ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT –
Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work completed his first official trip to Asia today after spending his second day in Japan meeting with defense and military leaders in Tokyo, Yokosuka and Iwakuni.
The deputy secretary began the weeklong trip Aug. 17 with a stop in Hawaii for discussions with officials from U.S. Pacific Command and continued on to Guam, South Korea and Japan.
On his first day in Japan, Work met with senior government officials in Tokyo, including Parliamentary Senior Defense Vice Minister Ryota Takeda and Parliamentary Senior Foreign Affairs Vice Minister Nobuo Kishi.
The deputy secretary also met there with service component commanders and U.S. service members.
Work and the ministers discussed efforts to modernize the U.S.-Japan alliance by revising the nations’ defense cooperation guidelines, the progress made on reducing the number and environmental effects of U.S. forces in Okinawa, and the bilateral efforts underway to enhance alliance force posture and capabilities.
They also discussed the regional security environment, including the importance of deterring North Korean provocations by enhancing trilateral cooperation with South Korea and increasing bilateral cooperation on ballistic missile defense.
Progress has been made, for example, the ministers said, on deploying a second TPY-2 ballistic missile defense radar to Japan.
Work began his final morning in Japan meeting with Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera to discuss defense cooperation, bilateral matters, security issues and other topics.
Afterward, Work traveled to Yokota Air Base and Yokosuka Naval Base and toured the guided missile destroyer USS Shiloh, receiving briefings and talking to troops in the ship’s combat information center, the pilothouse and the central control station. The deputy secretary had lunch with 11 sailors on the mess deck.
Next, Work visited Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni on Japan’s main island, Honshu. While there he observed flight line hangars and facilities on the way to a hangar tour of Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 242, known as the Bats.
He also visited the new air traffic control tower, the aircraft rescue fire-fighting facility and facilities belonging to Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152. The squadron’s first KC-130J Super Hercules touched down at Iwakuni July 15.
At Iwakuni, Work reviewed this and other progress made to realign U.S. forces in Japan and highlighted the U.S. commitment to deploy its most advanced capabilities to Japan -- including the first overseas deployment of Marine Corps F-35 Lighting II joint strike fighter jets in 2017.
On the way home, Work described the benefit to Japan of the buildup on Iwakuni during an interview yesterday with DOD News. He also discussed three other massive projects in the region that demonstrate the long-term, multifaceted U.S. commitment to countries in the Asia-Pacific region.
“The KC-130s moving off Okinawa to Iwakuni relieves the burden on Okinawa and puts the KC-130s -- the aircraft they would support in a contingency -- right next to the Marines, and reduces the total number of flights in and out of Okinawa,” Work explained.
Congestion and noise complaints from Tokyo prompted the decision to move the Navy’s Carrier Air Wing 5, composed of several aircraft squadrons and detachments of fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft, from Atsugi to Iwakuni, Work added. CVW-5 is attached to the aircraft carrier USS George Washington.
The U.S. and Japanese governments are working to fund more than $4 billion associated with Iwakuni improvement projects, the deputy secretary said, adding that three Marine squadrons, the KC-130s, CVW-5 and an EA-6B Prowler squadron -- Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 2 -- all will occupy the new operating hub.
Also at Iwakuni, the headquarters elements of Marine Air Group 12 and CVW-5 will share one building, he said.
Work compared the build-up at Iwakuni with other billion-dollar-plus projects on Guam, in South Korea and in northern Okinawa.
“One is the relocation at Camp Humphreys [in South Korea], the second is the construction at Iwakuni, the third is going to be the building of the Futenma replacement facility at Camp Schwab in northern Okinawa, and the fourth will be the relocation of the Marines [from Okinawa] to Guam,” Work said.
“These four construction projects are enormous and are indicative of our intent to stay in the Pacific for the long haul,” the deputy secretary noted.
In 2004, the U.S. and South Korea agreed to move U.S. forces south of the Han River and relocate U.S. Forces Korea and the U.N. Command headquarters to U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys. When complete, these movements could make the base the largest U.S. Army garrison in Asia.
Work said the movement to U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys will make the U.S. military presence politically sustainable over the long term and will lead toward the transfer of wartime operational control at some time in the future.
“Iwakuni will allow … the consolidation of [all of] our carrier air wing forces and our Marine tactical fighter forces in Iwakuni,” Work added, “and the Futenma replacement facility will allow us to close Futenma and consolidate the Marines to the north on Okinawa.”
On Guam, by about 2025, 5,000 Marines will move to Guam and comprise a Marine air-ground task force. About $8.7 billion is being spent to build up military and other facilities on the island to create this new U.S. strategic hub.
“I don't think people realize the enormity of these four projects, and I think they're indicative of the strong alliance we have with [Korea], the strong alliance we have with the Japanese, our concern for the people of Okinawa … and [our effort] to make Guam a strategic hub for the Pacific,” Work said.
“When I was undersecretary of the Navy,” he added, “I focused on Futenma, what was happening in Okinawa and what was happening on Guam. But now as the deputy secretary, this trip has helped me understand what's going on in Korea and all the other things we're doing with Japan.”
And with both nations, the United States is stressing the importance of interoperability of ballistic military defense system elements, the deputy secretary said.
“The missile threat from North Korea is very severe and it’s growing, so the United States has a responsibility to protect its own forces in Korea and also the bases that U.S. forces would operate from,” Work said.
The Korean air and missile defense system will focus on protecting Seoul and other populated areas, as well as Korean forces, he added, and the Japanese already have a very substantial ballistic missile defense capability.
“They have the same Aegis system that we have. We’re very interoperable,” he noted. “The TPY-2 radars allow queueing -- where the radars tell the shooters a missile is coming in.”
Work added, “We don’t want to take over the South Korean air and missile defense system or the Japanese theater air and missile systems … but we want interoperability among the three systems. We want to be able to exchange information and tell each other, We see a missile coming in and be able to decide who’s going to engage. For us it’s all about interoperability of the three systems.”
The deputy secretary reported making very good progress with the Japanese and having more progress to make with the Koreans.
“But everyone understands how important it is for us to move toward interoperability,” he added.
During his time in Japan, Work strongly welcomed the decision of the Japanese government to begin official discussions on whether Japan should allow its military forces to help allies even when the nation itself isn’t under attack.
“From the United States’ perspective,” Work said, “this is a very good thing that will allow Japan and the United States to redo the defense guidelines -- which hasn’t been done since 1997 -- and will allow us to have better planning for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, better planning for noncombatant evacuation operations, and better planning [for] contingencies.”
Work said he told the ministers, “I believe that 10 years from now people are going to look back on this and they're going to [characterize it as] a singular and very important event, and an inflection point in our alliance.
“It is going to be the cornerstone of our presence and operations in the Northeast Asia region and will ultimately lead to peace and prosperity.”
“They are now working out just exactly what collective self defense means and what changes it might allow for the Japanese,” he said. “We encourage it. We’re very happy. But this is something for the Japanese to work out.”
Throughout his visit, Work spoke with U.S. service members, asked them about themselves and their work, and thanked them and their families for their dedication and service.
“I'd really rather be around soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen and Guardsmen because, as I tell them, they really are our secret weapon, without a question,” Work said.
The deputy secretary, a distinguished graduate of the Naval Reserve Officers Training Course at the University of Illinois, was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps in August 1974 and had a 27-year military career.
“The stuff they do every day is amazing,” he added, “so being able to visit the [USS] Shiloh and being able to visit the airmen at Osan and the soldiers at [Command Post TANGO in South Korea] reminds me why I like this job and how I’ve constantly got to be thinking about what we can do to make their lives and their mission easier.”