WASHINGTON (NNS) -- With warfighting the central focus of the Navy's mission, the Navy is best when it is out and about, Navy Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert, chief of naval operations, said Nov. 16.
"Operating forward means using innovative ways to make sure the ships that we have are where we need them to be," the admiral said during a speech at a National Press Club luncheon.
Readiness to conduct forward operations requires more than just parts, maintenance and fuel, he added. "It also means that we have competent and proficient crews that are ready to do the job," he said.
For about 10 years, around half of the Navy's ships have been forward-deployed in the Asia-Pacific region, Greenert said. Half of those ships are home-ported there, he added.
That forward-leaning posture helps to build international relationships and reassure U.S. allies, he said.
Partnerships between the United States and Asia-Pacific nations are maturing and growing, Greenert said. For example, in Japan and South Korea, U.S. Navy operations personnel are collocated with their host nation counterparts, he said.
In addition, a longstanding series of talks with the Chinese navy have been expanded to include flag officers, not just captains, Greenert said.
"We in the Department of Defense have now a deliberate strategy for engagement of the Chinese military," he said.
The Asia-Pacific region has been a longtime focus for the Navy, the admiral said, so it makes sense that the U.S. defense strategy would include a rebalance toward the region. Part of the rebalance includes Spain's recent agreement to allow four Aegis missile-equipped Arleigh Burke-class ships to home-port in Rota, effectively freeing up six ships to deploy elsewhere, Greenert said.
In addition, more ships will be based on the West Coast. By 2020, 60 percent of the Navy's ships will be based on the West Coast or elsewhere in the Pacific, he said.
To send one ship forward, Greenert said, requires four other ships: one in the region, one that has just returned, one that is preparing to deploy and one that is in maintenance. It makes better economic sense to keep ships home-ported in those regions, he said.
About a third of the deployed ships are in the Middle East and the Arabian Gulf, and about 18 are in the Mediterranean Sea, the admiral said. That arrangement helps to ensure access to maritime crossroads such as the Suez Canal and the straits of Hormuz, Malacca and Gibraltar, he said.
"We have to have access to those places. That's where the lifeblood of our world economy travels through," he said.
It can take several days, sometimes two or three weeks, to reach these places from the United States, he noted, underscoring the importance of operating from forward locations.