Recalling The World Is Still Round—A Trip To Japan

By Vice Adm. Michelle Howard
Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Operations, Plans and Strategy (N3/N5)

No matter how strong our sea legs, we tend to view the world from the land perspective.  We operate at sea, but live ashore. We grow up with a view of the United States that is centered in the middle of a map, with the Atlantic and Pacific oceans barely visible on either side of the continent. We visualize our world with the equator in the center, and the North Pole at the top of the world.

Vice Adm. Michelle Howard, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for operations, plans and strategy, tours the hangar deck of the Japanese helicopter destroyer JDS Hyuga (DDH 181) in Tokyo, Japan.

Vice Adm. Michelle Howard, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for operations, plans and strategy, tours the hangar deck of the Japanese helicopter destroyer JDS Hyuga (DDH 181) in Tokyo, Japan.

My trip to Japan was instructive in reminding me that our traditional flat image is helpful for understanding stateside geography, but tends to overshadow global factors that influence our ability to perform our primary mission of defense. The plane’s flight tracker traces a great circle route from Washington, D.C. to Tokyo.  Airlines, like ships, take advantage of the curves of the earth, and by flying up and over reduce the miles that must be traveled. Moving at several hundred knots, the trip from the United States to Japan can be made in 13 hours. At mach speeds, a missile can complete the journey in minutes. We are in an age where we must mentally rotate the globe and think about the world from the top down.

Vice Adm. Michelle Howard, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for operations, plans and strategy, tours the bridge deck of the Japanese helicopter destroyer JDS Hyuga (DDH 181) in Tokyo, Japan.

Vice Adm. Michelle Howard, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for operations, plans and strategy, tours the bridge deck of the Japanese helicopter destroyer JDS Hyuga (DDH 181) in Tokyo, Japan.

We have lived with a potential threat coming across the top of the world for decades. The North American Aerospace Defense Command NORAD is specifically formed to deal with the possibility that an attack could come over the arctic. As nations continue to develop ballistic missiles, perils can come over the top of the world or mimic the airplane tracker and fly up over the northern arc of land across the top of the Pacific Ocean. Our Navy has evolved as the threat has changed. We have developed Ballistic Missile Defense capability and network with joint partners as we posture to protect the United States. Our responsibility to defend requires that we operate forward in the Pacific Ocean. In addition to our obligation to defend U.S. sovereign territory, we have defense pacts with several allies in the Asia-Pacific.

Vice Adm. Michelle Howard, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for operations, plans and strategy, left center, and Vice Adm. Yasushi Matsushita, Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) Fleet Commander in Chief, right center, aboard the Japanese helicopter destroyer JDS Hyuga (DDH 181) in Tokyo, Japan. Vice Adm. Howard visited Hyuga and the U.S. 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) during her visit to Japan to discuss operations with JMSDF and 7th Fleet leadership.

Vice Adm. Michelle Howard, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for operations, plans and strategy, left center, poses for a photograph with Vice Adm. Yasushi Matsushita, Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) Fleet Commander in Chief, right center, aboard the Japanese helicopter destroyer JDS Hyuga (DDH 181) in Tokyo, Japan.

If we think about the scope of additional missions beyond BMD, such as countering violent extremists, or countering proliferation, it becomes clear that we need the combined knowledge and capabilities of partners to identify and deal with current and future threats. I was on board USS Blue Ridge on Tuesday as Seventh Fleet celebrated its 70th anniversary.  More importantly, the commemoration ceremony was acknowledgement of our enduring relationship with the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force and the people of Japan. Our partnership has only deepened over the years. The Japanese government has been a stalwart supporter of the United States. In addition to host nation access, the government has stood by us through many events far from their shores. The JMSDF sent Mine Sweeps to the Gulf in Desert Storm. They provided fuel oil to us and to other nations during Operation Enduring Freedom. They continue to develop capability, such as Aegis, to ensure interoperability as we defend our nations. They have supported counter-piracy operations in Fifth Fleet with P-3s, and recently announced they will be joining CTF 151.

I visited helicopter destroyer, JS Hyuga (DD 181) and her crew. She participated in Dawn Blitz in June, carrying members of the Japanese Self Defense Ground Force. Our militaries practiced expeditionary operations; reinforcing joint and combined interoperability; while also training for the most likely contingency of Humanitarian Assistance Disaster Relief.

Strategically, our rebalance to the Pacific is reaffirmation that the world is still round.  International trade and travelers leverage the curves of the earth to sustain vital trade routes. Our adversaries have also learned to leverage arcs to shorten the distance between two points. My trip was confirmation of our strategy and the value of our Japanese partners as we counter threats. Our forward presence is enhanced when we operate side by side. We are one in the goal of pursuing peace and preventing the next conflict.

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