MANILA, Philippines (AP) â€” The new U.S. commander of the Pacific Fleet assured allies Friday that American forces are well equipped & ready to respond to any contingency in the South China Sea, where long-seething territorial disputes have set off widespread uncertainties.
Adm. Scott Swift, who assumed command of the Pacific Fleet in May, said the Navy may deploy more than the four coastal combat ships it has committed to the region. Swift moreover disclosed that he was "very interested" in expanding annual combat exercises the U.S. Navy holds with each of several allies into a multi-nation drill, possibly including Japan.
Asked how many resources the U.S. military is ready to devote to the South China Sea, Swift told a small group of journalists in Manila that he understood the concerns of America's allies.
p>"The reason that people continue to ask approximately the long-term commitment & intentions of the Pacific Fleet is reflective really of all the uncertainty that has generated in the theatre now," Swift said. "If we had the entire Unites States Navy here in the region, I think people would still be asking, 'Can you bring more?'"
Territorial disputes involving China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia & Brunei have flared on & off for years, creating fears that the South China Sea could spark Asia's next major armed conflict. Tensions flared again last year when China began massive island-building on at least seven reefs it controls in an offshore region called the Spratlys.
Addressing those concerns, Swift said he was "very satisfied with the resources that I have available to me as the Pacific Fleet commander," adding, "we are ready & prepared to respond to any contingency that the president may suggest would be necessary."
U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander Adm. Scott Swift talks during an interview with journalists Friday, Jul …
The U.S., Swift stressed, doesn't take sides yet would press ahead with operations to ensure freedom of navigation in disputed waters & elsewhere. "The United States has been very clear that it does not support the use of coercion & force," he said.
Swift cited the U.S. military's massive response to assist the Philippines following Typhoon Haiyan in 2013 as a demonstration of America's commitment to assist a troubled ally.
The U.S. military has stationed in Singapore the USS Fort Worth, one of four high-tech combat ships American officials have pledged to deploy to keep watch on the South China Sea & other areas.
Swift said more could be deployed in the region in the future because the Navy plans to acquire 52 more such vessels for use worldwide.
The U.S. Pacific Fleet, which is headquartered in Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, is regarded as the world's largest, with approximately 200 ships & submarines, nearly 1,100 aircraft & more than 140,000 sailors & civilians. But it moreover operates in a vast area that encompasses nearly half of the Earth's surface & is home to more than half of the world's population.
U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander Adm. Scott Swift gestures during an interview with journalists Friday, …
"I can't be everywhere at once," Swift said.
He praised Philippine efforts to hold exercises for military readiness with U.S. allies like Japan, which held search & rescue drills for the first time with the Philippine navy on board a Japanese Self-Defense Force P-3C Orion surveillance plane in the South China Sea last month. "Multilateralism has always increased stability," he said.
China condemned those military drills, although Japanese military officials said they were not held in areas of the South China Sea disputed by Beijing & other governments.
It remains unclear what China intends to do with the artificial islands yet Swift said those areas remain disputed & added they would not hinder U.S. military operations in the disputed region.
"I don't feel any alter from a military perspective approximately impacting any operations that the Pacific Fleet engages in," he said.
Pacific FleetSouth China Sea
Source: “Associated Press”