Twenty years after the American military left the Philippines, the Pentagon wants back in the former U.S. colony.
Yup, this whole strategic shift to Asia means that the DoD faces the prospect of fighting from a limited number of bases in the Western Pacific; think Hawaii, Guam, Japan and South Korea, oh, and the Marines relatively tiny new base in Australia.
The problem with this, defense planing-types worry, is that China's new generation of long range ballistic missiles can take out this handful of bases with relative ease. The solution, create a network of dispersal bases at old World War Two and Cold War facilities that are scattered throughout the islands of the Pacific. American planes, ships and troops could deploy to these bare bones facilities during times of heightened tension, making it harder for an enemy to knock out U.S. troop concentrations and facilities.
(Yes, there's been a limited U.S. presence in the southern Philippines aimed at helping the local government defeat Islamic terrorists but this sounds bigger than that.)
News that the Pentagon wants more access to Philippine ports and airfields seems to reflect this thinking. The DoD doesn't want to build new permanent bases, but it does want to guarantee that its planes and ships have access to Philippine airfields and ports for training, refuling, resupply and repairs, according to Rueters.
The Pentagon also wants to base a small number of P-3 Orion spy planes in the Philippines and transfer more weapons to the island nation which is growing concerned with China's expanding military presence in the oil-rich South China Sea.
Keep in mind, this comes just after Pentagon officials revealed during their 2013 budget briefing press conference that the Navy will be basing Littoral Combat Ships in Singapore; the tiny yet powerful state that was known as the Gibraltar of the East due to its strategic location at the end of the Strait of Malacca, one of the worlds most important shipping lanes.
Here's what the Reuters article has to say:
"It's access, not bases," a foreign affairs department official familiar with the strategic dialogue told Reuters.
"Our talks focus on strengthening cooperation on military and non-military activities, such as disaster response and humanitarian assistance, counter-terrorism, non-proliferation. There were no discussions about new U.S. bases," he said.
These activities would allow the U.S. military more access in the Philippines, stretching its presence beyond local military facilities and training grounds into central Cebu province or to Batanes island near the northern borders with Taiwan.
U.S. ships and aircraft are seeking access for re-supply, re-fueling and repairs, not just for goodwill visits, exercises and training activities, the diplomat said.
The Philippines was ruled by the United States for nearly five decades between the departure of the Spanish and the Japanese occupation during the Second World War, and is now one of its foremost allies in Asia, despite expelling the U.S. from its former military bases at Clark and Subic Bay in 1992.
Since 1987, the Philippine constitution has explicitly banned a permanent foreign military presence. But Washington maintains close military ties under a 1951 defense treaty, and its special forces have been helping the Philippine military combat Islamic militants in the south of the country since 2002.
A Filipino diplomat said Washington's expanding presence is allowed under the under a 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement and a 2002 Mutual Logistics Support Agreement.