Pentagon opts to bolster infrastructure in Pacific, maintain US forces in Korea

Posted on : 2021-12-01 18:01 KST Modified on : 2021-12-01 18:01 KST
The US Department of Defense said it plans to add rotational aircraft deployments in Australia and improve infrastructure in Guam as part of its strategy to counter China
Mara Karlin, acting US deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, announces the recommendations of the US’ global posture review on Monday from the US Department of Defense. (provided by the US Department of Defense)
Mara Karlin, acting US deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, announces the recommendations of the US’ global posture review on Monday from the US Department of Defense. (provided by the US Department of Defense)

The US has decided to improve the military infrastructure in Australia, Guam, and other Pacific islands to keep China’s ambitions in the Indo-Pacific in check. It has also confirmed that the current number of US forces stationed in Korea will remain unchanged.

The US Department of Defense completed its review of the position of US forces around the world on Monday. The review had been underway since March. An overview of the results was shared at a Pentagon press briefing on Monday.

In this year’s Global Posture Review (GPR), the US placed particular emphasis on the roles of Australia, Guam and other Pacific islands.

A press release on the review reported that it “directs additional cooperation with allies and partners to advance initiatives that contribute to regional stability and deter potential Chinese military aggression and threats from North Korea.”

The GPR also revealed that the US plans on “enhancing infrastructure” in Australia and the Pacific islands while also planning rotational aircraft deployments in Australia. Infrastructure “enhancement" refers to bolstering military infrastructure such as airplane take-off and landing sites. The work is set to begin next year.

“In Australia, you'll see new rotational fighter and bomber aircraft deployments. You'll see Ground Forces Training and increased logistics cooperation,” said Mara Karling, the acting deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, during a press conference on Monday.

“More broadly, across the Indo-Pacific, you'll see a range of infrastructure improvements in Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and Australia,” she added.

Improving the logistical infrastructure in this region enhances the deployment and transport capacity of units in the instance of conflict in the western Pacific.

The US’ highlighting of Australia's importance is interpreted as a counter to China's medium-range ballistic missile capabilities, which have been steadily developing since the 1990s. However, in the event of an armed conflict between the US and China, US troops deployed along the “first island chain” — which runs around South Korea, mainland Japan and Okinawa — become vulnerable to Chinese missile attacks. In preparation for this, the US is planning to respond by increasing the capabilities of Guam and Australia which are located along the “second island line” and the surrounding area. In September, the US and the UK came together to create the AUKUS security pact to help equip Australia with nuclear-powered submarines.

The Pentagon’s Global Posture Review also approved the permanent stationing of a previously rotational Attack Helicopter Squadron and Artillery Division Headquarters in South Korea. The US had announced this policy in September when it moved the US Army’s 2nd Infantry Division Artillery from its base in Washington, US, to Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province. The transition to a permanent presence will allow for bolstered local adaptability and skills.

The review also reaffirmed that the US will be maintaining the number of US forces stationed in Korea, which currently stands at 28,500.

“I think we see that our posture in South Korea is robust, and it is effective,” Karlin said, adding, "I have no changes that we would want to announce at this time on that front.”

The US also reaffirmed the principle of providing extended deterrence to South Korea under its nuclear umbrella. Decisions to maintain the current size of the USFK and switch rotational units to being permanent fixtures seem to take into consideration responding to threats from North Korea as well as China.

Prior to this review, from 2010 onward — during the Obama administration — the US had been implementing a policy of “rebalancing” that placed importance on the Asia-Pacific region as a way to counter threats from China.

The Wall Street Journal quoted a senior Pentagon official as saying that there was a feeling that there could possibly be a significant reshuffling of troops, but that by the end of the review they had concluded that the US’ military posture around the world was correct.

By Hwang Joon-bum, Washington correspondent

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