Secretary of Defense James Mattis announced that the U.S. Pacific Command will now be called the Indo-Pacific Command, a clear indication of a stronger alliance between the U.S. and India. The secretary made the announcement Wednesday while attending a change of command ceremony at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.
“In recognition of the increasing connectivity of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, today we re-name the U.S. Pacific Command to U.S. Indo-Pacific Command,” Mattis said, according to Inside Defense. “Over many decades, this command has repeatedly adapted to changing circumstance and today carries that legacy forward as America focuses west.”
“It is our primary combatant command,” Mattis said during his speech.
The new Indo-Pacific command is “one of six geographic combatant commands” in the U.S. military and “is in charge of using and integrating United States Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps forces within the [Indo-Pacific] area of responsibility,” according to the command’s website.
This name change comes as tensions between the U.S. and China continue to escalate. U.S. warships are conducting freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea in defiance of the Chinese, who have promised to send their own ships to chase the Americans. Although Mattis did not identify the Chinese by name, he did issue a clear warning by saying, “we are prepared to face any who would seek to challenge America’s resolve.”
As the current relationship between China and the U.S. becomes more contentious, India is emerging as a powerful ally for U.S. interests in the Pacific.
“I think India and the relationship with the United States is the potentially most historic opportunity we have in the 21st-century and I intend to pursue that quite rigorously,” said Admiral Philip Davidson, the new head of Indo-Pacific command, according to Reuters.
While the name change is a powerful political gesture to both India and the Chinese, it does not represent a change in the way the U.S. plans to deploy its forces throughout the region, and the Pentagon is not expected to send additional assets to India at this time.