Guam, CNMI Suggested For U.S. Military Expansion In Pacific

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Increased investments in islands recommended in strategic report

By Steve Limtiaco

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Aug. 3, 2012) – The U.S. military should expand its existing forces in the Pacific, not reduce them, independent consultants told Congress yesterday, adding they believe additional investment in Guam and the Mariana Islands should be a priority.

Some Guam projects make sense, regardless of how many Marines eventually move to the island or when they arrive, the consultants stated.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) on July 24 submitted its report, "U.S. Force Posture Strategy in the Asia Pacific Region, an Independent Assessment," to Congress. It's one of several reports Congress wants before it will approve additional spending on the Guam military buildup. Most of the federal funding for new buildup projects was frozen for the current fiscal year, except for work related to the location of a new firing range.

The consultants who prepared it -- CSIS Senior Vice President David Berteau and Senior Adviser Michael Green -- yesterday talked about the report during a hearing by the Readiness Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee.

Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo, ranking member of the Readiness Subcommittee, said, "We must get on with realignment in the Pacific or risk undermining our efforts in this critical region."

The number of Marines who would be transferred to Guam from Okinawa as part of a U.S. military realignment in the Asia-Pacific region is about 5,000, according to the most recent report. The existing force structure in the region is based on Cold War arrangements and needs to be realigned, Green said.

Realignment doesn't mean cutting forces, consultants said.

"You wouldn't save much money, even with pretty big force structure reductions in the Pacific, but you'd lose a heck of a lot of capability. And we think that's a pretty bad tradeoff." Berteau said. He said it is strongly recommended that the military sustain and expand its current forces, but he noted there are some areas that could be examined for efficiency and consolidation.

'Right away'

Some steps should be taken "right away," Berteau said. "There are some initial investments in Guam and the Marianas that make sense, both in terms of robust infrastructure and in terms of training capability that are to some extent not dependent on the total number of Marines that are going to move," Berteau said. "They make sense, regardless of how many Marines move and what the schedule is for moving those (Marines)," he said.

As examples, he cited road improvements and pipeline improvements between the port and Andersen Air Force Base and training facilities in the Northern Mariana Islands.

"We think that with respect to investments in Guam and the Marianas Islands, that you prioritize those investments and start now with the things that are not only most important, but that you're going to want to do no matter what the long-term force posture is," Berteau said. "That gives you more capability to engage with our partners and allies -- do combined training, do joint exercises, etcetera."

If money were made available, some core military and associated infrastructure projects "could be done almost immediately," and would take advantage of matching funds provided by the Japan government. "And you do want to take advantage of that opportunity," he said.

Guam needs at least one more attack submarine, Berteau said, and an amphibious readiness group needs to be assigned to support the Pacific.

Paying for it

With respect to the buildup's impact on Guam's civilian infrastructure, Berteau said the exact cost and impact cannot be determined until the military has a more detailed plan for its personnel.

"It's clearly not in the purview of the Defense Department to pay for those kinds of improvements," Berteau said, but if the military needs infrastructure improvements, the federal government needs to pay for it or suffer the consequences of not having it.

"History says if it matters a lot to DOD, you have to figure out a way to pay for it," he said.

Berteau said it also was recommended that the military improve the environmental impact assessment process for the buildup "to remove some of those timelines" so it can make quicker decisions.

The subcommittee also heard testimony from the military, including Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Plans Robert Scher, who said the report supports the military's goals, including: enhanced regional capabilities; the forward presence of U.S. troops; and a more resilient military infrastructure.

"In the coming years, the department will continue to build up Guam as a strategic hub in the western Pacific," Scher said, and expand access to several locations in the region.

"This includes necessary near-term investments to establish fully capable Marine Air-Ground Task Forces in Japan, Guam, Australia and Hawaii," he said.

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