TIME Military

The New Head of the U.S. Pacific Command Talks to TIME About the Pivot to Asia and His Asian Roots

SINGAPORE-ASIA-MILITARY-US-CHINA
Roslan Rahman—AFP/Getty Images U.S. Navy's Pacific Fleet commander Admiral Harry Harris, left, speaks to journalists during his visit to U.S.S. Spruance (DDG 111), Arleigh Burke–class guided-missile destroyer, docking in Sembawang wharves in Singapore on Jan. 22, 2014

Admiral Harry B. Harris Jr. sees his background as an Asian American as useful in helping the U.S. forge better relationships with its allies and other powers

On May 27 Admiral Harry B. Harris Jr. becomes the U.S. Navy’s highest-ranking Asian American ever when he assumes leadership of the U.S. Pacific Command at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Harris will be responsible for all military operations in a region stretching from California to the Indian Ocean, and from the Arctic Sea to Antarctica. He takes over at a critical time, as the U.S. “rebalances” to Asia and confronts an erratic and nuclear-armed North Korea and an increasingly powerful and assertive China.

It’s a job that takes Harris, 59, full circle. He was born in Japan to a Navy-enlisted man and Japanese mother, and raised on a subsistence farm in Tennessee. A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Harris did postgraduate studies at Harvard, Georgetown and Oxford and spent much of his career as a naval flight officer aboard P-3 patrol planes, including three tours in Japan. Affable, direct and with a confessed weakness for “both kinds of music — country and western,” Harris talks to TIME contributor Kirk Spitzer about taking on one of the most challenging jobs in the U.S. military.

You’ve said that the most important event in your life was World War II, yet you weren’t even born then. What do you mean by that?
My dad had four brothers and all of them served in World War II, mostly in the Navy, in the Pacific theater. In fact, my dad was on the aircraft carrier Lexington just a couple of days before Pearl Harbor. They pulled out O.K., but the Lexington was sunk at the Battle of Coral Sea. Growing up in Tennessee, where he and all his brothers lived, they told sea stories about the war throughout my whole life. So I just knew that I was going to serve in the military.

The other thing is, in this job and living in Hawaii, World War II is all around you. I live in the Nimitz House, which was built for Admiral Husband E. Kimmel. He was in charge on Dec. 7, 1941. So not a day goes by that I don’t remember that one of the primary lessons of World War II is to be ready to fight and win the nation’s wars — and to be ready to fight tonight.

You’ve said that your mother had a great influence on your life. She was born into a wealthy family in Kobe, Japan, but ended up living on a small farm in America. How did that happen, and how much of an influence did she have on you?
I learned a lot from her. She lost her home, her school, members of her family and friends to bombing raids. After surviving that, she had nothing and she went to live with an aunt in Yokohama who helped her get a job on the big American naval base in Yokosuka. My dad was posted in Japan and Korea from 1946 until he retired in 1958. They met sometime in the early 1950s and got married and then I came along and they moved to Tennessee.

My dad bought a subsistence farm, with no running water or electricity. So that was pretty rough. But she adapted, and she adapted with a lot of grace. She became an American citizen in the mid-1970s and she always told me that her proudest moments were voting and jury duty. She was really thrilled that I went to the Naval Academy, of course. She never taught me the Japanese language because we had moved to a tiny town in the South, and she didn’t want me to be any more different than I already was. She wanted me to focus on being an American. But she taught me to be proud of both my Japanese roots and my Southern roots. And she taught me about the Japanese concept of giri, which means duty. I carry this with me to this very day.

You are the first Asian American to reach four-star rank in the Navy and the first to head U.S. Pacific Command. Did you have role models when you were young?
I can tell you that being a Japanese-American kid in Tennessee in the late 1950s and early ’60s, there weren’t a lot of role models out there. So that’s when my mother started telling me about the American nisei soldiers during World War II. They left a segregated nation — to fight for a segregated nation. They had no guarantee that when they got back home the things they had fought for would be returned to them. We’ve come a long way in the past six or seven decades because of them and folks like them who fought for what’s right. Their courage made a great difference in the lives of a whole bunch of people at that time, and even today. I’ve always said that I stand on the shoulders of giants, and I mean it.

Before being named commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet in 2013, you worked as a military representative to two Secretaries of State: Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. What did you learn in that job?
I got to visit and meet with leaders from about 20 countries in the Asia-Pacific region and that’s really important to me in my present job and even more so in my next job. It reinforced something that I already knew, and that is that American leadership matters and it matters greatly to our friends, partners, allies and competitors abroad.

Your appointment as commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, and more recently as head of Pacific Command, was met with great approval in Japan, but perhaps not so much in China, where there still seems suspicion of all things Japanese. Will it be difficult for you to manage expectations, on both sides?
People know when they look at me that I’m an American first, last and everything in between. I’m only ethnically [Eurasian] or ethnically [half-]Japanese. Protecting American interests is my focus. No doubt, Japan is a great ally of the United States and I do hope that my personal background has helped me enhance our relationship. But I think my background has also helped me forge critical relationships with South Korea, another important ally. My father served in the Korean War and I grew up with a deep appreciation for Korean culture.

