Shifts in Pacific Force U.S. Military To Adapt Thinking

By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, September 17, 2005

ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam -- A dull-gray B-2 bomber sat poised in a typhoon-proof air-conditioned hangar, its bat wings stretching 172 feet across. The bomb bay was fitted for 80 GPS-guided bombs, at 500 pounds each, that could be delivered to any target in Asia within a few hours.

The hulking stealth aircraft is a symbol of new times in the Pacific.

"Having this airplane in theater sends a message to the world," said Air Force Lt. Col. Tom Bussiere, of St. Johnsbury, Vt., who arrived at Andersen last February with four of the boomerang-shaped strategic warplanes.

The deployment of Bussiere's squadron, replacing a contingent of aging B-52s, marked part of a broad U.S. military realignment in the fast-changing Pacific. The reposturing, scheduled to run over several years, has been designed to strengthen U.S. military forces in Asia and usher them into a new era, reacting primarily to China's expanding diplomatic, economic and military power.

The rise of China as a regional force has shaken assumptions that had governed this vast region since the end of World War II, including that of uncontested U.S. naval and air power from California to the Chinese coast. With those days soon to end, senior officers said, the U.S. military in Asia is retooling to reflect new war-making technology, better prepare for military crises and counter any future threat from the emergent Chinese navy and air force.

Some U.S. specialists have predicted an Asian Cold War or outright conflict as a newly muscular China gets ready to project power beyond its shores. But U.S. military planners in the region have a different interpretation of the Chinese challenge. The goal, they said in interviews, is to maximize U.S. forces here -- as demonstrated by the B-2 deployment. However, the planners also said the United States was seeking to build a network of contacts with the Chinese government and military through which the power overlap could be managed rather than fought over.

"Do we have to have conflict because of the rise of China? I don't believe so," said Adm. William J. Fallon, who heads the Hawaii-based Pacific Command from an office with a sweeping view of Pearl Harbor and the vast ocean beyond.

"As they grow, there's going to be an inevitable push as they take advantage of their economic ability to improve their military capabilities," he said of the Chinese. "We ought to recognize that as a reality. This is not a zero-sum game.

"I do not buy the program," he said, referring to the presumption that conflict cannot be avoided. "I just don't buy it."

Fallon said he had received a clear mandate in this regard from Washington, despite widely noticed remarks in June from Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld questioning China's motives in modernizing its military forces. In addition, Fallon said in an interview, this approach means China's cultivation of stronger diplomatic and military ties with other Asian nations does not have to compete with U.S. changes in the Pacific.

"A rising China that is actively engaged in helping the countries of the region maintain security and stability can be a very good thing," he explained.

The admiral, who has led the Pacific Command for six months, got his start building military ties with China during a maiden visit there Sept. 5-9. Although he and his 300,000 troops have responsibility for 43 countries and more than 100 million square miles, Fallon said China's size and growth make it the center of his network-building efforts.

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