S.-Japan alliance. Thank you.

ADM WILLARD: Yeah, thank you. Well, first of all, I would offer that air-sea battle is not focused on the Chinese military developments that have occurred. Rather, this is an evolutionary change that has occurred at the direction of Secretary Gates for our U.S. military. It’s kind of a throwback to a ground-air battle construct that was examined by the United States military a couple of decades ago, and this one is intended to look at our Navy capabilities and our Air Force capabilities and attempt to maximize the performance of those two services in conducting operations together.

I receive in-progress reviews on the air-sea battle construct and how it’s progressing, and I’m very encouraged by some of the decisions that are being made now and some of the capabilities that it’s likely to generate. So to answer your question, I think when the air-sea battle becomes inculcated in our military, especially between our Navy and our Air Force, that our ability to engage with allies and partners and to help them see into that synergy and the capabilities that Joint Forces can achieve together will only help their own joint efforts. So I see it as being beneficial in all of our alliances and partnerships, in our mil-to-mil engagements and training in the future.

QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Kyoo Sik Choi from KBS, Korean Broadcasting System, South Korea. I would like to raise two questions. One is related with the Key Resolve United States and South Korean joint military drills, which is scheduled this month. You describe this exercise as an annual exercise, but – even though this year, the operation plan is that – has significant changes* you put on the situations in North Korean emergencies to Asians. And why this military exercise? What kind of emergency situations you put on, and why did you plan these kind of operation plan in this year’s? Do you have any background? Please elaborate it.

And other one is possibility of North Korean provocations. How do you expect the North Korean next – of provocations related with the missile test and the third nuclear test?

ADM WILLARD: All right, thanks. I’ll come back to Key Resolve in just a moment, but to answer, again, your last question first, on next provocation, we can only anticipate what that might be. Provocations in the past by the North Korean regime have ranged from assassination attempts against the Blue House to downing of Korean airliners to conventional attacks into South Korea, such as occurred last year with Cheonan and the Yeonpyeong Island attack.

It’s obviously very difficult to predict what the next one can be, so what we will do is we’ll plan for it, attempt to shore up any vulnerabilities that we see, and deter and certainly message Pyongyang that a next provocation will have serious consequences. There is a broader international effort that has to be undertaken to attempt to deal with the nuclearization of North Korea. So as you suggest, missile firings and weapon tests are part of that nuclear provocation series that the international community and our national governments must deal with and are dealing with now.

With regard to Key Resolve, this is an annual exercise. In fact, I myself, in my earlier assignments, have participated in Key Resolve many times. And broadly, this is a defensive exercise that we conduct with the Republic of Korea. It’s what’s termed a field training exercise. So this is one – the one time a year that, on a very broad level, usually a carrier strike group and other elements of the U.S. Armed Forces, in addition to the 30,000 soldiers that are in South Korea, have an opportunity to conduct unit-level training with their ROK counterparts.

So this is very important for us to continue to grow and hone our skills in combined arms. But again, it’s designed as a deterrent and a defensive measure to maintain the readiness of the ROK and U.S. forces that make up the ROK-U.S. alliance in the defense of South Korea.

QUESTION: How about (inaudible)?

ADM WILLARD: Well, there are – there is certainly a view of North Korea and the prospects of what could occur in North Korea that will be dealt with over time, and as we observe succession and the issues in North Korea with regard to the stability factors, I think all of these are important to view into, to discuss with our ROK counterparts, and to plan for eventualities. But Key Resolve is a field training exercise with a schedule of events and unit-level training that is invaluable to shore up the ROK-U.S. alliance, and we’ll conduct it next year as well.

MODERATOR: Okay, time for one final question. Go right down here.

QUESTION: Thank you. I’m Betty Lin of the World Journal [Taiwan]. Admiral, you said that you got a birthday card from your Russian counterpart, and I’d like you to describe your relationship with your Chinese counterpart, and are you invited back to China? And also, are you inviting them back to Hawaii? And like, on their new ASBMs, where do you think they would deploy?

ADM WILLARD: Okay, a lot of questions there. First, I received a New Year’s card from my Chinese counterpart. (Laughter.) So – and I was very pleased to receive it. So we do maintain a dialogue. Unfortunately, during the time of mil-to-mil suspension, that dialogue was, as you know, much reduced. So it’s unfortunate, and I look forward to a next opportunity to either visit China or have a counterpart visit at Pacific Command headquarters.

I think in the scheme of the mil-to-mil that’s currently ongoing, it began, again, with military maritime consultative agreement talks at Pacific Command headquarters. It was followed then by defense consultative talks at the civilian level with the Office of the Secretary of Defense in Washington, D.C. And it’s – and it was then Secretary Gates visit to Beijing. The next event, I think, is a counterpart visit as a consequence of Secretary Gates’s visit by the People’s Liberation Army back to the United States. So we’ll look forward to that. And no, I haven’t been invited back, but again, I look forward to a next opportunity to visit China.

MODERATOR: Okay, that’s it.

ADM WILLARD: Yeah, if I might, just – Key Resolve/Foal Eagle made the news in South Korea; very important to understand this annual exercise is, in fact, customary, needed. It’s part of the readiness training for the ROK and U.S. forces, and I very much support this annual exercise series. It’s essential for maintaining the readiness of our respective forces.

Back to U.S. Pacific Command writ large, this has been a wonderful 16 months. It’s not without the challenges that all of you have asked about today. I mean, certainly, there is a reason to go to work as the Pacific Command commander. I would offer that the component commanders, the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and special operations forces fully engaged in the Asia Pacific region, are attempting to both contribute to its security and contribute to the advancement of our counterpart militaries every day. And they’re doing a wonderful job.

On the side of our allies and partners, I couldn’t be more pleased with the very strong alliances and the desire to strengthen the alliances that still need attention across the region. And our advancing partnerships with the likes of Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, India, many, many countries – very, very critical both to the overall security of the Asia Pacific, security of the commons in the Asia Pacific, and the future of the U.S., I think, in the Asia Pacific.

So it’s been a wonderful 16 months. Hopefully, I’ll be back again to be able to answer your questions at a later time, but I appreciate the depth of questioning, and obviously, that so many countries in the Asia Pacific are represented here today. Thank you very much.

MODERATOR: Thank you all for coming. This event is now concluded.