And I can tell you that I was warmly received in China when I went there last year to finalize a new agreement among navies of the region to help communications at sea during unplanned encounters. This was an important step forward to help reduce tensions at sea and help avoid miscalculations. I’ve always tried to give China credit when they act in responsible ways that adhere to international law and norms, and enhance stability.

The Obama Administration has talked about an economic, diplomatic and military “rebalance” to the Asia-Pacific region. Some skeptics wonder if it’s real, or just rhetoric.
Not only is the rebalance real, but the military part is well on its way. We’ve strengthened our security alliances and partnerships throughout the region. The Navy has already brought our newest and most capable platforms to the area, like the P-8 surveillance airplane, the Littoral Combat Ship, the Virginia-class submarine and new amphibious ships like the U.S.S. America. The Marine Corps has brought the V-22 Osprey out here to great effect and we’ll have the Joint Strike Fighter out here soon. The Navy has set a goal of moving 60% of the Navy out here by 2020 and we’re at about 55% in terms of surface ships now. So I can tell you the rebalance is real.

In your new job you’ll be responsible for an immense and diverse region: “From Bollywood to Hollywood, from polar bears to penguins,” as Pacific Command puts it. What are your priorities?
Our war-fighting readiness, our ability to fight tonight, will always be my top priority. We have to be ready for the unexpected. We have to be ready to prevent strategic surprises. When you are responsible for an area that covers half the worlds’ surface, you need friends. So building stronger relationships and working with our allies and partners, to foster a collective to the security challenges — that’s important.

You’ve expressed deep concern about recent Chinese actions, including construction of a string of artificial islands in the South China Sea — a “great wall of sand,” as you put it. Why should the U.S. be concerned?
I have been critical of China for a pattern of provocative actions that they’ve begun in the recent past. Like unilaterally declaring an air-defense identification zone over the East China Sea, parking a mobile oil platform off the Vietnam coast, and their lack of clarity on their outrageous claim — preposterous claim, really — to 90% of the South China Sea. All these examples, I think, are inconsistent with international laws and norms. They make China’s neighbors nervous, it increases tensions in the region, and I think they are destabilizing for peace in the region.

More than $5 trillion — that’s trillion with a t — of shipborne trade passes through the South China Sea annually. Freedom of navigation is critical. That’s why what China is doing in the South China Sea is troubling. They have manufactured land there at a staggering pace just in the last months. They’ve created about 2,000 acres of these man-made islands. That’s equivalent to about 1,500 football fields, if I get my math right, and they’re still going. They’ve also made massive construction projects on artificial islands for what are clearly, in my point of view, military purposes, including large airstrips and ports.

What do you worry about most? What keeps you awake at night?
The greatest threat we face is North Korea. They have an unpredictable leader who is poised, in my view, to attack our allies in South Korea and Japan. He is on a quest for nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them intercontinentally. He kills people around him who disagree with him, and that’s something we should always keep in mind. North Korea keeps me up at night.

TIME Military

China Now Has More Submarines than the U.S.

China Marks 60 Years Of The Chinese Navy (Getty)
ChinaFotoPress—Getty Images A Chinese Navy submarine participates in an international fleet review to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Liberation Army Navy on April 23, 2009 in Qingdao of Shandong Province, China.

China is adding subs and sending them farther out for longer periods of time

China now has more submarines than the U.S., though the vessels are inferior to the U.S. fleet.

Vice Admiral Joseph Mulloy, deputy chief of naval operations for capabilities and resources, said the vessels are part of China’s expansion into more geographic areas of operation for longer periods of time, Reuters reports. His comments mark the latest expression of concern from some U.S. officials over the Chinese military buildup.

U.S. military officials have recently sought to highlight China’s growing capabilities in an effort to ensure that the U.S. can maintain its technical edge, though a recent study from the Rand Corp. challenged some of those concerns when it found “potentially serious weaknesses” in the Chinese military.

[Reuters]

TIME Military

Pilot Missing After 2 U.S. Navy Jets Crash in the Pacific

The other pilot was quickly recovered

One U.S. Navy pilot was missing and another receiving medical care after two F/A-18 Hornet jets crashed in the Western Pacific Ocean on Friday, the Navy said.

The two jets, which were assigned to the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier, have not been recovered. One of the pilots was quickly rescued. The cause of the incident is unknown but remains under investigation, the Navy said.

The Carl Vinson is currenty deployed in the Western Pacific ocean “supporting security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region,” the Navy said.

TIME Barack Obama

Obama: ‘We Don’t Need a War’ With Russia

President Barack Obama walks from the Oval Office to the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, April 1, 2014.
Manuel Balce Ceneta—AP President Barack Obama walks from the Oval Office to the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, April 1, 2014.

