US plans to improve military readiness in Asia-Pacific

Soldiers at a US Army base in Seoul last month. Representative Mac Thornberry's Bill seeks to provide for missile defence exercises with Japan, South Korea and Australia to guard against the ballistic missile threat from North Korea, and for enhanced
Soldiers at a US Army base in Seoul last month. Representative Mac Thornberry's Bill seeks to provide for missile defence exercises with Japan, South Korea and Australia to guard against the ballistic missile threat from North Korea, and for enhanced joint training and exercises to improve force readiness in the region.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Bill introduced to inject $2.9b to boost military capabilities in region

Congress is looking to inject US$2.1 billion (S$2.9 billion) to boost the United States' military readiness in the Asia-Pacific amid growing tensions on the Korean peninsula and in the South China Sea.

"No one needs reminding of the escalating tensions in the Asia-Pacific," said the House Armed Services Committee chairman, Republican Representative Mac Thornberry, who introduced a Bill last week to boost the US military's capabilities in the region.

"It is essential that the United States reassure our allies and friends that we are committed to stability and security in that region now and in the future," he added.

"One of the best ways to do that is to increase our military presence and enhance our readiness there. To do that, we need to invest in a broad range of defence capabilities and this legislation does just that."

Among other things, the Bill would provide US$1 billion in munitions and US$1 billion for missile defence, including more interceptors for Terminal High Altitude Area Defence or lower-tier air and missile defence interceptors.

Mr Thornberry's Bill, which will be included under an upcoming annual defence policy Bill, is separate from an earlier proposal from Republican Senator John McCain for US$7.5 billion in new funding for US forces in the Asia-Pacific.

COMMITTED TO REGION

It is essential that the United States reassure our allies and friends that we are committed to stability and security in that region now and in the future. One of the best ways to do that is to increase our military presence and enhance our readiness there. To do that, we need to invest in a broad range of defence capabilities and this legislation does just that.

HOUSE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN MAC THORNBERRY, who introduced a Bill to boost the US military's capabilities in the region.

Both proposals come as the North Korean nuclear crisis continues to intensify, and the South China Sea simmers with rival territorial claims, while US military readiness has eroded because of budget cuts.

"This is Congress trying to sustain the rebalance to Asia, attempting to reassure Asian partners," said CSIS Asia and China security specialist Bonnie Glaser in an e-mail.

Admiral Harry Harris, the hawkish US Pacific Command chief, made a strong case in hearings in the House and the Senate last month that "critical munitions shortfalls are my top war-fighting concern". He cited shortfalls in small diameter bombs, air-to-air missiles and torpedoes.

North Korea has ramped up its missile tests, including its latest last Sunday. Its leader, Mr Kim Jong Un, has repeatedly said his objective is to develop a missile capable of striking the US with a nuclear warhead.

Mr Thornberry's Bill also provides US$15 million for missile defence exercises with Japan, South Korea and Australia to guard against the ballistic missile threat from North Korea.

The Bill reaffirms the US' "extended deterrence commitments" to the Asia-Pacific and calls for a plan to maintain "a forward-stationed combat aviation brigade in South Korea to better position the armed forces for major contingencies on the Korean peninsula".

It also seeks an additional US$100 million for enhanced joint training and exercises to improve force readiness in the region.

In January, Mr McCain, the Senate Armed Services chairman, made the case in a White Paper titled Restoring American Power, that the military was "caught in a downward spiral of depleted readiness and deferred modernisation".

"Readiness is suffering, in part, because the force is too small and being asked to do more with less," it said. It mentions regional threats from North Korea and Iran, and threats from China and Russia in a global context, saying, "A better defence strategy must acknowledge the reality that we have entered a new era of great power competitions." "Without sufficient hard power, which is our leverage, our diplomacy will be ineffective."

The US Missile Defence Agency has reportedly awarded a US$58.6 million contract to the Boeing Company to demonstrate new technology to intercept multiple missiles fired simultaneously at the US.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 28, 2017, with the headline 'US plans to improve military readiness in Asia-Pacific'. Print Edition | Subscribe