The Philippine government has reportedly invited the Navy back to its old base at Subic Bay outside Manila, above, and is weighing expensive upgrades that accommodate U.S. ships and airplanes (Bullit Marquez / AP)
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“See the world ... in the U.S. Navy,” advertised a World War I-era recruiting poster.
That’s true again for today’s sailors as the Navy broadens its reach in the Pacific, forward-basing more ships and visiting new ports to strengthen partnerships and deter potential foes. The Navy is boosting its presence in Singapore. Ships are visiting the Philippines more often, deepening the alliance. And the Marines, and the sailors who support them, have established a training base Down Under.
The Pacific shift now underway has a silver lining: Better chances to visit new ports more often. This region encompasses 3 billion people living in 36 countries, many of the world’s busiest ports and half of the Earth’s surface. Admirals believe building relations with Asian countries — including on port visits — is crucial to the nation’s sea power.
“Every year, we further strengthen those ties through joint and combined exercises, operations, transits and port visits,” said Adm. Cecil Haney, the Pacific Fleet commander, in a March 4 speech. “We have every intention of continuing to build upon these relationships far into the future.”
Ship crews are getting the chance to visit new ports from Indonesia to India, Cambodia to Russia, and growing closer to historic allies such as the Philippines, according to Navy port visit records. Meanwhile, there’s a buildup in the Pacific, where the Navy plans to base 60 percent of the fleet by 2020.
With the fleet’s size and budget both downsizing, fleet bosses are putting a premium on dispatching ships, submarines and squadrons overseas into an expansive and increasingly volatile sea realm.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert believes one of the most efficient ways to boost forward presence “is to put more operational units forward,” as he wrote in an April 14 post on his official blog.
The Navy is increasing its minesweeper presence in Bahrain to 10 hulls, with the sixth, seventh and eighth — Tempest, Squall and Thunderbolt — arriving July 3. Officials plan to move a fourth attack submarine to Guam. And then there’s Singapore, which officials are developing into a logistics hub where crews will rotate custody of the vessels in 7th Fleet. The strategy also heavily relies on allies such as South Korea and Japan, the home port for 18 warships that range throughout the region.
This push isn’t limited to the Pacific. The Pentagon plans a land-based radar and missile silo in Romania, which will come online by 2015. And in the next two years, four destroyers will head to Rota, Spain, as the sea-based portion of this European missile shield, there to detect and shoot down missiles bound for Europe. Moving more ships to Rota is an efficient path to handling the increased demand for ballistic missile defense-capable ships, Greenert said.
“Today, we designate about 10 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, deploying from Norfolk and Mayport, to provide two in the Eastern [Mediterranean] for missile defense to our European allies,” Greenert said in his blog post. “In a few years, we will cover the same mission with four destroyers based in Rota, Spain, and, therefore, free up six destroyers to deploy to other regions of the world.”
To produce this guide, we reviewed port visit records and asked Navy officials and experts to weigh in about new and upcoming home ports and port calls and what sailors should do, see, buy and look out for when you’re there.
WHO’S GOING: Singapore has long been a sought-after WESTPAC port call, and its ties to the Navy are growing. The island nation will be the largest forward-deployed base for the littoral combat ship. Navy officials have said they plan to forward-deploy four of the vessels at a time to Singapore by 2020. Three others will operate out of Japan. With four crews, the LCS footprint in Singapore is likely to be 300 sailors at a time, and personnel officials say they’re ramping up efforts to recruit hundreds more as more hulls arrive in the fleet.
WHEN AND WHY: Singapore sits along the Strait of Malacca, a crucial choke point between the Indian and the Pacific oceans, and offers short transits around Southeast Asia, where the Navy plans to do more training and assistance to build ties with foreign navies. These low-end engagement missions are a big part of LCS’s appeal.
ABOUT THE AREA: Singapore is a small, highly developed island on Malaysia’s southern tip, where the discipline is strict and English is widely spoken among the 5 million inhabitants.
ACTIVITIES: Ride a 540-foot-high Ferris wheel that overlooks Marina Bay. Sightsee the skyscraper-packed island by boat. Haggle for deals at textile and perfume boutiques on Arab Street. Try the signature cocktail, the Singapore Sling — a mixture of pineapple juice, cherry brandy and gin.
