Monday, May 07, 2007

North Korea and Guam

Pacific, Korean Commanders Declare ''Overmatch''
Mar 8, 2007
By Michael Bruno/Aerospace Daily & Defense Report

The four-star chiefs of the U.S. Pacific and Korea combatant commands declared March 7 that the United States and its allies enjoy an overwhelming "overmatch" of naval and air forces in the region against any challenger, but the Korea commander noted concern with longer-term supplies of air-delivered munitions.

U.S. Navy Adm. William Fallon, head of Pacific Command, and U.S. Army Gen. Burwell Bell, the military commander in South Korea, told the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) that they are not in immediate need of additional weapons, systems or other so-called unfunded priorities.

They also maintained that U.S. commitments to Iraq and Afghanistan operations, particularly ground forces, do not impede their abilities to respond to potential incidents with China, North Korea or other regional contingencies. The United States would lead with its Navy and Air Force, as well as the South Korean army there.

Moreover, despite being given plenty of opportunity to state otherwise, Fallon, who shortly will take over Central Command in the Middle East, also told lawmakers that proposed or potential delays to acquisitions like the Joint Strike Fighter, shipbuilding or other long-term programs do not concern him now as long as investments are kept up so those platforms and systems could be accelerated and expanded if need be.

"We weigh off risks," the admiral said. "You make these tradeoffs."

He also highlighted ongoing positive developments such as X-band and Aegis radars for missile defense, as well as the recently ordered deployment of a dozen F-22 Raptors to Kadena Air Base, Japan (DAILY, Feb. 28).

Nevertheless, under pointed questioning from Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.), a retired vice admiral who unseated former HASC vice chair Curt Weldon (R) last November, Bell acknowledged that if a conflict with North Korea extended from days to weeks, he would ask for more strike munitions from U.S. inventories. Ideally, Korean and domestic inventories would be boosted before then anyway, he said.

Overall, U.S. air power apparently would play a major role in such an engagement, according to their dialogue during the hearing. North Korea watches Guam-to-South Korea B-52 exercises closely. While Bell is not too worried about North Korean air forces, whose flight hours and capabilities pale in comparison to U.S. aircraft, he is "very concerned" about roughly 80,000 North Korean special forces personnel who likely would be seeded throughout South Korea via aircraft and other means.

Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.), HASC seapower and expeditionary forces chairman, also pressed Bell on Humvees in his area of responsibility. Taylor is convinced all U.S. branches should replace every Humvee with Mine Resistant Ambush Protection (MRAP) vehicles, as the Marine Corps plans to do starting in Iraq. The general responded that while "soft-skinned" Humvees would not be his first choice in a Korean conflict, officials do not anticipate the same problem with roadside bombs that plague U.S. forces elsewhere.

The Senate Armed Services Committee on March 8 will hear from Adm. Timothy Keating, to be the new Pacific commander, as well as Air Force Lt. Gen. Victor Renuart Jr., who will follow Keating as head of Northern Command.

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