The Pacific nations could be headed towards a conflict not of their own design, if the comments of the head of United States third fleet, Vice Admiral Michael Boyle are to be taken seriously.
During the Rim of the Pacific exercise this week, Vice Admiral Boyle said the US was closer to conflict in the Pacific than it is to peace and called for a change in the command structure to reflect that.
He wants a centralised command and control structure, and a standing maritime force similar to those elsewhere around the globe that could rapidly respond to a crisis in the Indo-Pacific region.
Speaking to Defence News, Vice Admiral Boyle said there was a need to understand right now which nations in the Pacific would join the US if there was a conflict with either China or North Korea.
“We historically in this area of responsibility have thought about war as an esoteric adventure out somewhere in the future, not something that’s happening every day.”
According to the military chief, China will continue its grey zone activities but won’t escalate to full conflict until it’s confident it can win.
He pointed to the proposed formation of a Pacific force similar to the Combined Maritime Forces in the Middle East which has 34 members and in turn cover 3.2 million square miles of international waters.
Vice Admiral Boyle took command of the 3rd Fleet in mid-June after serving as the director of maritime operations at US Pacific Fleet. His past assignments include commanding an air wing based in Japan, leading a carrier strike group that deployed to the Pacific, commanding naval forces in South Korea, and serving as the executive assistant to two previous Pacific Fleet commanders.
As 3rd Fleet commander, he also leads the RIMPAC exercise and the entire combined task force during the event. He wants this year’s annual drill to force commanders to think a little bit more.
“I’m trying to set the foundation so that, as we move forward, future RIMPACs are an opportunity to rehearse centralized command and control of a combined force.”
“I can’t help but continue the work that I started in my previous job. This is not just ships driving together, its understanding the command-and-control structure they’re going to have plug into.”