U.S. to boost naval forces as China develops carrier: admiral

February 21, 2011 

(Reuters) - The U.S. navy will continue to upgrade its military capabilities in the Pacific given its steadfast commitment to the region, a U.S. vice admiral said on Monday, while urging China's growing navy to avoid provocation.

China's swelling defense budgets, rapid development of advanced systems including aircraft carriers and anti-satellite missiles, and its growing naval aggression in bordering seas, have unnerved regional neighbors and the United States in recent years.

"It is our sincere hope that as China continues to develop a blue-water navy, one which may soon include an aircraft carrier, it will employ that navy in a way that is responsible and constructive," said Vice admiral Scott Van Buskirk during a visit to Hong Kong.

The vice admiral who commands the U.S. Navy's 7th Fleet -- the largest forward deployed military force with up to 70 ships and 300 aircraft -- also urged China not to utilize such military hardware in a "threatening or provocative manner."

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said last month a U.S. military presence in the Pacific is essential to restrain Chinese assertiveness.

Following on from Gate's comments that China's military advances in cyber and anti-satellite warfare technology could challenge the ability of U.S. forces to operate in the Pacific, Van Buskirk said the United States would upgrade its hardware there.

A new Littoral combat ship (LCS) will be deployed to the area soon, carrier fighter squadrons upgraded, attack submarine attack capabilities increased, and surface destroyers rekitted to "boost their ability to detect and kill enemy submarines", Van Buskirk said.

Faster P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft will replace P-3 Orion planes in the next two years.

"We remain committed. We remain engaged," he said.

While Gates breakthrough visit to Beijing last month reestablished high-level strategic level ties, Van Buskirk said much more needed to be done at a tactical level to ensure encounters at sea wouldn't escalate or lead to conflict.

"We're just not as successful in receiving return communications," said Van Buskirk of attempts by U.S. ships to hail Chinese vessels on the high seas.

Commander of U.S. Seventh Fleet Scott Van Buskirk
Commander of U.S. Seventh Fleet Scott Van Buskirk delivers a speech in Hong Kong, south China, Feb. 21, 2011. Seventh Fleet command ship USS Blue Ridge arrived in Hong Kong on Saturday for the ship's port visit lasting about five days.

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US military to boost naval fleet in Asia

(AFP)  Feb 21, 2011

HONG KONG X A top US naval commander said Monday that Washington plans to boost its military presence in Asia, while warning that China should expand its own forces in a "responsible and constructive" way.

The United States has expressed concerns about Beijing's military build up, with the Pentagon saying this month that China was developing "counterspace" weapons that could shoot down satellites or jam signals.

Beijing has become increasingly assertive in its ambitions on the high seas in recent years with plans to roll out its first aircraft carrier as the centrepiece in the emerging power's growing naval fleet.

The former Soviet aircraft carrier called the Varyag is currently being refurbished in the port city of Dalian in northeast China.

Speaking in Hong Kong on Monday Vice Admiral Scott Van Buskirk, commander of the US 7th fleet, said that the carrier "may come as early as this year," but did not elaborate or say whether it would be fully operational.

"It is our sincere hope that as China continues to develop a blue-water navy -- one which may soon include an aircraft carrier -- it will employ that navy in a way that is responsible and constructive," he added during a luncheon speech in Hong Kong.

Van Buskirk dismissed suggestions the US would cut its military presence in the region, saying there were an average of 70 US naval ships and aircraft operating in Asia daily, up from 50 to 60 a decade ago.

"Some worry that the US -- with our sluggish economy and continued military engagement in Afghanistan -- is weakening its position and its commitment to Asia," he said.

"I can tell you that our commitment to this region has never been stronger."

The naval commander also warned that the rash of sea piracy plaguing the coast of Africa was spreading eastward to southern India.

"Despite, or perhaps because of, the coordinated international efforts to fight piracy in the Gulf of Aden, we have seen the problem slowly creeping to the east into the Indian Ocean," Van Buskirk said.

"No one country can fight piracy alone," he added.

Last week, US Navy Admiral Robert Willard warned that Somali pirates were moving deeper into Asian waters amid international efforts to clamp down on the problem.