Pacific Pathways to Expand Army’s Presence in Region

By Sarah Sicard
From September to November, soldiers based in Washington and Hawaii cut a swath through Asia with stops at Indonesia, Malaysia and Japan to conduct training with local forces.

Known as Pacific Pathways, the new concept is designed to both boost the Army’s presence in the region as the armed forces make a strategic shift to the Asia-Pacific and reduce costs in fiscally austere times, said Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, commanding general of the U.S. Army Pacific.

By taking this approach, “We can be more efficient in using assets and drive costs down,” Brooks said. “As you can imagine, that’s critical in a time of reduced and reducing resources.”

The three exercises — Garuda Shield in Indonesia, Keris Strike in Malaysia and Orient Shield in Japan — were formerly conducted by three separate Army units, Brooks said at the Association of the United States Army annual conference in Washington, D.C.

The innovation was to move units from one country to another with equipment such as Strykers and helicopters shipped from point to point and used as needed, he said. There could be up to three pathways per year, with two or three stops each, he added.

In the future, instead of having to deploy troops from the United States to handle every new crisis that arises, the Army will have a semi-permanent presence in the region and use these “fast response teams” to quickly address threats, said Brooks. There may be up to three units rotating around the region in fiscal year 2015 conducting training with allies, he said.

Getting troops where and when they are needed in Asia has historically been a challenge because it’s a vast region, he added.

“This should be a great opportunity for the Army to show its ability to adapt to a changing and challenging security environment,” Robert Haddick, a contractor at U.S. Special Operations Command and author of Fire on the Water: China, America and the Future of the Pacific, told National Defense.

“The role of U.S. ground forces in this are underappreciated, but can be one of the most important and effective components of successful U.S. strategy,” Haddick said.
With continued cutbacks to its budget and troops, the U.S. Army must reestablish ground forces as a necessary element in the Asia-Pacific rebalance, he added.

Scott Marciel, the State Department’s principal deputy assistant secretary at the bureau of East Asian and Pacific affairs, said in a panel discussion while many of these nations are based on islands, they have put most of their resources into their armies rather than their navies and air forces.

“The army remains for them the center piece in terms of size and influence. … That creates an opportunity from our perspective for our Army to build those relationships, [and] reaffirm that commitment to being a partner,” he said.

The first Pacific Pathway was conducted with command, control and support from I Corps, based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington and the 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii.

Maj. Gen. Charles A. Flynn, commanding general of the 25th Infantry Division, said the exercise was the equivalent of any large-scale operation in terms of logistics and planning. It began with the loading of 23 Strykers in Tacoma, Washington. The ships then sailed to Honolulu to pick up the aviation assets.

In the month of September, training was split between Garuda Shield in Indonesia and Keris Strike in Malaysia. The idea is to tailor each training to the host country’s requirements, he said.
Garuda Shield, for example, involved larger scale combined, live-fire exercises.

In each nation, the Army must establish mission command, sustain the force and execute distributed operations in the theater, Flynn said.

“These are real troops moving in real time, having to on load and off load ships, having to break down and upload ammunition, having to account for all that, having to account for helicopter, people, etc.,” Flynn added.

Lt. Gen. Stephen R. Lanza, commanding general of I Corps and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, said, “The interoperability you get now between partners is extremely important as you partner with country, embassy teams and commands within [Army] echelons.”

Host nations are now asking for more engineering capabilities, logistics and medical evacuation to be added to the exercises. There are opportunities to expand participants such as the Army Reserves and other services such as the Navy, he added.

Flynn added: “There is no way to replicate what my division headquarters had to do across the Pacific. ... The manning, the equipping, the planning, the coordination with the country teams while we were in the country solving problems, you just can’t get that. It’s real.”

Despite the fact that the Army has been performing operations in the region uninterrupted for 116 years, this particular set of exercises was unlike anything done before, Brooks said.

“The innovation is how we go to those places and how we organize ourselves for it. It is different in that it brings together … an enterprise approach to projecting ourselves from home stations abroad over the great expanses of the Indo-Asia Pacific region and to subsequent locations,” he said.

 He added that the effect of sequestration may prove more costly in the event that a crisis arises, and the U.S. Army must be able to scramble to redirect reduced resources.

This is especially worrisome in the Asia-Pacific region, which is such an expansive area, and where crises often involve natural disasters that require immediate assistance, he told reporters.

