Tangible symbol of US rebalance to Asia-Pacific

A new ship is coming to the region. The USS Fort Worth, a US Navy littoral combat ship (LCS), left its home port in San Diego last month, bound for Singapore, from where it will spend the better part of 16 months operating with the people and navies of the Asia-Pacific region.

We're excited that this deployment is in progress, with the Fort Worth arriving today in Jakarta, Indonesia, and then on to Singapore next Monday.

The Fort Worth's arrival in South-east Asia is a reminder of the central role that the United States continues to play in a region to which "the centre of gravity of global affairs" has begun to shift, as our good friend, Singapore Minister for Defence, Dr Ng Eng Hen, remarked recently.

The US and Asia are united by the waters of the Pacific. Much of the engagement on which our relationship with this vital region is built takes place on, above, or below the sea, through myriad maritime air routes and sea lanes, just as it has for generations.

Maritime trade and investment have been the prevailing sources of shared economic prosperity for the US and Asia, and will remain integral parts of our ever-increasing commitment to shared success, well-being and security.

For nations that depend on the sea to sustain growth and development, maritime security underwrites economic prosperity. This is certainly true in South-east Asia, where more than 620 million people live near the sea and produce a combined gross domestic product of more than US$2.4 trillion (S$3.2 trillion).

Like the rapid economic growth that propelled many regional countries out of poverty in the mid- to late-20th century, the free flow of trade across Pacific sea lanes to container ports and intercoastal waterways does not happen by itself.

Rather, it requires persistent commitment, manifested in the continuous forward presence and vigilance of US Navy sailors, marines, ships and aircraft, in constant coordination with regional allies and partners. It requires ships like the Fort Worth, which work with regional navies throughout the year, every year - for the benefit of Americans, South-east Asians, and the world.

From an in-principle agreement announced at the Shangri-La Dialogue in 2011 to the inaugural deployment of the USS Freedom last year, and now the Fort Worth, rotational deployments of LCSs to the US 7th Fleet have become tangible symbols of America's broader rebalance to the Asia-Pacific.

The rebalance was reaffirmed by President Barack Obama at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and East Asia Summit meetings last month.

Taking into account the significant US economic engagement in South-east Asia, with the US investing more in the region than any other market in Asia, this ongoing commitment of words and deeds to shared security and prosperity reflects the centrality of South-east Asia to the US.

The Fort Worth will soon become a regular fixture in South-east Asia and, in the coming years, the region will see up to four LCSs deployed at the same time.

Forward presence by the LCS is intentional: South-east Asia's long coastlines and thousands of islands connected by dense shipping lanes and thriving entrepots make it a textbook littoral region in which the Fort Worth will fit quite well.

Combining manoeuvrability, high speed and shallow draft, the LCS is uniquely suited to navigate waters and go places inaccessible to larger ships. LCSs will operate in other parts of the region as well, including North-east Asia and South Asia.

The Fort Worth will spend most of its time working with regional navies at sea. Smaller, capable warships like LCSs are in high demand in South-east Asia and, unsurprisingly, the Fort Worth's arrival is highly anticipated by navies throughout the region.

The Fort Worth will use its capabilities to build capacity and enhance multilateral ties in the 2015 Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training exercise series, a yearly meeting of nine partner navies in South and South-east Asia.

Exercises are essential. But we believe the most meaningful interactions are those that will occur as the officers and sailors aboard the Fort Worth explore the region, learn new skills, and build understanding with their naval counterparts - developing relationships that will serve the US and Asia long after the Fort Worth returns to San Diego.

Most of our young naval ambassadors are between the ages of 18 and 25, and represent the future of the US Navy. By travelling more than 8,000 nautical miles across the sea for a 16-month deployment, they continue a naval tradition that has connected the people of the US with Asia for generations.

Aboard the Fort Worth, they will engage regional navies on behalf of our shared security and rising economic prosperity. This is good for America, and for the region - now and for many years to come.


The first writer is the US Ambassador to Singapore and the second is commander of the Logistics Group Western Pacific in the US Navy.

This article was first published on Dec 22, 2014.
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