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Beyond Australia, U.S. quietly builds military capabilities in Pacific

By Charley Keyes, CNN Senior National Security Producer
updated 6:13 PM EST, Wed November 16, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Pacific Command officer: U.S. "wrestling" with prospect of a Chinese aircraft carrier
  • Squadrons of advanced F-22s and C-17s based in Pacific, says Maj. Gen. Michael Keltz
  • The F-22s replaced older F-15's, Keltz says

Washington (CNN) -- The U.S. military gave new details Wednesday of U.S. military capabilities in the Pacific, amid fresh warnings that China continues to upgrade its navy and weaponry.

The details follow the announcement earlier Wednesday by President Obama of new military cooperation with Australia, including the rotation of U.S. Marines to an Australian base near Darwin.

"We've been quietly, but very effectively, increasing the capabilities we have in the Pacific, increasing our technological edge and also increasing the integration we have with both partner nations and alliance nations," Air Force Maj. Gen. Michael Keltz said in a telephone call from Hawaii with journalists. He is director of strategic planning and policy for the U.S. Pacific Command.

On Tuesday, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review, presented annually to Congress, gave fresh warnings that China was developing anti-ship ballistic missiles and conducting sea trials of its first aircraft carrier.

"That is something we are wrestling with right now," Keltz said of the Chinese carrier. "There is a concern there that that is something it is prudent to be prepared for."

Keltz said the United States has based some its most sophisticated weapons in the Pacific, including squadrons of F-22 fighters and C-17 transport planes. He said the F-22s provide leading-edge technology for potential air-to-air combat as well as cyber- and electronic warfare.

The F-22s replaced older F-15's. Keltz said noted that the stalwart F-15, "though a very capable aircraft," is close to 40 years old.

"Fighter aircraft -- jets -- don't last that long, and we have to recapitalize," Keltz said. "And the entire Air Force ... from an air frame perspective, is old and tired."

"We used to recapitalize based on advances in technology. Now we recapitalize based upon the economic ability to be able replace our fleet. So it really was a natural progression."

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