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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Growth of San Diego's Navy fleet tied to tension in Korea

By Gary Robbins, UNION-TRIBUNE
The U.S. Navy has been shifting warships to San Diego from other ports in recent years to better prepare the Pentagon to respond to exactly the sort of military and political tension now occurring between North Korea and South Korea.
North Korea bombed the small South Korean island of Yeonpyeong on Nov. 23rd, killing four people. The bombing came as a US strike group led by the carrier George Washington was preparing to leave for a long-planned exercise with the South Korean Navy.
That exercise is going on now in the Yellow Sea.
The George Washington is homeported in Yokosuka, Japan. But the Navy has been sending many ships and personnel from the East Coast to the the West Coast, notably, San Diego. Southern California also is expected to get a large percentage of the Littoral Combat Ships that will be build for the Navy.
"The shift shows that we're going from worrying about NATO and Russia to worrying about China and Iran," defense analyst and author Eric Wertheim told us in August. North Korea also is a major concern because it has nuclear weapons, and it can fire long-range offensive missiles.
San Diego is currently home to about 60 surface ships and submarines, a figure that will rise to more than 80 by 2014. The Navy already has made such high profile moves as sending the carrier Carl Vinson from Virginia to North Island. The carrier arrived in April.
The city hosts two other carriers, the Nimitz and the Ronald Reagan. The Nimitz is scheduled to leave for a port change on Dec. 2. But the ship will remain on the West Coast, porting in Bremerton, Washington.
The carrier Lincoln briefly visited North Island Naval Station in September to take on crew, supplies, and, offshore, its air wing.
Two other carriers, the Truman and the Lincoln, are currently operating in the western Pacific. The Lincoln took on its air wing off San Diego County in September, and is currently operating with support from a pair of San Diego-based ships, the cruiser Cape St. George and the destroyer Halsey. Lincoln, like other carriers, stocks about 75 aircraft. And ships like Cape St. George and Halsey are designed to fire long-range cruise missiles.
"If the situation escalates, short of general war, I could easily imagine the US wanting a stronger show of force," John Pike, a defense analyst for, said today. "If the CHICOMS (Chinese Communists) are unhappy about one carrier in the North China Sea, possibly their unhappiness at two carriers sailing in their Exclusive Economic Zone might prompt them to get off the dime and lean on North Korea."
The shift in ships and personnel was meant to anticipate such trouble. And the build up has occurred quickly. San Diego County had the highest active duty military payroll in the country last year, pulling ahead of the huge Naval complex in and around Norfolk, Virginia. The local active duty payroll, which includes Camp Pendleton Marines, now stands at about $11.2 billion.
Much of that money is regularly used to put together the sort of carrier strike group that the carrier Washington is now leading. That flat-top is being shadowed by the cruiser Cowpens, and the destroyers Lassen, Stethem and and Fitzgerald. There also may be a submarine in the mix.
“While this exercise, which is defensive in nature, has been planned for some time, it underscores the importance of the ROK-U.S. alliance and our collective commitment to regional security and stability,” said Rear Adm. Dan Cloyd, Commander, said in a statement issued early today.
- US Navy
The San Diego-based cruiser Cape St. George fires a missile.
The West Coast build up goes beyond simply creating strike groups. Increasingly, surface warships, including some stationed in San Diego, are being fitted with SM-3 missiles, a new and evolving weapon that was designed to knock down missiles fired by countries like North Korea and Iran, if necessary. Even older vessels are part of the geopolitical equation. The Navy is considering selling the San Diego-based frigate Jarrett to Taiwan next year to give that nation more protection against China.
All this shifting comes during period when the Defense Department says there will be deep budget cuts. But analysts say that San Diego will largely be spared because of its strategic importance.
"San Diego is in as good if not better position to get through these cuts than any other place," said John Pike, said earlier this year.