President Obama downplayed the chance of a military conflict with Russia over the escalating tension in eastern Ukraine, in an interview that aired Thursday, saying it's not up to either country to decide what kind of relationships Ukraine has with its neighbors

President Barack Obama said in an interview that aired Thursday that “we don’t need a war” with Russia, downplaying the chance of military conflict between the U.S. and Russia over tensions in Ukraine.

“What we do need is a recognition that countries like Ukraine can have relationships with a whole range of their neighbors, and it is not up to anybody, whether it’s Russia or the United States or anybody else, to make decisions for them,” Obama said in an interview with CBS Chief White House Correspondent Major Garrett on Thursday’s broadcast of CBS This Morning.

Obama’s comments came days after a Russian fighter jet made multiple close-range passes near a U.S. Navy ship in the Black Sea. When asked if the aircraft “buzz” represented Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attempt to send a signal to Washington, Obama said Russia is “not interested in any kind of military confrontation with us, understanding that our conventional forces are significantly superior to the Russians.”

“As commander-in-chief, I don’t make decisions based on perceived signals. We make decision very deliberately, based on what’s required for our security and for the security of our allies,” Obama added. “And the Russians understand that.”

Putin has amassed Russian troops on Ukraine’s eastern border and threatened to invade amid tensions between the pro-Western government and a large ethnic Russian minority in the region, despite the threat of increased economic sanctions from the U.S. and Western European powers.

Zeke Miller contributed reporting.

TIME

U.S. Navy Rescues Sick Baby From Sailboat in Pacific

Eric and Charlotte Kaufman with their daughters, Lyra, 1, and Cora, 3.
Courtesy Sariah English —AP Undated photo of Eric and Charlotte Kaufman with their daughters, Lyra, 1, and Cora, 3.

A U.S. Navy frigate reached an ill child in a sailboat far off the Mexican coast Sunday whose parents had sought to circumnavigate the globe

A U.S. Navy warship arrived Sunday at a sailboat hundreds of miles off the coast of Mexico in order to rescue a sick 1-year-old girl whose parents were attempting to circumnavigate the globe.

On Sunday the frigate USS Vandegrift reached the 36-foot Rebel Heart, where Charlotte and Eric Kaufman had issued a distress call three days before when they found their young daughter sick with a fever and a rash, reports USA Today. A crew from the California Air National Guard parachuted into the water Thursday and stabilized the girl until the Vandegrift arrived.

The 1-year-old girl was taken aboard the Vandegrift along with her parents and 3-year-old sister for medical treatment in San Diego, the Associated Press reports.

The couple and their children were almost 1,000 miles from Cabo San Lucas after setting out from San Diego to circle the globe, and did not have steering or communication abilities. In a post on the couple’s blog eight days after setting out, they called the trip “the stupidest thing we have ever done.”

[USA Today]

 

TIME Crime

2 Dead in Virginia Navy Base Shooting

Security officers killed a male civilian suspect after a shooting Monday night aboard the guided-missile destroyer U.S.S. Mahan at Naval Station Norfolk, the world's largest navy base. Officials say the suspect was allowed on the base but aren't sure he was cleared for the ship

The world’s largest navy base was briefly on lockdown Monday night after a sailor was fatally shot and security forces killed a male civilian suspect on board a guided-missile destroyer at Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia.

According to a base spokeswoman speaking to the AP, the shooting occurred around 11:20 pm on Monday night on board the U.S.S. Mahan, a guided-missile destroyer that had returned to Norfolk in September after an eight-month deployment to the Mediterranean Sea, where it had been positioned for a potential strike against Syria.

Navy officials offered few details about the shooting other than that both the sailor killed and the civilian suspect were men. Officials said the suspect was authorized access to the base; however, the spokeswoman said she could not say whether the suspect had permission to be aboard the ship.

The shooting briefly caused a lockdown on the base, which is home to more than 46,000 military members, 21,000 civilians and contractors, and is the home port for 64 ships. By Tuesday morning, operations on the base had returned to normal, and an investigation into the shooting was ongoing.

[AP]

TIME U.S. Navy

U.S. Navy to Zap Enemies With Futuristic Laser

Device launched this year will target aerial drones and swarming speedboats in Persian Gulf

The future has arrived at the U.S. Navy, which will begin deploying lasers this year and an electromagnetic rail gun within two years.

The laser will be set up on the transport dock USS Ponce in the Persian Gulf. One single sailor can operate the device, which can burn through targets and fry electronics with beams that are invisible to the human eye. The laser is designed to shoot down aerial drones and disable swarming speedboats.

Besides its ability to be fired continuously, the biggest advantage of the laser is that it’s cheaper to use than missiles and smart bombs. The downside is that the laser is a lot less efficient if there’s rain, dust or turbulence in the atmosphere.

The Navy is also working on getting electromagnetic rail guns ready for deployment. The rail guns, which fires projectiles at six or seven times the speed of sound, are meant to replace or supplement traditional firearms.

[AP]

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