The Complex

Super-Copters, Spy Planes, and a Publicist: Here’s How The U.S. Military Will Help With Typhoon Relief

The U.S. military began providing humanitarian assistance in the Philippines on Sunday following a monstrous typhoon that leveled much of the country Friday and possibly killed more than 10,000 people, according to the latest estimates. The storm affected more than 4.2 million people across 36 provinces in the southeastern Asian nation, U.S. officials said.

How will the U.S. help, though? Here's a primer, based on announced deployments and previous disaster relief efforts.

Command unit: The first conventional U.S. forces on the ground were U.S. Marines, who flew from Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Japan on Sunday in KC-130J Hercules planes. They are commanded by Brig. Gen. Paul Kennedy, a seasoned infantry officer who, ironically enough, led the service's public affairs division at the Pentagon until a few months ago. Kennedy's team is "continuously assessing the situation along with the Government and Armed Forces of the Philippines to determine how to best make use of personnel and resources," Marine officials said in a news release Monday.

The U.S. military has named Lt. Gen. Terry Robling as the "executive agent" for the operation. He commands Marine Corps Forces Pacific from Hawaii, and will likely be in close consultation with Kennedy and his staff. The initial focus will be providing maritime search and rescue missions, moving food, water and other supplies, and setting up logistical support to make the mission easier.

KC-130J planes: The initial group of Marines arrived Sunday in one of the workhorse aircraft of the U.S. military. They are capable of refueling smaller aircraft, including MV-22B Osprey and CH-53E helicopters, and carrying a variety of troops and supplies.

The military already has deployed at least five KC-130Js in support of the mission. On Monday, they assisted in delivering 38,000 pounds of relief supplies provide by the Philippine government, and transported 210 aid workers, Marine officials said. The Marines expected to assist on Tuesday with receiving humanitarian assistance supplies from the U.S. Agency for International Development, and assisting with the transport of people stranded in typhoon-ravaged areas.

MV-22B Ospreys: The Marine Corps has deployed at least four of the revolutionary tilt-rotor aircraft to the Philippines, providing an aircraft that can carry civilians and military forces and supplies quickly and into areas where runways are not available. The aircraft's design allow it to take off like a helicopter, but fly like an airplane once higher in the air.

P-3 Orion planes: The Navy quickly deployed two of these turboprop aircraft from Misawa, Japan, where personnel operating them were on a six-month rotational assignment in support of the Navy's 7th Fleet. The aircraft are capable of performing search-and-rescue missions, surveillance and reconnaissance.

The George Washington: This aircraft carrier was in Hong Kong when the storm hit the Philippines, carrying about 5,000 sailors and more than 80 aircraft aboard. Its crew were recalled early from their shore leave, and began making "best speed" for the Philippines Monday night, Pentagon spokesman George Little said in a statement. It is expected to be off the coast of the Philippines within two or three days. It provided some aid in Japan following the devastating earthquake there in 2011, but was forced to leave early when its personnel detected radiation in the air from the destroyed Fukushima nuclear power plant.

The cruisers Antietam and Cowpens: These ships are among those that will escort the George Washington. They'll provide security for the aircraft carrier, but also carry helicopters and supplies that could prove helpful in the Philippines. The Cowpens also was involved in the U.S. military's 2011 Japan relief mission.

The destroyer Mustin: This ship also will provide security for the George Washington, while serving as a landing site for helicopters. In 2011, it was involved in both earthquake relief in Japan and humanitarian assistance in Thailand, following widespread flooding during the country's monsoon season.

The supply ship Charles Drew: This is one of Military Sealift Command's noncombatant ships, carrying minimal weaponry while moving cargo and supplies for the U.S. military. This ship is manned primarily by civilian mariners, with a handful of U.S. sailors also typically on board. It also has space to land helicopters, most commonly the Navy's MH-60.

Carrier Air Wing Five: This unit is deployed aboard the George Washington and its accompanying ships, comprising about 1,900 sailors and 67 aircraft, the Navy said in a news release in September. It includes F/A-18F Super Hornets, F/A-18E Super Hornets, EA-18G Growlers, E-2C Hawkeyes, C-2A Greyhounds, and MH-60S and MH-60R Seahawk helicopters.

The fighter jets' ability to assist in the Philippines may be limited, but the helicopters will almost certainly receive heavy work. The Hawkeyes and Greyhounds also will be able to provide support on the ground, as cargo planes capable of ferrying passengers and cargo to and from the shore.

