Sri Lanka: A military logistic hub for the U.S.

(Courtesy of Asian Tribune)

Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe last week dismissed the opposition claim that the United States was establishing a military base in the island nation declaring that the opponents of the government were making mischief.

Leaving the mischief part aside, the Asian Tribune totally agrees with his explanation. In the past – going back to the 1980s – many political activists and their movements were suspicious that the U.S. was maneuvering to establish a military base in Sri Lanka, targeting the world’s second-most vital natural harbor Trincomalee.

A print media outlet in Sri Lanka Daily Mirror reported January 22 quoting the United States Embassy in Colombo that there was no truth in reports that the U.S. intends to establish a military base in Sri Lanka.

Prior to the signing of the July 1987 Indo-Lanka Agreement, among the letters exchanged between Sri Lanka president J.R. Jayewardene and Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, the latter in his July 29, 1987 letter to Jayewardene reminded (Quote) Conscious of the friendship between our two countries stretching over two millennia and more, and recognising the importance of nurturing this traditional friendship, it is imperative that both Sri Lanka and India reaffirm the decision not to allow our respective territories to be used for activities prejudicial to each other’s unity, territorial integrity and security.

In this spirit, you had during the course of our discussions, agreed to meet some of India’s concerns as follows:

Trincomalee or any other ports in Sri Lanka will not be made available for military use by any country in a manner prejudicial to India’s interests. (End Quote)

The letters, one of which made reference to the Tincomalee harbor, went as annexure to the 1987 Indo-Lanka Agreement. As a reminder, the ‘agreement’ was solely for the devolution of administrative power to peripheral districts, mainly to the Tamil-majority North and Eastern Districts.

In recent months, the United States succeeded in getting Sri Lanka’s collaboration to obtain logistic support for its overall military domination in the Indo-Pacific region in very different manner.

The Asian Tribune is in a position to state that the United States and Sri Lanka are in agreement to make the entire island nation a military logistic hub. Using the term ‘military logistic hub’ is not coined by this Online daily newspaper but a borrowed phrase from the official statement issued by the United States diplomatic mission in Colombo recognizing the US-SL collaboration to provide logistic support to the United States Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM) responsible for military operations in an area stretching from the waters off the west coast of the United States to the west coast of India. Service component and subordinate unified commands of the USINDOPACOM include U.S. Army Pacific, Marine Forces Pacific, U.S. Pacific Fleet, Pacific Air Forces, U.S. Forces Japan, U.S. Forces Korea, and Special Operations Command Pacific. USINDOPACOM also has two direct reporting units – U.S. Pacific Command Joint Intelligence Operations Center (JIOC) and the Center for Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance.

The U.S. diplomatic mission’s official statement acknowledges that the cooperation between the two nations has converted Sri Lanka to a “military logistic hub” and, in the words of the embassy “using the island’s location” – Sri Lanka’s strategic location.

At a time the Trump administration has launched a trade battle with China intensifying the Sino-American rivalry in the Indo-Pacific region, the American Embassy in its 23 January statement describes the cooperation between the two nations in this manner:

(Quote) The United States Navy is doing a cargo transfer operation at Sri Lanka’s main international airport under a plan to use the island’s location to make it a military logistics hub.

Under the initiative, several U.S. naval aircraft are scheduled to land and depart from the Bandaranaike International Airport outside Colombo, a commercial airport, bringing in a variety of non-lethal supplies.

The supplies will be transferred between planes and then flown to the U.S.S. John C. Stennis aircraft carrier at sea from January 21 to 29.

This is part of a larger temporary cargo transfer initiative that promotes Sri Lanka’s efforts to become a regional hub for logistics and commerce.

Sri Lanka’s leaders have outlined their vision for the country’s regional engagement that reflects its location at the nexus of the Indo-Pacific and seizes the opportunities that this unique position presents, said U.S. Ambassador Alaina B. Teplitz.

She said “We are happy to support this vision through a range of mutually beneficial initiatives, such as contracting Sri Lankan services and goods to support U.S. military and commercial vessels that often transit the Indo-Pacific’s busy sea lanes.” (End Quote)

The language used in the official U.S. Navy web site clearly indicates how Sri Lanka has been dragged toward the emerging rivalry between the United States and China in the Asia Pacific region.

