U.S. bolsters military presence in Indo-Pacific amid rising tensions

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10th December 2023 – (Singapore) The United States is intensifying its military cooperation with allied forces across the Indo-Pacific. This development comes as a response to growing concerns over potential conflicts in areas such as the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea.

The recent deployment of U.S. Air Force assets to Singapore marks a significant step in this direction. For the first time in half a decade, U.S. forces based in South Korea have participated in joint military exercises on the island nation. The drills, known as Commando Sling 23, took place over a three-week period from 6th to 24th November. This exercise involved six F-16 fighter jets and approximately 90 aircraft maintainers from the Osan base in South Korea, underscoring the U.S. commitment to regional security and the strengthening of bilateral military ties.

The exercises aimed to enhance aerial communication, refine tactical approaches, and foster greater interoperability between the U.S. and Singaporean air forces, ultimately improving the allied capability to respond to potential threats. The drills provided invaluable experience for U.S. personnel, allowing them to work closely with Singaporean counterparts and hone their combat readiness.

This move is somewhat unusual for the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK), whose primary mission is the defence of South Korea against potential aggression from the North. The USFK’s operations are typically confined to the Korean peninsula or within the United States itself, with the last known overseas deployment for exercises occurring in 2018.

The USFK’s engagement in the Commando Sling exercises occurs against a backdrop of heightened tensions in the region. Recent activities by the People’s Liberation Army have been met with concern, particularly in the South China Sea, where the U.S. has been accused of disrupting peace and stability. The USS Gabrielle Giffords’ recent operations alongside the Philippine Navy in disputed waters have drawn particular attention from Beijing, which has been vocal in its opposition to what it perceives as U.S. infringement on its territorial claims.

The U.S. has also been proactive in its surveillance efforts, with a P-8A anti-submarine patrol aircraft recently traversing the Taiwan Strait, an action that prompted the PLA’s Eastern Theatre Command to dispatch fighter jets for monitoring purposes.

Analysts suggest that the positioning of U.S. combat aircraft in East Asia is a strategic measure, providing Washington with rapid response capabilities to address any sudden developments in local conflicts. This deployment strategy aligns with the “Agile Combat Employment” concept introduced by the U.S. in 2022, aimed at enhancing deterrence through support for joint all-domain operations. The concept emphasises the flexibility of U.S. forces to move and respond to crises across different areas, thereby complicating adversary calculations.

Experts note that the USFK possesses a unique strategic flexibility within the region, which could play a pivotal role in any potential conflict scenarios involving China. While U.S. forces in Japan face constitutional constraints, the USFK does not share these limitations and could be instrumental in responding to regional contingencies.

The recent joint exercises with Singapore are indicative of the USFK’s preparedness for broader conflict scenarios, including those that may arise in the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea. The implications of such confrontations could be far-reaching, potentially escalating into a regional war.