WATCH OUT FOR: Street crime is rare in Singapore, where penalties can be harsh. But Singapore’s strict rules mean sailors’ in-port shenanigans can land them in serious trouble. Vandalism, trespassing and “mischief” are criminal offenses that carry steep fines and months of jail time — or even being punished with cane strikes.
BRING BACK SOME: Barbequed pork slices (a local version of jerky), tight-fitting Chinese dresses known as cheongsam, Asian spice packets or a pressed orchid flower.
2. Darwin, Australia
WHO’S GOING: The Marine Corps began six-month rotating tours to Darwin a year ago in an effort to train the Aussies, who are building up a gator fleet, in amphibious operations. The Marines plan to build up their presence in Darwin to a full Marine air-ground task force — about 2,500 Marines and sailors — over the next three years. Navy officials have said littoral combat ships and other vessels may visit Darwin more often to support the Marines or ferry them around the Pacific.
WHEN AND WHY: Darwin, on Australia’s “Top End,” is known as a gateway to Asia — and it has the the advantage of being beyond the reach of Chinese and North Korean missiles, unlike bases in Japan and South Korea. The Marines anticipate having a full MAGTF-size force there by 2016.
ABOUT THE AREA: Darwin is the capital of Australia’s Northern Territory. Despite its population of roughly 80,000, Darwin has a reputation as something of a Wild West town.
ACTIVITIES: Live music and pubs along Mitchell Street in downtown Darwin. Four-wheel-drive tours through the Outback. Crocodile watching on the Adelaide River. Feed schools of catfish and mullet on the beach. See a shot-down World War II Japanese Zero airplane at an aviation history museum in Darwin.
WATCH OUT FOR: Sharks patrol the coast, poisonous snakes slither in the Outback, and crocs lounge by the mangroves. But the greatest threat may be the glaring sun.
BRING BACK SOME: Colorful and dreamlike aboriginal arts and crafts or a hand-crafted didgeridoo, a ceremonial wooden wind instrument that can measure 10 feet from end to end.
3. The Philippines
WHO’S GOING: The Philippines’ Subic Bay was a strategically important naval base during the Cold War. The Navy left it two decades ago, but it’s becoming an increasingly common port call as the Navy shifts ever more forces to the Pacific.
WHEN AND WHY: The Philippines border the strategically important South China Sea, the scene of increasing tensions between China and its neighbors.
U.S. ships are visiting with increasing frequency for maintenance, training and R & R. The Philippine government has reportedly invited the Navy back to its old base at Subic Bay and is weighing expensive upgrades that accommodate U.S. ships and airplanes. One plan is to convert part of Subic Bay’s international airport into an airbase, reports Reuters, which noted that U.S. ship visits jumped from 54 in 2011 to 88 in 2012 and continue to rise.
ABOUT THE AREA: Subic Bay is a deep-water port on the outskirts of Manila, the nation’s capital, which has a metropolitan population of 12 million.
ACTIVITIES: Tour the centuries-old Spanish citadel in Manila. Trek up a nearby volcano. Explore Corregidor Island, a former fortress that guards the entrance to Manila Bay. Picnic in sprawling Rizal Park, inside Manila’s boundaries. Dine on Filipino favorites like chicken adobo and pancit.
WATCH OUT FOR: Bad traffic and pickpockets that can upset your liberty in Manila.
BRING BACK SOME: Souvenir sweets, T-shirts, handbags and baskets, all readily available from street markets and stores. It’s part of the Filipino tradition of presenting homecoming gifts to family and friends.
4. Rota, Spain
WHO’S GOING: Four destroyers are shifting their home port to Rota, Spain, over the next two years: the Ross, Donald Cook, Porter and Carney. Ross and Donald Cook will move in fiscal 2014, and the other two will move a year later.
WHEN AND WHY: These ballistic-missile defense-capable destroyers will form the sea-based arm of the European missile shield. Basing them in Rota keeps these ships and their SM-3 missiles on station in 6th Fleet and lowers the operational tempo for the rest of the Atlantic fleet.
