Roadmap to the Rebalance

By Rear Admiral Michael E. Smith, U.S. Navy

Since the release of the DSG, senior leaders have provided amplifying rebalance guidance. Most recently, at the June 2013 Shangri-La Dialogue, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel reaffirmed U.S. commitment to the rebalance and noted that the upcoming Department of Defense Strategic Choices Management Review will emphasize that “the United States will continue to implement the rebalance and prioritize our posture, activities, and investments in Asia-Pacific.” Secretary Hagel was careful to highlight that “the Asia-Pacific rebalance is not a retreat from other regions of the world.” 3

Former National Security Advisor Tom Donilon’s November 2012 speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies placed the military’s effort to rebalance in the context of a broader, whole-of-government approach. 4 In his remarks to the Australian Parliament in November 2011, President Obama asserted the importance of America’s rebalance to the Asia-Pacific, stating that “as a Pacific nation, the United States will play a larger and long-term role in shaping this region and its future, by upholding core principles and in close partnership with our allies and friends.” 5 This top-level guidance provides overarching direction for the rebalance, and CNO Admiral Jonathan Greenert, has identified four main categories of effort for the Navy to make it happen: deploying more forces to the Asia-Pacific, basing more assets in the region, fielding new capabilities tailored to Asia-Pacific challenges, and developing our partnerships and intellectual capital. 6

With clear strategic guidance from our senior leaders, the prerequisites are in place to build a comprehensive Navy roadmap to guide mid- and long-term planning and programming choices for the rebalance. The Navy must translate the goals articulated by senior leadership into actionable end-states, with supporting milestones against which we can assess our progress. To achieve the goals of the rebalance, strategists and planners must develop sequenced and synchronized actions aligned within specific lines of effort. Taking a systematic, strategic approach, these actions will apply the Navy’s “means” through specified “ways” to achieve our national “ends.” This includes identifying initial actions we must take over the next few years that will position the Navy to achieve goals 10 to 20 years into the future.


The overarching national-policy objective of the rebalance, as explained by then-National Security Advisor Donilon, is “to sustain a stable security environment and a regional order rooted in economic openness, peaceful resolution of disputes, and respect for universal rights and freedoms.” 7 Three additional Department of Defense policy objectives (derived from the DSG and Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter’s October 2012 remarks at the Wilson Center) support this overarching objective:

• Maintain peace, stability, the free flow of commerce, and U.S. influence in the Asia-Pacific region

• Maintain regional access and the ability to operate freely

• Build a healthy, transparent, and sustainable U.S.-China defense relationship that also supports a broader U.S.-China relationship. 8

Our rebalance roadmap must be constructed to support achievement of each of these end-states. Given their long-term nature, our roadmap must also include derived mid-term supporting goals to which we can phase our actions and assess our progress.


The Navy’s rebalance will contribute to the national end-states if we can effectively apply the means—the unique set of tools at our disposal—within well-defined lines-of-effort, the “ways.” At the national level, five pillars of the rebalance strategy have been identified:

• Strengthening alliances

• Deepening partnerships

• Empowering regional institutions

• Building a stable, productive, and constructive relationship with China

• Helping to build a regional economic architecture that can sustain shared prosperity. 9

The first four of these constitute the ways in which the Navy will rebalance. The roadmap must provide a framework to identify, sequence, and synchronize the specific actions we will take within each of our four ways.

Alliances: The Asia-Pacific is home to five of our seven treaty allies. We are working to strengthen these alliances through a range of initiatives including achieving a 20 percent increase in our day-to-day regional presence by 2020. Deploying advanced capabilities to enhance the effectiveness of our regional forces will assure access to all parts of the Asia-Pacific while concurrently demonstrating our sustained regional commitment. Additionally, we will move from tactical to operational and strategic integration with our allies. For example, in Northeast Asia we seek to expand our combined U.S. Navy and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) capabilities by increasing the regularity and complexity of our exercises, fully establishing a shared ballistic-missile-defense architecture and working toward the establishment of a combined USN/JMSDF task force (if changes to Japanese national security policy allow).

