The commander of NATO-led operations that helped Libyan rebels overthrow Moammar Gadhafi is taking over as the top U.S. military commander in Asia and the Pacific.
Adm. Samuel Locklear will succeed Adm. Robert Willard as head of the U.S. Pacific Command in a ceremony Friday at Camp H.M. Smith, a Marine base outside Honolulu where the command has its headquarters.
Locklear comes to the position as the Obama administration implements as a new defense strategy that places more emphasis on Asia in recognition of the region's growing economic importance and China's rise as a military power.
Under the strategy announced in January, the U.S. plans to expand its alliances and develop India as a long-term strategic partner.
Locklear last month told the Senate Armed Services Committee at his confirmation hearing that China's military buildup is a source of strategic uncertainty. He described the current military relationship as "cooperative but competitive."
"It would be my plan to in every way possible improve our military-to-military relationship, with the recognition that there are things we won't agree on, that greater transparency is for the good of all of us to avoid miscalculation," Locklear told the committee.
Willard, the outgoing commander, has said that U.S.-China military ties have been maintained at a senior level but China is reluctant to have tactical and operational ties with the U.S.
In the past, Beijing has stymied bilateral military exchanges in response to U.S. arms sales to the self-governing island of Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Locklear brings "great talents" to his new job, and praised the admiral's performance during the campaign against Gadhafi's forces. He noted some questioned whether the operation could succeed.
"Bringing that many nations together to go after targets in Libya and be able to coordinate that, to develop targets and then distribute those targets to various countries _ that's a huge responsibility," Panetta told reporters in Hawaii on Thursday. "And yet, Sam Locklear was able to put that operation together."
Locklear graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1977. He has commanded the U.S. 3rd Fleet and the Nimitz aircraft carrier strike group.
Most recently he commanded U.S. Navy in Europe and Africa.
The Pacific Command is responsible for an area stretching from the U.S. West Coast to India. It oversees some 325,000 military and civilian personnel _ about one-fifth of the military's payroll.