San Diego Union Tribune

February 15, 2006

Carrier strike groups join focus on western Pacific
Major exercises involve the Reagan, three others

By Otto Kreisher

Following the directions of a recently released defense review to shift its focus westward, the Navy plans to hold major exercises involving four aircraft carriers in the Pacific this summer, the Pacific Fleet's commander said yesterday.

It has been at least a decade since four carriers have operated simultaneously in the Pacific, Adm. Gary Roughead, the commander, told an Asian Society luncheon.

One carrier slated for the exercises is the San Diego-based Ronald Reagan. A second will come from the Atlantic Fleet, marking the first time since the Vietnam War that an East Coast carrier will operate in the western Pacific, said Navy Capt. Matt Brown.

The hospital ship Mercy, based in San Diego, also will deploy to the western Pacific this summer. It's expected to practice providing humanitarian assistance on the scale seen after the December 2004 earthquake and tsunami in South Asia, Roughead said.

Brown said the exercises will start in June with the Reagan strike group, the Japan-based Kitty Hawk strike group and another Pacific-based carrier. A carrier strike group has at least three warships, an attack submarine and a support ship.

In July, at least two U.S. carrier groups will participate in multinational naval maneuvers that are held near the Hawaiian Islands every two years. Ships from Australia, Chile, Japan, South Korea, Peru and perhaps other countries will take part, Brown said.

The summer's activities will conclude with a western Pacific exercise in August, with the Atlantic Fleet carrier joining in, he said.

Roughead said the increase in activity in the Pacific is in keeping with goals outlined in the Quadrennial Defense Review. The report, issued every four years by the Pentagon, was released officially Feb. 6.

The review said the Navy “will have greater presence in the Pacific Ocean, consistent with the global shift of trade and transport.”

Although the report noted that “China has the greatest potential to compete militarily with the United States,” Roughead said he did not consider China a threat.

In assessing possible dangers, he explained, military planners look at a nation's capabilities and intent.

“There is no question” that the Chinese Navy is modernizing and expanding, but its intent “is more of a mystery,” Roughead said.

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