Capt. Edward H. Lundquist, USN (Ret.): What’s your operational perspective of the Pacific theater right now? Where is your focus, and where is the commander’s focus?
Rear Adm. Mark Montgomery: The Pacific theater has a unique attribute of having large portion of it being ocean, and with it, a maritime focus. We tend to get fixated on that – especially when we think about ongoing operations in the South China Sea and East China Sea. But in addition we encompass the the Korean theater of operations which has a pretty significant ground and air force challenge from North Korea. So we really do have a broad range of challenges in our area of responsibility (AOR), which covers 52 percent of the world’s surface, and as a result we have the most assigned forces of any combatant command at about 20 percent.
“The Pacific rebalance is really an acknowledgement that we’re a Pacific nation, we’re a Pacific power, and we’re a maritime power.”
Lundquist: And that is growing?
Montgomery: Yes – it is growing. And in fact, probably the greatest growth since the strategic rebalance was announced in 2012 is in the ground forces. We’ve gone from about 70,000 assigned forces to 106,000. The Navy already had a significant percentage of forces assigned to the Pacific Command through the U.S. Pacific Fleet. And we have a very unique relationship with Pac Fleet where virtually all of their forces are assigned to PACOM [U.S. Pacific Command]. We may provide our forces elsewhere, particularly to Central Command, although the vast majority of our force is trained, maintained, and equipped here in the Pacific, operated here in the Pacific, and is aligned to Pacific war fighting plans. So, our AOR remains an air, maritime, and ground theater. Since we began the strategic rebalancing on 2012, the increase in effort is real – it’s tactile. If you’re a surface warfare officer or an aviator or submariner, you can feel it and experience it, in additional assignments in the Pacific and additional deployments in the Pacific.
Lundquist: By that do you mean quantitatively, or as in different missions?
Montgomery: That’s a good point. It is both a quantitative and a qualitative change. The quantitative change is that we’re moving closer and closer to 60 percent of the naval forces. We have a greater percentage forward now than we’ve had in the last three decades with the increase in the number of destroyers in Yokosuka and the placement of LCSs on a rotation in Singapore. We have a higher quality of force – by that I mean we have the latest equipment. We now have… we have a third Navy Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) system on its way out in the form of the USS Barry to the Pacific, and we have plans for a fourth NIFC-CA ship next year. So we are fully modernizing the surface forces with the latest Aegis Baseline 9.0, up to date ballistic missile defense (BMD) capabilities beginning to proliferate the Western Pacific forces.
Lundquist: The Yokosuka forward-deployed naval forces DDGs also have, or most of them do, the new SQQ-89A(V)15 underwater combat system.
Montgomery: That’s right. The destroyers out in the Western Pacific have the latest ASW systems. In Hawaii and on the West Coast, a high percentage do as well. That is a product of wanting to put our newest and most relevant, high-end warfighting tools forward. That includes the Alpha Victor 15, NIFC-CA, the latest Aegis baseline, the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye coming out next year, an all Super Hornet squadron – the first and only in Atsugi, Japan, the MV-22s, the newest P-8 maritime patrol aircraft, and a fourth SSN in Guam. The Marine Corps is bringing the joint strike fighter in fiscal year ’17 to the Western Pacific. And the Army has brought Apaches to Korea, THAAD to Guam, and has all Patriot PAC-3 batteries in both Japan and Korea. With the Air Force, we’re bringing CV-22 to Japan, and we’ve brought a continuous bomber presence back to Guam after being gone for decades. So these are significant quantitative and qualitative improvements across all four services. I would tell you that there is more to come, but running in parallel to that, and equally important and necessary, are the improvements in the diplomatic, political, and economic realm. For us, the focus of effort in the economic and trade realm is the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). And that has moved closer to completion, getting the fast-track authority and the base treaty completed. They now have to get it through Congressional approval. I think that’s a significant goal for 2016 for the leadership of both parties. It critical because the Pacific rebalance isn’t just about the military – the economic and diplomatic element of the strategic rebalancing is as important.