Building on the strength of the U.S.-Japanese alliance will allow us to institutionalize multinational exercises with other allied navies such as the Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN) and the Royal Australian Navy. Our alliance with the Republic of Korea is also critically important to our objectives in Northeast Asia and provides great opportunities for enhanced cooperation and regional security. We will seek to maximize our Navy’s interoperability with the ROKN, developing integrated intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities to gain and maintain awareness of North Korean maritime operations while pursuing greater interoperability in ballistic-missile defense, mine warfare, and undersea warfare.

Partnerships: Beyond our long-term alliances in the region, the United States will seek to grow and deepen our partnerships across the Asia-Pacific, particularly in Southeast Asia and with India. Southeast Asia is home to some of the most dynamic countries in the area, including longtime strategic partners such as Singapore as well as emerging partners such as Myanmar and Vietnam. We seek to deepen our relationships across Southeast Asia to improve our partners’ capabilities in missions including ISR, maritime security, and humanitarian assistance/disaster relief (HA/DR). Deploying a mix of ship types, from littoral combat ships (LCS) and joint high-speed vessels to destroyers and aircraft carriers, improves our ability to engage partners at a level appropriate to their individual capabilities. These interactions ultimately contribute to improved regional security and increased collective capabilities.

Training and exercises are one important aspect of partnership-building that can be tailored to each partner’s needs. For example, our Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) exercises with Singapore will focus on high-end capabilities such as antisubmarine warfare, while training events with Cambodia might emphasize maritime security and HA/DR. Sharing of ISR systems with partners ranging from New Zealand to Bangladesh bolsters partners’ capabilities for monitoring territorial seas and exclusive economic zones (EEZs) while also enhancing regional interoperability. Finally, these relationships provide important venues through which we can exchange information and develop best practices for mutually beneficial security cooperation.

India and Indonesia will play a key role in the future of the region from political, economic, and security perspectives. Our partnerships with these countries can help develop needed maritime capabilities and establish constructive leadership roles in the area’s security architecture. India boasts one of the most capable navies in the region and has experience in carrier operations. Over the last few years, the complexity of Malabar, the premier U.S.-India joint exercise, has been increased, reflecting growing opportunities for U.S.-India maritime cooperation. We will strive to further ramp up Malabar’s difficulty level and pursue the inclusion of additional participants. Our partnership with Indonesia will focus on developing affordable capabilities for maritime security, ISR, and HA/DR. For example, sharing unmanned ISR systems such as Fire Scout and Scan Eagle could improve Indonesian forces’ ability to monitor their territorial seas and EEZ, while Navy support to a proposed Indonesian-led exercise in March 2014 will strengthen Indonesia’s leadership role in multilateral operations.

Multilateral institutions: Groups such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are essential to building mutual trust, promoting a rules-based international order, and facilitating the peaceful resolution of disputes among countries. Supporting these institutions’ security initiatives strengthens their credibility both globally and within the region, while providing a venue for the United States to enhance relationships with nations there. The Navy will encourage development of ASEAN defense interactions through senior-level participation in the association’s defense forums and consistent support to ASEAN-sponsored exercises. We should use our participation in these venues to encourage expansion of bilateral exercises such as CARAT and Malabar into multilateral events.

Constructive relationship with China: The United States is committed to the Asia-Pacific and as a Pacific power we seek cooperative engagement with other regional powers. China is an important one with whom we share many common interests and concerns. Our roadmap should clearly identify those areas for cooperation. The recent ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting Plus (ADMM+) HA/DR exercise in Brunei and last year’s joint U.S.-China counterpiracy exercise in the Gulf of Aden are examples of the range of opportunities that exist when we take a global approach to the Asia-Pacific rebalance. We must work to identify other opportunities such as expanded medical exchanges, advanced cooperation in search and rescue, and China’s upcoming participation in the 2014 Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise. These initiatives underscore how the rebalance is not an alternative to maritime cooperation in the Asia-Pacific, but in fact a facilitator to achieving that cooperation.


