No, not Petraeus. Not Admiral Mullen. Not Mattis or Odierno.
No, according to this article from the Australian, the man with the most military clout in the world right now is a man you’ve almost certainly never heard of: Admiral Bob “Rat” Willard the commanding officer of US Pacific Command or PACOM.
It’s a fascinating read about an area that gets little headlines due to its general stability. Part of that might stem from the sheer commitment of military force the US (and its local allies, to be fair) has in the region.
325’000 personnel. Five Aircraft Carrier battlegroups. 180 ships in total. Thousands of air craft. All being commanded by this man, out of a HQ in Hawaii.
In this interview, Admiral Willard talks about the American commitment in the Pacific. In a time when nearly all the media emphasis is on the Middle Eastern wars, its important to remember that the first seeds of a future conflict are being sown in the Pacific right now.
China is building up its navy rapidly, and an extension of that has been the nations increasing aggressiveness in the South China Sea, traditionally a “commons region”.
Williard says: “Of course they (the South China Sea waters) are a commons region that have many sea-lines of communication that criss-cross among them. China’s been the beneficiary of the US and others protecting these sea-lines of communication for decades. The idea of restrictions (on anyone’s movement through the South China Sea) is obviously concerning to contiguous nations, and we don’t regard it as a serious discussion.”
An important statement. The US isn’t interested in discussing Chinese control over such a wide area of sea.
This also caught my eye: “South Korea and the US will determine what’s most appropriate in the future…We certainly reserve the right to send an aircraft carrier there at any time.”
Them’s fightin words. Such an act would surely provoke some sort of response from the Chinese, who so far have only really had the opportunity to talk the talk, not walk the walk.
China has definitely been looking to challenge the US dominance of the Pacific and, as I talked about before, they’re acting like they have the capability to do it, through new, sophisticated anti-carrier missiles.
But Willard’s isn’t so convinced: “Most of my career was spent in the Cold War. Much of that time we spent dealing with Soviet missile threats to our carriers. In this case, it’s a ballistic missile threat. That’s different. It’s 2010, not 1985.
“But is it a strategic game-changer? Just as the US put in the necessary effort to protect our ships during the Cold War, you’ll see we’ll put the necessary effort in to protect our ships today.”
As the article points out, China’s missile counter measures are far from invincible. It’s not just the difficulty in getting a decisive hit on an aircraft carrier, its preventing the enemy from taking out the ship firing the missile, the guidance systems etc.
In the event that a war ever does break out in the Pacific, this guy will be at the heart of it. He’ll definitely be more well-known then.
As an aside, Australia’s strategic position is pivotal to the stability of the region. Something worth writing about, at a later date.
P.S: I actually had heard the name “Admiral Willard” before, but not in his role as PACOM CO. He was the unfortunate recipient of one of the stupidest questions in Congressional Committee history, from Georgian Rep Hank Johnson, who asked if it was possible that Guam might tip over if too many people congregated on one part of the island. Willard’s deadpan response?