On December 31, President Trump signed the ‘Asia Reassurance Initiative Act’. The Act, specifically, calls for America’s increased engagement in the Indo-Pacific region and strengthened support, including arms sales, for U.S. allies in the region. The act develops a long-term strategic vision and a comprehensive, multifaceted, and principled United States policy for the Indo-Pacific region.

Establishing a logistic hub at the Trincomalee harbor and the use of the Bandaranaike International Airport in the out skirts of the capital city Colombo for logistic operation comes at a time the Trump administration puts into law Asia Reassurance Initiative Act to strengthen US strategic positions in the Asia-Pacific region against China.

December 2018, the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis visited Trincomalee as part of the Pentagon’s plans to establish a logistic hub there for the US Navy. Earlier, in August 2018, USS Anchorage, another Seventh Fleet vessel, and a unit of Marines visited the port of Trincomalee. Grant G. Grady, Mass Communication Specialist on board USS John C. Stennis in a dispatch to the US Navy official web portal wrote: “The primary purpose of the operation is to provide mission-critical supplies and services to U.S. Navy ships transiting through and operating in the Indian Ocean,” said Lt. Bry an Ortiz, John C. Stennis’ stock control division officer. “The secondary purpose is to demonstrate the U.S. Navy’s ability to establish a temporary logistic hum ashore where no enduring U.S. Navy logistic footprint exists.” (Emphasis is Asian Tribune’s)

The U.S. Navy official web portal further said: “The cumulative efforts of numerous stakeholders to facilitate the logistic hub in Sri Lanka will pay dividends for all future transiting units in addition to make our Navy more sustainable and a more formidable force throughout the Pacific theater,” said Cmdr. Frederick Espy, Commander Task Force 70 Maintenance, Material, Logistics, Readiness representative.

The Navy Web Site further added: Building the necessary logistic footprint requires cooperation from all sides of the operation. “In addition to the deployed team, we have had excellent support from fantastic professionals at the supporting agencies: Navy Supply Systems Command, Commander, Naval Air Forces, U.S. Embassy staff,” said Lt. Austin Gage, 7th Fleet Logistic Readiness Cell chief.

He further said – according to the Navy web portal – “The log hub is a great opportunity to leverage private industry in Sri Lanka to enhance the U.S. Navy’s operational reach. We are generating standard operating procedures to optimize our supply chain to be more agile and mobile and utilize strategic locations in the Indian Ocean.”

Sri Lanka seems to be that strategic location for the military objectives of the United States.

What is Logistics Hub: Logistics: the Lifeblood of Military Power

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines logistics as “the aspect of military science dealing with the procurement, maintenance, and transportation of military material, facilities, and personnel.

To the United States, logistics has far-reaching implications and the military element of national power and therefore affects every aspect of organizing, training, equipping, deploying, and employing the force.

Logistics is fundamental to the readiness of the entire Joint force of the United States—those at home, deployed in operational settings, and permanently stationed abroad—given that it must operate around the world and across every domain of activity.

Logistics includes planning and executing the movement and support of forces as well as those aspects of military operations that deal with (among other):

  • The acquisition, storage, distribution, use, maintenance, and disposal of materiel;
  • Provision of food, water, and operational hygiene and sanitation support
  • Infrastructure assessment, repairs, and maintenance
  • Planning, coordinating, and integrating host-nation support from overseas partners;
  • Disposal operations that deal with the removal and remediation of waste and unusable military property
  • Military logistics involves the interaction of military and U.S. government entities with private, commercial, foreign, and multinational organizations worldwide.

When the United States uses Sri Lanka as a logistic hub, or in the words of the American Embassy ‘military logistic hub’, the whole operation between the two nations may not involve military hardware or equipment. But supportive measures that facilitate the United States military operation in the Asia-Pacific region at a time the rivalry between the US and China is on the increase is critical. This is well beyond the solitary use of a harbor as a military base. The entire island nation is transformed into a ‘military logistic hub’.

By Daya Gamage 


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