If previous large-scale humanitarian assistance missions are any indication, the U.S. military could be in the Philippines for weeks, if not longer. It will all depend on how quickly conditions improve -- and how long the Philippine government welcomes help.

Paula Bronstein/ Getty Images

National Security

Everyone Hates U.S. Bases in Asia -- Until Disaster Strikes

It was 1991 when a closely divided Philippine government ordered U.S. forces to leave the naval base in Subic Bay, a sprawling facility that had been used by Americans for decades. The Philippines and the U.S. militaries have interacted since, but only recently began discussing the possibility of again basing U.S. forces in the southeastern Asia nation. Even that hit a reported snag, however, over how the Philippine military would be allowed to use U.S. facilities built there.

It is against this backdrop that the U.S. military scrambled to assist the Philippines after much of it was leveled by Super Typhoon Haiyan, the monstrous storm that roared over the island nation Friday. Officials have said it may have killed more than 10,000 people, as a wall of water and winds in excess of 200 miles per hour devastated the country.

U.S. Marines were among the first to respond, sending about 90 personnel and two KC-130J planes from Futenma, Japan on Sunday to assess the damage. On Monday, the military announced additional support, including the deployment of more Marine Corps aircraft to perform search and rescue missions and deliver supplies and food to stranded civilians. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel also ordered the aircraft carrier George Washington and other U.S. ships to the Philippines, including the cruisers Antietam and Cowpens, the destroyers Mustin and Lassen, and the supply ship Charles Drew.

"As needed, these ships and aircraft will be able to provide humanitarian assistance, supplies and medical care in support of the ongoing efforts led by the government and military of the Republic of the Philippines," said Pentagon press secretary George Little on Monday night. "The ships should be on station with 48-72 hours. The Defense Department is continuing to work closely with the Philippine government to determine what, if any, additional assets may be required."

The response could become the latest example of the U.S. winning both goodwill and political points with an eastern Asian country while responding to natural disaster. In each case, the U.S. military's positioning of forces in the region allowed it to provide robust assistance more quickly and effectively than any other nation. That underscored America's ability to respond to crisis when other countries -- especially China, a growing power -- were unwilling or unable to do so. That, despite opposition at worst and mixed feelings at best in some of those nations to the U.S. moving to increase the amount of forces it circulates through the Pacific.

"The United States, for all of our problems, still has a lot of good working relationships and good will in that area of the world," said Michael Auslin, an expert on Asian politics and security issues at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative Washington think tank. "The tragedy here is unfortunately an opportunity for us to show what we can do."

Auslin cited the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami as a more drastic example of how providing humanitarian assistance improved U.S. relations in Asia. In that case, the worst hit country was Indonesia, which had maintained a frosty relationship with the U.S. since it imposed sanctions on the Indonesian government in 1991 following an incident in which Indonesian soldiers opened fire on a demonstration in East Timor, killing more than 270 people. After more than 130,000 Indonesians were killed by the tsunami, however, the U.S. dispatched the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln and other ships to the region, providing helicopters and other assistance.

The U.S. relationship with Indonesia began to normalize afterward, most notably with the U.S. lifting an arms embargo in 2006. By last year, Indonesia's ministers had grown enough trust in the U.S. that they said they approved of the U.S. Marines expanding operations in nearby Australia, and wanted to conduct more disaster relief training with the American forces.

In another example, U.S. forces responded to a brutal earthquake in northeastern Japan in 2011 that killed more than 15,000 people and caused three nuclear reactors at a nuclear power plant to melt down. An estimated 24,000 U.S. service members took part in the relief effort, Operation Tomodachi. The Pentagon later acknowledged that some of them may have been exposed to radiation in the process, boosting their chances of developing cancer and other diseases. Japan's top officials later eased their rhetoric over the U.S.'s plans to shift forces around on its Japanese bases, thanking them for their help after the disaster.

In the case of the Philippines, the U.S. has a far better relationship than it did with Indonesia in 2004, said Murray Hiebert, an expert on southeastern Asia issues at the bipartisan Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. In particular, the Philippine military has worked with U.S. special operators in small numbers for years to fight the nation's insurgent groups, which include the Abu Sayyaf Group and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Still, America's involvement in the typhoon relief effort will service as a reminder to Philippine officials that there are benefits in striking a deal to allow the U.S. to base Marines and sailors there on a rotational basis. "Neither side is talking all that much" about it now, Hiebert said, but will likely circle back to it in coming weeks.

"The Philippines wants this very badly," he said. "They want us as a hedge against a growing China. I can't imagine they are going to spurn this opportunity."