US Pacific Command changes leadership amid new realities in the region
iStock/Thinkstock(HONOLULU) — New leadership will take over at the U.S. Pacific Command on Wednesday, as Admiral Philip Davidson becomes the new leader of all U.S. military forces operating in the Pacific. He succeeds Admiral Harry Harris.
A title change may be coming to the command, as well, if a Congressional committee passes legislation that would rename it U.S. Indo-Pacific Command to reflect the region’s strategic importance.
U.S. Pacific Command coordinates all U.S. military operations in the vast area stretching from India to Hawaii.
Harris’ three years at PACOM have been marked by provocations from North Korea’s increased ballistic missile and nuclear weapons program, as well as China’s growing military presence in the South China Sea.
Davidson, most recently the head of U.S. Fleet Forces Command, conducted the comprehensive review of U.S. Naval operations in the wake of the deadly collisions of the USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain that killed 17 Sailors.
He will take over command at a key time, amid continued talks about the United States and North Korea possibly holding a summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on June 12.
While the U.S. and China have been partners in working to eliminate North Korea’s nuclear weapons threat, there have been growing tensions between the two nations over China’s growing military presence around island chains it claims in the South China Sea.
Last week, the Pentagon disinvited China from participating in this year’s RIMPAC exercise, a multinational naval exercise that will take place off the coast of Hawaii in June.
The Pentagon said it was disinviting China specifically because of what it sees as the militarization of the Spratly and Paracel Islands where China has deployed missile systems, electronic jammers and recently landed bomber aircraft.
The U.S. has repeatedly warned China that is has made excessive claims to the territorial waters off those island chains. The U.S. Navy routinely sails ships into waters off those islands to make the point that they are international waters; this past weekend when two U.S. Navy warships sailed through the waters off the Paracel Islands.
Reflecting the command’s key role in national security strategy, both Defense Secretary James Mattis and General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will be in Hawaii to attend the change in leadership at PACOM.
Another sign of how the U.S. is adjusting to new realities in the region is the possible name change that could be made, from U.S. Pacific Command to the possible new name of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, if Congress gets its way.
Last week the House Armed Services Committee included language for the name change in next year’s National Defense Authorization Act.
The bill “renames U.S. Pacific Command to U.S. Indo-Pacific Command to emphasize the Commands’ responsibility across the Pacific and Indian Oceans,” said a committee fact sheet about the legislation.
A name change would be in line with the National Defense Strategy unveiled by the Pentagon earlier this year. That strategy document consistently referred to what had been previously called the Asia-Pacific region by the new term Indo-Pacific region.
Last week, a Pentagon spokesman would not confirm to reporters if the Pentagon was considering the name change.
But Colonel Rob Manning also added that “the significance of any name change is to better characterize the responsibility.”
“As you look at titles and unit designations, organizations, the name of an organization should encapsulate their responsibility and so certainly that’s a consideration,” he continued.
Admiral Harris will retire from the Navy following the change of command, but will continue playing a key role in U.S. national security efforts in the region. He has been nominated by the Trump administration to be the next U.S. ambassador to South Korea.
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