- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 14, 2005

HONOLULU — A few days before he stepped down as commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, Adm. Walter F. Doran looked back over his three-year watch during which one of his main duties had been to nurture what he called “habitual relationships” with navies in Asia and the Pacific and to forge post-Cold War connections with other navies.

He singled out Japan: “Today, the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and the U.S. Navy have the closest maritime relations in the world.” He pointed to U.S. and Japanese warships training together, intelligence sharing, and Japanese ships supplying fuel to American warships off the coast of Iraq.

Adm. Doran spoke in his office — a windowless, bombproof bunker that became the fleet’s headquarters just after the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, brought America into World War II. It is only a mile from where the battleship Arizona, the most famous casualty of that assault, rests at the bottom of Pearl Harbor.

“The history that surrounds us is real,” said Adm. Doran, noting the irony from the command post once occupied by Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, the naval commander during the war with Japan that ended in 1945.

He also cited South Korea, Singapore, Australia and India as maritime partners in the Pacific and adjacent waters. After the Dec. 26 tsunami devastated coastal regions in the Indian Ocean, Adm. Doran called Adm. Arun Prakesh, chief of India’s naval staff, to tell him what operations the U.S. Navy planned in the Indian Ocean.

In turn, Adm. Prakesh, a graduate of the U.S. Naval War College and a classmate of Adm. Doran’s at the Indian Defense Services Staff College, outlined what his navy planned. Consequently, Adm. Doran said, “there was no possibility of misconception.”

Adm. Doran also spoke enthusiastically of port calls by U.S. warships to former adversary Russia, and to Malaysia, whose political leaders have been skeptical of the United States.

“No matter the government or politics,” Adm. Doran said, “sailors have a great deal in common. That’s the sea, ships and training.” Although the Pacific Fleet is the world’s largest naval command, with 200 ships, 1,400 aircraft and 190,000 sailors and Marines, the United States needs help in meeting the demands of the 21st century. Those tasks include deterring adversaries, fighting terrorism, keeping sea lanes open for trade, and combating piracy, drug smuggling and human trafficking.

The admiral, who is retiring from the Navy, told an international gathering in Singapore last year: “To accomplish this mission, we need a far-reaching program that can provide a means where like-minded nations can join to counter maritime activities that threaten the stability of our region.”

He said regional maritime security cooperation “is an idea that is getting traction.” Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia are coordinating anti-piracy patrols near the Strait of Malacca, through which more ships pass than the Suez and Panama canals combined. Thailand and India do the same off the west coast of Thailand.

The U.S. role is limited to providing intelligence. “We’re not talking about the U.S. Navy being the cop on the beat,” Adm. Doran said.

A lot of attention is directed toward China, the admiral said. “In talking to my counterparts,” he said, “every conversation is about China, although some of it is implicit.”

China has been modernizing its military force for years, concentrating on its navy and particularly on submarines. Asked whether the Chinese navy is a threat to the United States, Adm. Doran said only that he is “comfortable” with U.S. capabilities.

He recommended sustained military exchanges, such as port calls, with China as a form of deterrence. “The more they can see us — there’s a stabilizing effect,” he said. “It’s not healthy for them to sit in a vacuum.”

Like other U.S. military forces, the Pacific Fleet is undertaking a transformation driven by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. It has become a war-fighting command instead of a provider of forces to other commands, has improved ship readiness by swapping some crews every six months, and has revitalized anti-submarine warfare, including basing three submarines in Guam.

Unfinished business includes deciding which aircraft carrier will replace the Kitty Hawk in Yokosuka, Japan, and naming a carrier to be added to the Pacific Fleet, probably at Pearl Harbor, to bring the total to seven.

“We have not solved all the problems,” Adm. Doran said, “but I sleep a lot better at night.”

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