ABOUT THE AREA: Naval Station Rota is a Spanish base where the U.S. has an airfield and which is a common stopping-off point for ships headed in or out of 6th Fleet. However, it will be the first time in 34 years that the Navy has homeported ships there. Rota is across the bay from Cadiz, an ancient city of about 125,000 citizens that resides on a narrow peninsula, and is two hours from Gibraltar.
ACTIVITIES: Explore the Arab Castle in nearby Olvera. Hike the mountains north of Rota. Go to some of Spain’s prettiest beaches near Cadiz. Watch flamenco dancers or take in a comic musical, called a carnival, which go year-round in Cadiz.
WATCH OUT FOR: Avoid street demonstrations, which are increasingly common as Spain contends with austerity measures. And look out for pickpockets, who prey on foreigners.
BRING BACK SOME: Andalusia, a region of which Cadiz is a part, is famous for its hand-painted tiles, leather goods and guitars.
5. Deveselu, Romania
WHO’S GOING: The Navy is moving 175 sailors and civilians to Deveselu to stand up an Aegis Ashore radar and missile silo. The Aegis Ashore Missile Defense Facility will need an estimated 115 personnel, “the majority of which are security forces,” explained Naval Forces Europe-Africa spokesman Cmdr. Marc Boyd in an email. In addition to masters-at-arms, the installation and support facility will need logistics specialists, electronic technicians, culinary specialists, fire controlmen, operations specialists and cryptologic technicians.
WHEN AND WHY: The Romanian missile battery will be one of the two land-based elements of the European missile shield. The Romanian location offers earlier detection and interception of incoming nuclear-armed missiles from a potentially hostile nation such as Iran. The battery consists of a radar “deckhouse” and a separate battery of SM-3 interceptors. Sailors will start arriving in October 2014, preparing for the site’s coming online the following year. “Detailers will be detailing soon,” said Cmdr. Carla Blair, a personnel official with Navy Region Europe, in an email.
ABOUT THE AREA: Deveselu is a small village in the Romanian countryside that’s three hours from the capital, Bucharest, which has all the arts and activities of a metropolis with nearly 2 million inhabitants.
ACTIVITIES: Tour the world’s second-biggest administrative building, Parliament Palace, in Bucharest. Experience rustic life at the Museum of the Romanian Peasant in Bucharest. Explore the hilltop Transylvanian fortress nicknamed “Dracula’s castle,” a few hours’ drive from the capital. Or drink Eastern European beer at Bucharest’s beer halls.
WATCH OUT FOR: Pickpocketing is a problem on subways and in crowded places such as bus and train stations. Foreigners are also at risk for credit-card fraud, which is widespread in Eastern Europe, according to the U.S. State Department.
BRING BACK SOME: Romanian wine or traditional garb, such as straw hats or pointed peasant shoes.
So you’ve done a deployment or two and know the usual ports. Well, there’s good news. The Pacific rebalance means the Navy is engaging with new countries and always exploring new ports to supplement the oft-visited mainstays such as Hong Kong, Dubai and Sydney. We polled Navy officials and reviewed port visits to come up with this list of some up-and-coming ports, or exotic favorites, that you might get a chance to visit:
6. Kochi, India, is a port city on India’s west coast that is a tourist destination for its culinary melting pot and for its shopping malls and souks. Visits are infrequent. The frigate Ford stopped by in October 2011.
7. The Seychelles isa nation of tiny islands in the Indian Ocean north of Madagascar; they are an infrequent port call for ships on anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden. It’s known for world-class beaches and snorkeling. The destroyer McFaul visited in July 2012.
8. Vladivostok, Russia, is a port on the Pacific Ocean that U.S. warships visit only occasionally, enjoying its museums, parks and vodka. The destroyer Lassen visited in May.
9. Da Nang, Vietnam, is a port on that country’s long eastern coastline. Once the site of a huge U.S. air base during the Vietnam War, it now offers sailors the chance to visit ancient ruins, play golf or sit on the beach. The destroyer Chung-Hoon stopped there in April and offered tours to locals; one photo of nuns at the ship’s helm became an Internet sensation.
10. Palma de Mallorca, Spain, is a Mediterranean island destination for Europeans and an occasional 6th Fleet port call that offers great dining, nightlife and beaches. The cruiser Hue City was among the latest visitors with a mid-June port call.