June 29, 2012: Strategy Page
Recently, an American SSN (nuclear attack submarine) USS Louisville visited Subic Bay in the Philippines. This is the second SSN to visit in two months. The USS South Carolina came by in May. SSNs normally stay submerged for months at a time, and visits like this allow the sub to take on perishables and give the crew a day or two ashore. Surface warships will also resupply in Subic Bay and give their crews some time ashore. Clark Air Base could become a key base for American military transports moving cargo in Asia and warplanes moving to Asian hotspots. Clark will probably also become a base for UAV operations.
The U.S. has agreed to help the Philippines patrol the offshore waters that China also claims. The exact nature of this assistance has not yet been determined. The Philippines wants additional ships, aircraft, and surveillance gear (like coastal radars) for its own armed forces, as well as the presence of American warships and aircraft. The new arrangement will include U.S. resuming use of their old base facilities at Subic Bay and Clark Field. The U.S. was quick to note that the visits of the two SSNs had nothing to do with China, and was simply to provide the subs with fresh food.
This comes two decades after U.S. forces left their two major bases in the Philippines. Subic Bay port/air base is located 100 kilometers up the coast from of Manila and Clark Air Base located 65 kilometers north of Manila. The Americans have been invited to return, not to use the two facilities as exclusively American bases, as they were for over 70 years, but as needed. Both facilities were largely converted to civilian use after 1991. The Americans left because the Filipinos were asking for a hike in rent the U.S. didn't want to pay. In addition, the Cold War had just ended and there was a big push in the United States to shed expensive overseas facilities. Finally, Clark Air Base had recently been heavily damaged by the eruption of a nearby volcano and the U.S. did not want to pay to rebuild a base it didn't need and couldn't afford the rent on.
A key thing bringing the Americans back is growing Chinese aggression against Filipino efforts to explore for nearby offshore oil and natural gas. The Chinese Navy has grown much larger in the last two decades and the Philippines can gain more security, and more income, by hosting American warships and aircraft once more. The U.S. is moving more warships to the Pacific, and most of these vessels will be spending their time in the Western Pacific.
These two Philippines bases were major links in the supply system that sustained American forces during the Vietnam War (1965-72). Another major logistics base in that conflict was Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam. The Vietnamese have invited the United States to use Cam Ranh Bay once more because Vietnam, like most of China's neighbors, wants Americans close by as protection against growing Chinese aggression.