NavWeek: Pacific Prologue


It’s often said that the past is prologue and U.S Navy Secretary Ray Mabus recently highlighted that sentiment when he visited Singapore to help trumpet the arrival there of the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS-1) USS Freedom and the importance of the U.S. Pacific pivot.

Indeed, as Mabus points out, it’s only fitting that Singapore should play such an important part in Freedom’s deployment – the ship will call the Changi Naval Base there home while in the region – and, thus, the pivot writ large.

Touting “the relationship that has existed between the United States and Singapore for so many years,” Mabus said May 11 at a Freedom event, “It is a long and important history that the Navy shares not only with the Asia-Pacific region but with this particular place.”

“In January of 1800 USS Essex set sail from the east coast of the United States for the waters around what is now Singapore,” he notes. “It was that frigate’s very first voyage, and was the first deployment of the United States Navy beyond the waters of the Atlantic.  The reason for the mission, the protection of trade and the development of maritime partnerships, was important 213 years ago and is even more critical today.”

As everyone knows, the Freedom and other LCS vessels are slated to take over the missions of the modern-day frigate fleet as those ships leave the fleet. And, too, Singapore marks the first deployment in Asian waters for the first-of-class LCS-1.

“That single mission by one of our early frigates marked the beginning of this enduring presence and partnership,” Mabus says.  “Since then our Navy ships have worked with other navies throughout this region, we’ve developed relationships with nations, militaries and leaders, and helped safeguard freedom of navigation and access to international waterways.  For 213 of the 237 years the United States Navy has existed, we have had a deep relationship with this crucial region.”

There are more than military reasons for doing so.

“Five trillion dollars of international trade flows through the waters of the Asia-Pacific every year,” Mabus says.  “This movement, the vast geography of this ocean and the importance of the nations which abut it, all make this region critical to the entire globe. Because 90% of the world’s trade is moved at sea, this freedom of movement has become central to the economic success and stability of us all.”

Singapore certainly has put out the red carpet for its U.S. naval friends.  

“We are grateful,” Mabus says, “to Singapore for hosting Freedom, the ships which come after her and their support capabilities, as well as for construction of a pier capable of supporting our aircraft carriers. This is a strong friendship and partnership with Singapore, and in particular with the Republic of Singapore Navy.”

Mabus has a politician’s instinct for saying many of the right things: “I am always impressed with your Navy.  Your ships, like the Formidable-class frigates and Endurance-class amphibs, are some of the finest anywhere.”

But, as many other U.S. naval officials have made clear, the pivot is meant to bolster and not supersede the sovereignty of Singapore and other regional partners. It’s not a new presence, but an expanding one.

“While we have been a constant presence in the Pacific for scores of years, our engagement is increasing,” Mabus says. “We are here and will remain in this vital region to cooperate and to work together. We will look for new and innovative opportunities for engagement. It is said and it is true that while equipment and personnel can be surged, trust cannot.  We are here to build on the trust and cooperation already accumulated over many years.”

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