The rebalance roadmap will provide a mechanism for the Navy to plan how to apply its means—its unique tools—within the lines of effort that are the ways to achieve our strategic ends. There are three major types of means the Navy has at its disposal: presence and posture, capabilities, and intellectual capital.

Presence and posture refers to the composition and disposition of the force, including force structure, forward presence, and our global posture. The Navy is not a garrisoned force. Our forward posture enhances the nation’s ability to act in a quick yet measured manner by reducing the need to make force-deployment decisions under conditions of uncertainty. Forward and ready naval forces provide the nation’s leaders with a range of options to defend the American people and protect U.S. national interests, serving as an element of America’s capacity to act and influence where it matters, when it matters. Sustaining this forward and ready posture will be critical to achievement of the rebalance objectives.

Many of the most outwardly visible signs of the rebalance involve forces and homeporting, such as the commitment to homeport 60 percent of Navy ships in the Pacific by 2020. We will tailor the global distribution of maritime forces to maximize their contribution to combatant-commander objectives. For example, the homeporting of four guided-missile destroyers (DDGs) in Rota, Spain, will replace ten rotationally deploying DDGs, thereby freeing up six DDGs for allocation to the Asia-Pacific region.

Capabilities involve the development, procurement, and deployment of new matériel (e.g., weapon systems, sensors, command-and-control systems) to increase the combat effectiveness of Navy forces. As directed in the DSG, the Navy is committed to investing in the capabilities necessary to maintain regional access and operate freely. We will send our newest and most capable assets to the Asia-Pacific region, as demonstrated most recently by the deployment of the first LCS to Singapore. The P-8 and Joint Strike Fighter will also make their operational debuts in the Asia-Pacific. Further into the future we may even see our first carrier-capable unmanned aircraft operating there. A particular Navy focus for the region will be fielding the necessary capabilities to maintain undersea dominance and protect surface forces from missile threats.

Intellectual capital is the development and deployment of personnel, new concepts, doctrine, tactics, techniques, and procedures relevant to emerging challenges in the Asia-Pacific. This requires continued Navy investment in our network of educational and training institutions. Numerous programs of study and research at the Naval Postgraduate School and Naval War College, for example, are currently focused on the region and we will look to expand those initiatives. Additionally, the U.S. Naval Academy is developing an Asian Forum so that our midshipmen gain regional expertise and understanding.

By deliberately applying these means in a prioritized fashion within the four ways and sequencing them to achieve the end-states and their supporting interim goals, we will establish a roadmap that ensures our actions support the rebalance and provide the CNO a quantifiable way to measure our progress. Correctly planned and implemented, these efforts will be mutually reinforcing with many of the individual means supporting multiple ways.

Rebalance Challenges

Our constrained fiscal environment and continued operational commitments to the Middle East provide two significant challenges to building and executing a sustainable roadmap. However, where there are challenges, there are also opportunities.

The Navy is confronted by changing fiscal circumstances, including a lower level of U.S. defense and security spending, while at the same time experiencing continued high demand for Navy forces. We must accept that we cannot continue our previous operational paradigm. We must take a global approach and improve integration with our allies and partners, the joint force, and the interagency. For example, policy changes in Europe could facilitate NATO maritime forces assuming greater partnership duties with our Rota-based destroyers. Additionally, many of our NATO allies maintain a strong presence in the Persian Gulf; better coordination with them could reduce unnecessary duplication of forces while protecting our shared interests. To fully leverage the capabilities of our allies and partners, we must not only coordinate with them but seek real operational integration to include establishing a “combined” global force-management process or “combined” theater campaign-plan objectives. These combined efforts would support achieving shared military objectives while freeing up our ships for allocation to the Asia-Pacific.

