SINGAPORE (AP) – The Pentagon will shift more Navy warships to the Asia-Pacific region over the next several years and by 2020, about 60% of the fleet will be assigned there as part of a new strategy to increase U.S. presence in Asia, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Saturday.
While noting it may take years to complete the transition, Panetta assured his audience at a security conference in Singapore that U.S. budget problems and cutbacks would not get in the way of changes. He said the Defense Department has money in the five-year budget plan to meet those goals.
Speaking at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue conference, Panetta provided some of the first real details of the Pentagon’s impending pivot to the Pacific.
“It will take years for these concepts, and many of the investments we are making, to be fully realized,” Panetta said in remarks prepared for delivery at the conference. “But make no mistake, in a steady, deliberate and sustainable way, the United States military is rebalancing and brings enhanced capabilities to this vital region.”
His promises, however, are likely to be met with skepticism from some nations that are aware of the coming budget cuts and have watched the U.S. send the bulk of its military might to Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade. The boost in ship presence could increase tensions with China, where leaders have said they are unhappy with any larger U.S. presence in the Asia-Pacific region.