U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta speaks to service members and civilian employees on May 31 at U.S. Pacific Command headquarters at Camp H.M. Smith, Hawaii. (Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo / U.S. Defense Department)
ABOARD A U.S. MILITARY AIRCRAFT — The Pentagon needs to develop new equipment that is geared to the Asia-Pacific, a vast region that also will likely see an increase in the number of troops based there.
DoD also needs to “invest in new technologies that will help us build a stronger power projection” in the Pacific region, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said early June 1 local time during a briefing with reporters during a flight to Singapore.
Panetta is scheduled to give a major policy speech that outline U.S. operations in the Pacific on June 2 at the Shangri-La Dialogue, a gathering of top-level, regional defense officials held annually in the city state.
Panetta is also scheduled to make stops in Vietnam and India during his nine-day trip to the Pacific, a region that DoD has placed a greater focus on in a new military strategy released in January.
“The purpose of this trip is to define the new defense strategy for the region, particularly the emphasis on the rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific region,” he said. “We have a strong presence now in the Pacific, but we’ll continue to strengthen presence over the next five to 10 years.”
The United States now has about 330,000 troops in the Pacific and “we’re going to continue to strengthen that for the future,” Panetta said.
“The likelihood is that there will be increased personnel going into the region in order to perform different roles,” he said. “When you look at the proportion of forces that we have in the world, I think it’s fair to say that a higher percentage, a higher proportion of those forces are going to wind up in the Pacific.”
Earlier in the day, Panetta met with Adm. Samuel Locklear, the head of U.S. Pacific Command, to discuss implementing the new strategy.
Hawaii will remain the hub for U.S. military operations in the Pacific, Panetta said during a speech at Pacific Command headquarters.
There, he told troops that they are “on the front lines of what the United States really cares about in terms of the future.”
“More than ever, Hawaii remains that key center for operations throughout the Asia-Pacific region,” he said.
There are a number of “key, shared principles” that are “critical to achieving” the goals of the defense strategy, Panetta said.
The Pacific needs to be a “rules-based region that relies on rules in international order,” he said. DoD also wants to build partnerships “and try to modernize our alliances and partnerships in the region to build on their capabilities” with countries in the region, including China.
DoD also wants to strengthen its presence in the region, particularly though rotational deployments, which would be similar to the arrangement the Pentagon has with Australia to deploy Marines there.
The Pentagon “working on” an arrangement like this in the Philippines and “elsewhere,” Panetta said without naming additional countries.