The USS Freedom, the first in a new class of U.S. warships, arrived in Singapore on Thursday to join the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet, which is responsible for 35 maritime countries and the world’s five largest foreign armed forces, including China, Russia and the Korean peninsula.
The U.S. maintains that Washington would act to counterbalance China's growing influence in the Indo-Asia-Pacific as part of its foreign policy known as the “pivot to Asia” policy, developed in the aftermath of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Washington says the U.S. Navy’s presence in Asia will help safeguard “freedom of navigation,” alluding to China’s claims of sovereignty over international waters in the region while it insists the U.S. not take sides in sea disputes among several Asian nations.
At any given time, there are 60-70 ships, 200-300 aircraft and 40,000 Navy and Marine Corps personnel assigned to the fleet. This includes forces operating from bases in Japan and Guam and rotationally deployed forces based in the U.S.
Five of the seven U.S. Mutual Defense Treaties are with countries in the Asia-Pacific — Australia and New Zealand, the Philippines, South Korea, Japan and Thailand.
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The U.S. says its Navy’s presence in the region “is more important than ever,” as it “helps encourage dialogue, promote growth and ensure the free flow of trade, of which the oceans have increased importance.”
The USS Freedom is a Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), designed to operate in shallow waters close to the shore. It also requires a much smaller crew -- fewer than 100 -- which allows the Navy to cut costs but raises concerns that the ship may be too lightly armed to survive an enemy attack.
The Navy plans to buy 52 of the new LCS warships in the coming years at a cost of more than $30 billion for a range of missions, including surface warfare, mine-hunting and anti-submarine missions, Reuters news agency reported.
Navy Lieutenant Anthony Falvo, spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Fleet, said the ship and a crew of 91 would be welcomed in Singapore by U.S. Ambassador David Adelman, as well as Colonel Timothy Lo, fleet commander of Singapore's Navy, the report stated. He said the ship had completed a series of drills and milestones during the journey to Singapore.
The ship arrived in Singapore just days after China accused the U.S. of exacerbating tensions in the region by strengthening its military alliances and expanding its military presence.