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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Asian navies asked to use U.S. technology

By Audrey McAvoy
Associated Press

The top U.S. Navy commander in the Pacific is proposing that the Indonesian, Singaporean and Thai navies acquire U.S. technology to help track suspect ships in the Pacific.

The idea is part of a U.S. military effort to boost awareness of possible pirate and terrorist ships in a region that is home to a large share of the world's trade and many of the world's fastest-growing economies.

The plan would put the United States in a supportive, not front-line, role in any maritime security effort in Southeast Asia. This approach is likely to go over better with countries in the region than having U.S. troops and ships help secure the area, a possibility U.S. defense officials once reportedly suggested but backed away from amid vocal opposition from countries in the region.

The United States is particularly concerned about keeping pirates and terrorists out of the Malacca Strait a waterway that separates Indonesia from Malaysia and Singapore. Half of the world's oil trade and a third of global commerce passes through the strait, making it a critical channel for regional and international stability.

Adm. Gary Roughead, U.S. Pacific Fleet commander, said piracy and maritime terrorist attacks, like the 2000 suicide bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen that killed 17 American sailors, raise costs for shippers by inflating insurance premiums and otherwise disrupting trade.

"The oceans are great facilitators of trade and commerce, but they are also facilitators of transnational criminal activity," Roughead said in a recent interview at his Pearl Harbor headquarters. "The use of the maritime domain and some of the sea lane for terrorists to move back and forth is a great problem."

Roughead said he proposed to defense officials in Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand during a March trip that they use a U.S.-developed system that allows ships to alert one another to the presence of a suspect vessel.

He said the officials showed interest in learning more about the program the Navy calls Cooperative Maritime Forces Pacific, but held off from committing themselves. Roughead called that stance "perfectly reasonable," adding that countries would get a chance to try out the system during multinational maritime exercises scheduled over the next several months.

He also asked military officials in India and Malaysia during a trip last week if they would be interested in the technology.

The admiral stressed the U.S. military did not want to send ships to patrol the Malacca Strait.

"As soon as you start talking about doing operations, I think some people begin to get a little nervous. But as I said, we have no desire to do that," Roughead said. "But we are willing and will do all we can to help any of the countries that are looking for assistance, support or whatever, as they do the patrolling and policing."

U.S. officials in 2004 reportedly proposed sending an elite unit to help secure the strait. Both Malaysia and Indonesia, which have Muslim-majority populations, said they would reject any such suggestion.