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Politics

US upgrading naval power in Japan, with eye on China

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Navy will swap three ships stationed in Japan with newer, better-equipped ones to boost American deterrence in the face of China's continued military buildup.

     The USS Green Bay, an amphibious transport dock ship, will replace the USS Denver at the naval base in Sasebo next February, the Navy said Wednesday. These vessels are designed to land troops and equipment in amphibious operations and could thus be used to defend outlying Japanese islands.

     With a displacement of around 25,000 tons, the Green Bay is about 50% bigger than the Denver, has a high-tech command and control system, and can carry Osprey transport planes.

     In addition, the USS Pioneer and the USS Chief, which sweep and hunt for mines, will take over for the USS Avenger and the USS Defender in May. They "represent a significant improvement in capability" for the Navy's forward-deployed forces, according to the statement.

     The unmentioned bogy lurking behind this modernization is China.

     China's provocative actions, including the declaration of a sweeping offshore air defense identification zone, "have raised tensions in the region and concerns about China's objectives in both the South China and the East China Seas," U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel told a congressional committee Wednesday.

     While urging China and neighboring countries to seek diplomatic solutions to their maritime disputes, America is preparing for what-if scenarios.

     The U.S. military and Japan's Self-Defense Forces came up with a plan last summer for dealing with hostile actions on the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. The initial response would entail scrambling B-52 bombers from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam and landing Marines on the islands, which China calls the Diaoyu and claims as its own. The Pentagon reckons China will get the message behind the deployment of a new U.S. amphibious transport ship to Sasebo.

     Last December, a squadron of P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol planes took up residence at the U.S. Air Force's Kadena base in Okinawa. Global Hawk drones are expected to deploy to Misawa air base in Aomori Prefecture, on the northern tip of Japan's main island, from May to October.

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