Sunday, March 11, 2007

Power Surge: US Aircraft Carrier Pays Port Call on Hong Kong

Update: Further Mr. Tsui's comment, obviously, the main audience for the Ronald Reagan is the Chinese leadership in Beijing, and not the wharf rats of Hong Kong.

I think it’s worth noting that this kind of firepower is only suited for total war against a hostile state, and the only viable candidates in Asia are China and North Korea:

"The RRSG is comprised of Commander, Carrier Strike Group (CCSG) 7, Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 14, Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 7, the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan, the guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain (CG 57), the guided-missile destroyers USS Russell (DDG 59) and USS Paul Hamilton (DDG 60), and Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit 11, Det. 15. USS Greenville (SSN 772) is also accompanying the RRSG on its visit to Hong Kong. More than 6,000 Sailors are currently assigned to RRSG."

It’s kind of hard to explain why the ping-pong cravings of the PLA and the needs of Hong Kong stray dogs demanded this show of force.

Cognitive dissonance sets in, which the Navy does its best to dispel.

The US government offers its justification for why the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group was rushed out of San Diego:

Currently in the U.S. 7th Fleet’s area of responsibility (AOR) as part of a surge deployment to promote peace, cooperation and stability in the region, the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group (CSG) is commanded by Rear Adm. Charles W. Martoglio. Homeported in San Diego, Ronald Reagan is the Navy’s newest Nimitz-class aircraft carrier.“Our goal is to maintain and strengthen our alliances and friendships in the Pacific region,” said Martoglio. “This deployment to the Western Pacific is a visible demonstration of the United States’ commitment to Japan and our other allies, friends, and coalition partners in the region. The United States Navy has and will continue to maintain a persistent forward presence in support of our treaty obligations, regional security, security of the maritime commons, and provision of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

The Navy is always hunting for plausible reasons why a carrier strike group—the ultimate expression of intimidating US power--should be hanging around a foreign country, instead of bottled up in its home port.

Captain Neil May, operations and planning officer for the US Pacific Fleet, floated some ideas, courtesy of GWOT (the Global War on Terror):

“The skill sets required for combating international terrorist organizations involve techniques analogous to old-fashioned beat cops walking the neighborhood,” said May. “The strike group conducts missions, like approach operations, EMIO (expanded maritime interdiction operations), and 'meals on keels' to get out in the sea-going community and try to learn firsthand what is going on in the neighborhood. By gaining the trust of the locals, we may be able to gather valuable information needed for us to find, and stop, the ‘bad actors.’ Maintaining a strong military presence in the world’s potential hot spots is very important for stability.”

What’s an approach exercise?

“Basically, it’s about visiting local mariners and collecting information.”Rigid-hull inflatable boats from each of the three ships took turns making approaches on Preble. “When we do approach ops, our intentions are not to board other vessels,” said Chief Quartermaster (SW) Bryan Cain. “We just pull up on the side and ask them how they are doing, then we ask the basic questions we need to know. If we get invited on board, the boarding officer will have a translator with him and go aboard non-aggressively.”

In other words: Aircraft Carrier Strike Groups—they’re not just for total war anymore.

Trouble is, sending a 100,000-ton displacement aircraft carrier with its full complement of destroyers, subs, etc. to police East Asia is like sending a forty-ton battle tank instead of a police car into a neighborhood.

The nuclear aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan is paying a port call in Hong Kong.

I have no insight as to whether the original scheduling of the port call was related to the upcoming Hong Kong elections.

However, showing the flag as a demonstration of power projection in Asian ports has been a been going on since the days of America’s Great White Fleet at the end of the 19th century, and in appearances by British gunboats in Chinese waters long before that.

There is always some strategic agenda involved beyond giving a shot in the arm to the local economy by giving US sailors an opportunity to sightsee, eat, drink, shop, and fornicate on shore.

The dispatch of the U.S. hospital ship Comfort to South America, for instance, is unambiguously a piece of hearts-and-minds outreach meant to burnish President Bush’s image ahead of a difficult trip down there.

The worst thing a superpower can do in these kinds of situations is not show up when it is expected, and I suppose we should be thankful that, in the midst of the commitments and distractions that are spreading our military so thin, the United States was able to demonstrate to China that we do have a carrier group available for action in the Pacific.

With the Kitty Hawk out of action for maintenance in Japan (it is due to be retired next year and replaced by the nuclear powered George Washington as America’s only “forward deployed” carrier based outside the US), the Nimitz preparing to relieve the Eisenhower in the Gulf, the Stennis already bound for the Gulf, and, as far as I can tell, every other carrier unavailable for reasons of maintenance or training, it was apparently deemed necessary to get the Ronald Reagan out to sea quickly so that the U.S. Navy could succor Hong Kong’s orphans, handicapped, and lovable stray dogs:

While in Hong Kong, 250 crew members will take part in 10 community relations projects March 8–9, to include assisting at orphanages and rehabilitation centers as well as working at a dog rescue facility.

In fact, the Reagan was hurriedly dispatched from San Diego on January 28 to fill the slot in the Pacific normally filled by the John Stennis, which, as noted above, was sent to the Persian Gulf.

After two weeks of frenetic preparation by its crew, the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan glided away from its North Island pier yesterday morning on an unusual “surge” deployment to the western Pacific Ocean.

As one can see, “surge” is very much the term du jour for America’s military planners.

In what may be a piece of bad news for soldiers serving in Iraq, a “surge” seems to mean a “sudden deployment”, not necessarily a temporary one.

In 2006, before it achieved global notoriety, the Navy was using the term “surge” for its carrier groups, as in:

Stennis was certified surge ready, meaning the ship will have to maintain a high state of readiness in case of an unscheduled deployment.

In this case, it refers to deploying aircraft carriers on an ad hoc basis—so that as many as six can be at sea in thirty days--instead of scheduling them according to a rigid plan, which traditionally made two carriers available at any time.

What is interesting about the Ronald Reagan’s visit is that the U.S. scrambled to put a carrier into the Western Pacific to impress the locals with the majesty of American arms or, at the very least, convince them that we had enough carriers to go around—and retain our jealously-guarded status as the Pacific Ocean’s blue-water top cop--even if we got involved in another hot war in the Middle East.


s tsui said...

I am 99% certain that the port call is not intended as a show of the US's prowess. If it is, it would be one of the lousiest PR stunt ever in the history of mankind. Every time a US ship come by, the only reaction from people in HK is that they would brace themselves for a few days of increased random violence in Wanchai (the sleazy bar area). And since I don't go to Wanchai anyway, I almost missed USS Reagan's visit save for a picture I saw in the papers today:

Ping pong diplomacy between the US Navy and the PLA. Nice.

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