ABOARD THE USS RONALD REAGAN — The massive Valiant Shield military exercise off the waters of Guam sends several messages, one of which is “peace through strength,” said the admiral of one of three carriers in the exercise.
That message is displayed through the Navy’s invitation of China to view the war games — an attempt to make the sleeping military giant a friend rather than a potential foe.
But the exercise, the largest gathering of aircraft carriers in the Pacific since the Vietnam War, also comes at a time when North Korea has given strong indication it will test-fire a missile powerful enough to reach the United States.
All the more reason, officials said, to establish regional stability through strength and numbers. With more than 20,000 personnel, three carriers, 28 ships and 290 aircraft in the air, Valiant Shield boasts both.
“The ability for the American military to generate forces and to bring them all together on relatively short notice is something that I think should be reassuring to our allies in the Pacific,” said Rear Adm. Michael Miller, commander of Carrier Strike Group Seven. “All of this makes for a more peaceful and secure region.”
Valiant Shield 2006 began Monday, marking the first of what will become biennial exercises involving different arms of the U.S. military, Miller said. The three carriers involved are the Reagan, USS Kitty Hawk and USS Abraham Lincoln.
The Navy wants to be able to dispatch more carriers on shorter notice as North Korea remains a threat and China builds up its military.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned North Korea on Monday it will face consequences if it test fires a missile that can reach the West Coast of the United States, according to an Associated Press report.
The United States, Japan, Australia, South Korea and other countries have urged North Korea to abandon any missile firing, but there was no sign of backing down. U.S. officials said Monday the missile was apparently fully assembled and fueled, giving the North a launch window of about a month.
“Valiant Shield 2006 is a perfect example of forces rapidly coming together from many different geographic regions to operate together on short notice,” Miller said.
The San Diego-based USS Ronald Reagan and the nearly 6,000 sailors assigned to its strike group recently completed missions in support of operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. The USS Abraham Lincoln, out of Washington state, recently left Sasebo, Japan. The Kitty Hawk is based in Japan.
The exercise runs through Friday.
“Peace through strength” is plastered around the carrier, quoting the ship’s namesake. The ideology comes into fruition with the first-ever visit of Chinese officials, a 10-member delegation of politicians and military brass, to war games in the Pacific.
Adm. William Fallon, commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, made the invitation with the expectation that China will reciprocate.
Miller said in today’s constantly changing threat environments, it is essential to swiftly bring together integrated, versatile military forces in response to any regional contingency; however, he said he would not comment on hypothetical situations, including a possible conflict with North Korea.
Miller called the visit by China’s delegates “small steps, but important steps to build that bridge between the two countries.”
Miller stopped short of characterizing the exercise as a deterrent to military activities in North Korea or China; however, he said the exercises will strengthen joint interoperability between the three Pacific-based carriers, as well as the Air Force, Marine Corps and U.S. Coast Guard to ensure stability and security throughout the Asia-Pacific region.
Monday was “a very good day hunting submarines,” said Capt. David Steindl, Destroyer Squadron Seven commander. Although nobody could speak on what specific scenarios are being played out, Steindl said the submarines practiced tracking and “killing” submarines.
Guam-based submarines USS Houston and City of Corpus Christi are participating in the exercise.
The open sea and air space around Guam make it ideal for an exercise of this caliber, officials said, including simulating air-to-air and air-to-ground combat.
The exercise also helps demonstrate the support capabilities of bases on Guam.
The island is becoming a fast-response hub for the U.S. military in the Pacific, with a renewed bomber presence, three nuclear submarines and the possibility of more, and plans to move 8,000 Marines there from Okinawa, Japan, by 2014. Military brass in the past have called Guam the “tip of the spear” in national defense.
“When the carrier’s operating in the vicinity of Guam, that can only help explain how we would interact,” Miller said. “This is a demonstration of a commitment that has been longstanding for many, many years.”