- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 23, 2005

HONOLULU — The plan to realign U.S. military forces in Asia and the Pacific would enhance the roles of Hawaii and Guam, tighten the alliance with Japan and streamline the posture in South Korea.

Changes over the next three to five years are intended to strengthen the operational control of the U.S. Pacific Command, based in Hawaii, over Army, Marine Corps, Air Force and Navy forces and enable them to undertake expeditions swiftly to contingencies throughout the region.

American and Japanese officials cautioned that no firm decisions have been made, but the proposed realignment looks like this:

Army: Headquarters in Hawaii will become a war-fighting command to plan and execute operations, rather than to train and provide troops to other commands as it does now. The four-star general’s post in Korea will be transferred to Hawaii.

I Corps at Fort Lewis, Wash., will move to Camp Zama, southwest of Tokyo, to conduct smaller operations and forge ties with Japan’s ground force. Japan will organize a similar unit, perhaps called Central Readiness Command, to plan and conduct operations with the U.S. Army.

Japanese officials are considering elevating the Self-Defense Agency to a ministry and renaming Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) as “the Japanese Army” and similarly for the Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) and Air Self-Defense Force (ASDF). Shedding those postwar names would reflect Japan’s emergence from its pacifist cocoon.

The U.S. plans to disband the 8th Army, which has been in South Korea since the 1950-53 war, to relinquish command of Korean troops to the Koreans and to minimize or eliminate the United Nations Command set up during the Korean War.

A new tactical command will oversee remaining U.S. forces in South Korea, which will be down to 25,000 in 2008 from 37,000. That may be cut further, because Seoul has denied the U.S. the “strategic flexibility” to dispatch U.S. forces from Korea to contingencies elsewhere.

Marine Corps: The Marines, who have a war-fighting center in Hawaii, will move the headquarters of the III Marine Expeditionary Force (III MEF) from Okinawa to Guam to reduce the friction caused by the U.S. “footprint” on that Japanese island. How many Marines would move is not clear, but combat battalions will continue to rotate to Okinawa from the United States.

Some U.S. officers are displeased because local politics, rather than military necessity, dictated the move. They asserted that the Japanese government, despite its desire to “reduce the burden” on Okinawans, has blocked U.S. attempts to move forces to other bases in Japan.

Other officers saw an advantage to having III MEF in Guam, which is U.S. territory. If a Japanese government sought to restrict the movement of U.S. forces on its soil, III MEF would be able to operate without reference to Tokyo.

Air Force: The 13th Air Force moved to Hawaii from Guam in May to establish a war-fighting headquarters like those of the other services.

Gen. Paul V. Hester, commander of the Pacific Air Forces, was quoted as saying, “We’re building an air operations center and war-fighting headquarters that serves the entire Pacific region.”

The Air Force plans to establish a strike force on Guam that will include six bombers and 48 fighters in rotation for several months from U.S. bases. In addition, 12 refueling aircraft, which are essential to long-range projection of air power, will be stationed at Andersen Air Force Base there.

Also based on Guam will be three Global Hawk unmanned reconnaissance aircraft, which can range 12,000 miles, at altitudes up to 65,000 feet, for 35 hours. This means the aircraft can cover mainland Asia from Bangkok to Beijing with sensors making images of 40,000 square miles a day.

In Japan, the Air Force is willing to share Yokota Air Base, west of Tokyo, with Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force, but has resisted opening the base to civilian aircraft, citing security concerns. Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara has demanded such rights.

Navy: Kitty Hawk, the conventionally powered aircraft carrier based at Yokosuka, on Tokyo Bay, is slated to be replaced by 2008. The United States wants to station a nuclear-powered carrier there, while some Japanese politicians want the last of the conventionally powered carriers, the John F. Kennedy, to be chosen.

The Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, whose war-fighting element is Joint Task Force 519, has moved three attack submarines to Guam to base them closer to operating areas and probably will be assigned an additional carrier from the Atlantic Fleet to be based at Pearl Harbor.

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