Several weeks ago Defense Secretary Panetta added some very specific measures to the description of the military’s rebalance toward Asia, a vital but also potentially vague element of the new strategy.
By 2020 the Navy will reposture its forces from today’s roughly 50/50 percent split between the Pacific and the Atlantic to about a 60/40 split between those oceans. That will include six aircraft carriers in this region, a majority of our cruisers, destroyers, Littoral Combat Ships, and submarines.
That’s an admirably empirical goal. Testing it shows that it’s also likely to be one of the Pentagon’s more easily achieved ones. The chart below bins major ship classes by whether their home port, as reported by the Navy’s fact files, is on the Pacific or Atlantic.
Six of the US’ eleven aircraft carriers already have a home port station in the Pacific, as do a majority of the cruisers, destroyers, and submarines currently in the force. The second half of Panetta’s statement is today’s reality more than a goal for the future. (The LCS fleet, which Panetta also referenced, has only two of its twenty ships fielded to date, both of which are stationed in San Deigo.)
The first half of Panetta’s plan, a shift in naval forces from 50 percent to 60 percent in the Pacific, is a little further away. Since the ships he named are already balanced the way he described, Panetta seems to be wrapping more of the Navy into this claim, presumably adding in amphibious ships and frigates. Altogether there are 236 ships in these fleets. 53.8 percent (127) of them have a Pacific homeport, more than the 50/50 split Panetta referenced but less than the 60/40 goal. Fifteen of the 109 Atlantic ships would have to swing into the Pacific to hit the 60 percent threshold, assuming that these fleets maintain their current size. Of course, not all ships are created equal and moving frigates is not the same thing as moving destroyers (let alone an aircraft carrier).
Of course there’s a limit to how much just counting ships tells us about qualitative changes in posture. But the Pentagon itself chose the 60/40 split as a benchmark for the rebalance. At the moment, success doesn’t look too hard to claim.