China’s controversial construction of militarised artificial islands in the South China Sea – dubbed the “great wall of sand” – has been self-defeating, says the US Navy commander whose sailors would be on the front line of any serious conflict.
US Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Scott Swift told Fairfax Media the “angst” China has generated has led East Asian nations from Australia to Japan to fortify their own defences and also to seek much deeper US military engagement.
But the Admiral dismissed speculation that either Australia or the US were seeking new “bases” or “infrastructure” in Darwin or Fremantle.
“As the Pacific Fleet commander I currently see no value of new bases,” said Admiral Swift, saying they would be costly and unnecessary because so many countries were willing to open their facilities to his ships. “We don’t need more infrastructure from a navy point of view.”
Admiral Swift cited Australia’s decision to build new Air Warfare Destroyers in Adelaide and its ongoing commitment to a new fleet of submarines.
Admiral Swift’s Pacific Fleet is larger and more powerful than any national navy outside the US, comprising five aircraft carrier groups, 200 ships and submarines, 2000 aircraft and a quarter of a million sailors and marines. The fleet currently accounts for about half of all US naval assets, moving to 60 per cent. But he still pointed to the fact that demand for the Obama administration’s “rebalancing” to Asia has far-outstripped what the world’s most powerful navy can ever supply.