A new ship is coming to the region. The USS Fort Worth, a US
Navy littoral combat ship (LCS), left its home port in San Diego last month,
bound for Singapore, from where it will spend the better part of 16 months
operating with the people and navies of the Asia-Pacific region.
We're excited that this deployment is in progress, with the
Fort Worth arriving today in Jakarta, Indonesia, and then on to Singapore next
The Fort Worth's arrival in South-east Asia is a reminder of
the central role that the United States continues to play in a region to which
"the centre of gravity of global affairs" has begun to shift, as our
good friend, Singapore Minister for Defence, Dr Ng Eng Hen, remarked recently.
The US and Asia are united by the waters of the Pacific.
Much of the engagement on which our relationship with this vital region is
built takes place on, above, or below the sea, through myriad maritime air
routes and sea lanes, just as it has for generations.
Maritime trade and investment have been the prevailing
sources of shared economic prosperity for the US and Asia, and will remain
integral parts of our ever-increasing commitment to shared success, well-being
For nations that depend on the sea to sustain growth and
development, maritime security underwrites economic prosperity. This is
certainly true in South-east Asia, where more than 620 million people live near
the sea and produce a combined gross domestic product of more than US$2.4
trillion (S$3.2 trillion).
Like the rapid economic growth that propelled many regional
countries out of poverty in the mid- to late-20th century, the free flow of
trade across Pacific sea lanes to container ports and intercoastal waterways
does not happen by itself.
Rather, it requires persistent commitment, manifested in the
continuous forward presence and vigilance of US Navy sailors, marines, ships
and aircraft, in constant coordination with regional allies and partners. It
requires ships like the Fort Worth, which work with regional navies throughout
the year, every year - for the benefit of Americans, South-east Asians, and the
From an in-principle agreement announced at the Shangri-La
Dialogue in 2011 to the inaugural deployment of the USS Freedom last year, and
now the Fort Worth, rotational deployments of LCSs to the US 7th Fleet have
become tangible symbols of America's broader rebalance to the Asia-Pacific.
The rebalance was reaffirmed by President Barack Obama at
the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and East Asia Summit meetings last month.
Taking into account the significant US economic engagement
in South-east Asia, with the US investing more in the region than any other
market in Asia, this ongoing commitment of words and deeds to shared security
and prosperity reflects the centrality of South-east Asia to the US.
The Fort Worth will soon become a regular fixture in
South-east Asia and, in the coming years, the region will see up to four LCSs
deployed at the same time.
Forward presence by the LCS is intentional: South-east
Asia's long coastlines and thousands of islands connected by dense shipping
lanes and thriving entrepots make it a textbook littoral region in which the
Fort Worth will fit quite well.
Combining manoeuvrability, high speed and shallow draft, the
LCS is uniquely suited to navigate waters and go places inaccessible to larger
ships. LCSs will operate in other parts of the region as well, including
North-east Asia and South Asia.
The Fort Worth will spend most of its time working with
regional navies at sea. Smaller, capable warships like LCSs are in high demand
in South-east Asia and, unsurprisingly, the Fort Worth's arrival is highly
anticipated by navies throughout the region.
The Fort Worth will use its capabilities to build capacity
and enhance multilateral ties in the 2015 Cooperation Afloat Readiness and
Training exercise series, a yearly meeting of nine partner navies in South and
Exercises are essential. But we believe the most meaningful
interactions are those that will occur as the officers and sailors aboard the
Fort Worth explore the region, learn new skills, and build understanding with
their naval counterparts - developing relationships that will serve the US and
Asia long after the Fort Worth returns to San Diego.
Most of our young naval ambassadors are between the ages of
18 and 25, and represent the future of the US Navy. By travelling more than
8,000 nautical miles across the sea for a 16-month deployment, they continue a
naval tradition that has connected the people of the US with Asia for
Aboard the Fort Worth, they will engage regional navies on
behalf of our shared security and rising economic prosperity. This is good for
America, and for the region - now and for many years to come.