Panetta: No China threat from U.S. military in Asia

By Lolita C. Baldor

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, June 2 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Specifically, he said that by 2020, about 60 percent of the fleet will be assigned there as part of a new strategy to increase U.S. presence in Asia. Currently, the Navy has about 285 ships, with roughly half assigned to each coast, but that total may decline a bit as some ships are retired in the coming years and may not be replaced.

The current fleet includes 11 aircraft carriers, with six assigned to the Pacific. The West Coast total is expected to go down to five, but Panetta said he will maintain six carriers in the Pacific over the long term.

While noting it may take years to complete the transition, Panetta said that U.S. budget problems and cutbacks would not get in the way of changes. He said the U.S. Defense Department has money in the five-year budget plan to meet those goals.

He said he is looking forward to visiting China later this year, adding that he wants to see the U.S. and China deepen their military ties, including on counterdrug programs and humanitarian aid.

U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., questioned Panetta's optimism about relations with China, but said he hopes it works out. He added that the Pentagon must begin planning for the possibility that an additional $500 million may have to be cut from the defense budget early next year if lawmakers can't agree on spending cuts in the next several months.

Panetta has said he believes Congress will eventually find a way to avoid the automatic cuts.

Singapore is Panetta's second stop on a nine-day trip through Asia, and is expected to travel to Vietnam and India.

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