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US eyes broader access, basing in SouthEast Asia

Pia Lee-Brago - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — The United States is “very interested in broadening the access and basing arrangements” it already has and expanding it into other parts of Southeast Asia, US Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said.

Wormuth said that expanding basing agreements is an issue for the State Department and higher levels of the Pentagon because it is a critical challenge faced by the US military in the Pacific.

She explained that access to more Indo-Pacific bases, spread across the vast area, would allow the US more places for troops and long-range strikes.

“There is very much a desire to be able to expand our access and basing arrangements more into Southeast Asia because if we were able to do that, we would have a more dispersed posture that would give us much more flexibility,” Wormuth said in a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington on Thursday.

“So looking forward, I think it is very much in our interest and in the interests of our allies and partners to explore how we can shift that posture over time,” she said.

For the US Army specifically, the implications focus on pre-positioning assets in the Pacific, she added.

In the Philippines – a traditional ally of the US – the Senate formally rejected a new military base treaty in September 1991, ending nearly a century of American military presence in the country.

Considering where the US operates now in Asia, Wormuth cited how important it is to maintain realistic assumptions about where the US will be operating from, at least in the near future.

“The Indo-Pacific... is a region of great opportunity for the United States, but also real challenges,” she said. “The Army is stepping up to that challenge, both in terms of how we contribute to the country’s ability to compete with China and our ability to deter coercion and aggression in the region.”

Wormuth, the first woman to serve as the US Army Secretary, stated that the US Army would serve as the “linchpin service” for the joint force in the Indo-Pacific should fighting break out.

In a conflict with China, she said the service would have three support missions within the joint force – building and defending bases in the Pacific; providing command and control for the broader military, and sustaining logistical supply lines across vast distances.

She noted that China’s focus on modernizing its military capabilities will strengthen its ability to coerce Taiwan and rival claimants in territorial disputes, project power globally, and counter interventions along the People’s Republic of China’s periphery.

“Right now, the Chinese military is manned with about two million service members – 975,000 of them in army combat units. It also has the most ships of any navy in the world,” Wormuth said. “And within the Indo-Pacific region, the Chinese military also has the largest air force.”

China now has the ability to attack US sensors and communication links in space and also has missiles that can sink US ships and take down aircraft, Wormuth said.

“They have missiles that can reach US bases in Japan and Guam, exposing our planes and runways to attack,” she said. “Not only does China have advanced precision weapons, it has them in large and growing quantities. And just recently, China conducted a missile test that sent a missile around the world, dropping off a hypersonic vehicle that glided all the way back to China where it then struck a test target.”

Considering the advancements made by the Chinese military and the challenges it poses to the US, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III has identified China as a “pacing challenge” for the Defense Department.

Wormuth said the entire US military must be prepared to meet that pacing challenge.

US ARMY
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