Haddick said the Army needs to be thinking much more broadly in terms of its exercises by building rapport with other armies in the region. “U.S. allies and partners in the region are the most important asset for U.S. security policy.”

Performing joint operations with Pacific allies is necessary, given budget and troop cuts, he added. Because of the lack of U.S. bases in the region, the Army will rely heavily on the relationships it has with local armies. That is why the first pathway was conducted in countries that already had the infrastructure to house such exercises, Brooks said.

The cost of cutting too many resources from the military, not just from the Army is a threat to national security. Army force strength is a concern moving forward, he added.

“The smaller we are, the more engagement we need if we are to retain a position of leadership in the region. This is something the region is asking of us,” Brooks said.

In the midst of continued involvement in the Middle East, Europe and Africa, Army officials are concerned that the service is being spread too thin, he said.

Over the last year, the Army has increased its force strength in the Asia-Pacific by 60 percent, from 60,000 to 100,000, said Brooks. However, uncertainty remains as to whether those numbers can be sustained in coming years, he added.

Both Haddick and Brooks stated that the possibility of an overall reduced force means the United States must be more involved in its partnerships with local armies.

In the Asia-Pacific region, “We have to be postured and ready to capitalize on … opening doors, to be responsive to the requests of our friends who are seeking more contact with our soldiers,” Brooks said. Should force numbers decrease, it may become very difficult for the Army to capitalize on those opportunities.

Marciel said: “For a lot of the countries in the region, they still look to the U.S. military as the gold standard. It’s the military they most want to work with. They don’t want to limit their relationship to only us, but they very much value the relationship with us: training, the quality of the professionalism, the opportunity to work together is something that is highly sought after.”

There is still some skepticism and suspicions on the part of some nations that don’t have a traditional relationship with the United States, Marciel noted.

One of the major undertakings for the Army in instituting Pathways is building trust among the countries involved, said Brooks. It will take time to successfully bridge cultural divides in the region.

In the past, “we have relied on bilateral relationships and security arrangements especially. Five of the seven [mutual defense] treaties of the United States are in this region, and they’re bilateral relationships. It’s a great step to go from bilateralism in exercises to multilateralism,” he said.

Disaster response is one of the more obvious opportunities to conduct multi-national operations in the region, he added.

The trust that other nations have in the United States’ ability to conduct military operations is something that the Army will need to take advantage of as it moves to create multilateralism in the region, said Lanza.

With Pathways, “when you start doing operations in different countries, that starts brokering multilateralism as countries look for opportunities to train collectively… enhanced by the trust they have in the U.S.,” added Lanza.

“The environment is changing politically, where there’s internal political pressures happening within the 36 countries of the region, or the dynamics among those countries,” Brooks said.

One of those “dynamics” is China’s increasing naval expansion through the region and territorial disputes with its neighbors.

Marciel said: “We sometimes hear, ‘Is the rebalance somehow against China?’ Absolutely not. In fact, we see China as part of the rebalance.”

Haddick disagreed. “China decided two decades ago that after the 1996 Taiwan Strait crisis, that they were going to build up their military power to be able to much better defend China’s maritime approaches and to establish greater Chinese control.”

The U.S. rebalance to Asia and the stepped-up activity is a direct response to Chinese decisions that were made some time ago, he said.

“One way that we can maintain a favorable and stable balance of power in the region in the face of a rising Chinese military power is to establish a stronger, more cohesive, more cooperative partnership and alliance network in East Asia,” said Haddick.

Yet there are indications that China does want to be part of multi-national coalitions. It sent ships to participate in this year’s annual Rim of the Pacific exercise in Hawaii that was organized by the U.S. Navy with allies from 21 other nations.

On a much smaller scale, Brooks cited Kowari, an ongoing survival exercise conducted in the Australian outback. Prior to this year, the exercise had been performed by U.S. and Australian troops. This year, China sent a handful of its soldiers as well.

China’s continued participation in these exercises bodes well for cooperation in the region, Brooks said.

As Pacific Pathways 2014 draws to a close, Army officials expressed confidence in the program’s ability to establish and maintain a presence in the region.

“While we’re still trying to accumulate all of the data and all of the lessons … we do sense that the concept has been proven to be beneficial,” Brooks said.

Topics: Defense Department, Simulation Modeling Wargaming and Training, Homeland Security

Comments (0)

Retype the CAPTCHA code from the image
Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
Please enter the text displayed in the image.