US Eyes Singapore Base

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US Eyes Singapore Base

Robert Gates announces a new US Navy presence in Singapore. Is the plan a response to China’s naval build-up?

The US Navy will establish a new presence in Singapore as a staging location for its latest class of warship.

Defence Secretary Robert Gates announced plans for the presence during his visit to Singapore last week. Gates’ current Asian tour is his last. After five years heading the world’s most powerful military, he will step down on June 30.

‘We’ve taken a number of steps towards establishing a defence posture across the Asia-Pacific that is more geographically distributed, operationally resilient and politically sustainable,’ Gates said.

According to the Singaporean Defence Ministry, those steps include deploying to Singapore ‘one or two’ of the new Littoral Combat Ships current under construction in the United States. The 400-foot-long, high-speed warships, optimized for shallow-water operations, would be the first US military vessels permanently stationed in the tiny Southeast Asian country, although the Navy for many years has maintained a support facility there.

The Littoral Combat Ships are short-range vessels compared with the destroyers, cruisers and aircraft carriers that make up the bulk of the Navy's 280-strong battle fleet. Typically, US warships on deployment in the Pacific sail from California or Japan and periodically receive supplies from supply vessels while on the move. The Littoral Combat Ships would require far more frequent resupplying than other vessels, making forward deployment to Singapore particularly attractive for them.

Perhaps coincidentally, the Singapore basing announcement comes at a time when China could be planning for its first overseas naval base — in Gwadar, western Pakistan. ‘We have asked our Chinese brothers to please build a naval base at Gwadar,’ Pakistan Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar said.

Beijing denied Mukhtar's assertion.

Regardless, China's rapid naval modernization, including nuclear submarines and a refurbished aircraft carrier, now has a clear US response. The US Navy is meeting China’s naval expansion with an expansion of its own.