Within the DOD, we must target the Navy’s plans, programs, and activities to the geographic and functional areas in which the Navy can add the most value, while using the valuable capabilities of the joint force to the best advantage. For example, the Army’s core capability of ballistic-missile defense provided by high-end single-mission assets can provide flexibility to our multi-mission assets, while the Air Force’s land-based bombers represent a formidable deterrent capability. Without doubt the Navy’s most important inter-service relationship is with the Marine Corps. While we are already closely aligned on our rebalance objectives, the CNO and Commandant of the Marine Corps recently outlined innovative approaches that must be explored as a means of achieving complementary objectives while eliminating operational redundancies. Eliminating redundancies will in turn free up limited resources that can support the rebalance.

While innovative inter-service coordination will be key, senior DOD and White House officials have made clear that the rebalance is a whole-of-government endeavor. To that end, the rebalance roadmap must consider how the Navy’s activities align not only with our joint brethren but with our interagency partners. We should closely examine our cooperative experiences over the past ten years—in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as during incidents such as the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan—to determine how hard-won interagency expertise can be applied to the rebalance and to roles currently conducted by the Navy.

The second major challenge to the rebalance will be combatant commanders’ continuing global demands for naval forces, especially in the Middle East. Some of these demands can be mitigated if we implement the aforementioned changes to our operational paradigm. The remaining demands will require the Navy to remain committed and engaged around the world even as it pays increased attention to the Asia-Pacific. As former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted, the turn to Asia “requires smart execution of a coherent regional strategy that accounts for the global implications of our choices.” 10 The Navy has recognized the growing demand for maritime forces and its current plans for shipbuilding, homeporting, and deployments will increase our presence in Latin America, Europe, the Middle East, and the Asia-Pacific between now and 2020. Our expanded presence results from increased forward basing in places such as Guam, Spain, and Bahrain and the introduction of new ships, including the LCS, mobile landing platform, afloat forward-staging base, and joint high-speed vessel. These spend more time forward because they are manned by rotational military and civilian crews, allowing each ship to essentially provide the presence of four rotationally deploying from the United States.

Adopting a global approach to the Asia-Pacific rebalance will help us understand not only what actions to take in support of the rebalance, but also the impact those actions will have on Navy activities outside the region. The challenges described here will require careful consideration as we develop a roadmap to guide the Navy’s rebalance activities—but they are far from insurmountable. In fact, upfront awareness of these challenges during the roadmap-development process may lend greater strategic focus to the Navy’s rebalance efforts.

As we enter a period of fiscal constraints we must ensure that our difficult choices are informed by sound strategies that reflect national guidance and appropriately sequence and synchronize Navy actions with the joint force, the broader U.S. government, and the potential contributions of our allies and partners. Our top-level strategic guidance is clear—“we will of necessity rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region.” 11 To effectively implement the long-term objectives of the global rebalance, we must develop a comprehensive roadmap that reflects the necessary ways and means to achieve the end-states we have been assigned. Once developed, the roadmap will facilitate aligning the Navy’s efforts and assessing our progress. The framework outlined here is one tool for building a sound plan.

1. National Security Strategy (Washington, D.C.: The White House, May 2010), 43.

2. Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense , January 2012, .

3. Remarks by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Shangri-La Security Dialogue, Singapore, 1 June 2013.

4. Remarks by National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, “President Obama’s Asia Policy and Upcoming Trip to the Region,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, D.C., 15 November 2012.

5. Remarks by President Obama to the Australian Parliament, Canberra, Australia, 17 November 2011.

6. ADM Jonathan Greenert, USN, “Sea Change,” Foreign Policy , 14 November 2012, .

7. Remarks by National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, the Asia Society, New York, N.Y., 11 March 2013.

8. Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership . Remarks by Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, Woodrow Wilson Center, Washington, D.C., 3 October 2012.

9. Donilon, 2013.

10. Hillary Clinton, “America’s Pacific Century,” Foreign Policy, November 2011, .

11. Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership .

Rear Admiral Smith is Director, Strategy and Policy Division (OPNAV N51).


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