2013-01-04 by Richard Weitz
Let us review possible Army roles and approaches in the period ahead in the Pacific.
The most obvious one is its role in South Korea. North Korea remains a key threat and the defense of South Korea remains a core challenge. But reform is necessary both in terms of the coming transfer of command authority scheduled for 2015 and the changing nature of technologies and strategy which deterrence of North Korea demands.
Even within South Korean defense itself, the US Army structure can change, and become more flexible and integrated into the air and naval forces to provide for mobile and extended defense.
In addition, missile defense, notably of US bases in the region, and to support deployed forces is a core US Army mission. But failure to fund more mobile and more capable 360-degree systems such as MEADs will limit the mobility of the missile defense assets provided by the US Army.
But smaller force packages, designed to operate with more mobility and lethality, along the lines of the evolution of special forces could grow in significance as partners in the region for regimes dealing with various threats.
But opportunities to link these forces with air and naval force evolutions should be leveraged moving forward. For example, where is the US Army’s thinking about operating with the F-35A along the lines of USMC thinking about the F-35B and the MAGTF?
Indeed, the key challenge facing the Army will be to shape an evolving force structure, more mobile, and more lethal, and better connected with the joint and coalition forces required as part of any Pacific strategy for the 21st century.
The FAO Role
Although the U.S Army may not conducting direct combat operations in the Pacific, other than in the defense of South Korea, the Army is not limited to a purely military role and can contribute to realizing U.S. goals in the Pacific through its forward-positioned units. They can support both U.S diplomacy and a U.S deterrence strategy in both the military and political domains.
The U.S Army has long had a strong presence in the Pacific from California and Hawaii to Japan, South Korea, and the Southeast Pacific.
The U.S Army Pacific Command (USARPAC) is responsible for the Asia-Pacific region and maintains Army units, the most notable being the 2nd and 25th Infantry Divisions (ID), dedicated to the region. Although the war in Iraq diverted the attention of some of these units, elements of the 2nd ID have always been stationed in South Korea and the 25th ID in Alaska and Hawaii.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the long-term stationing of Army troops in Europe, Japan, and South Korea have also taught the U.S Army how to better cooperate with foreign countries.
The human experience of being “in country” provides valuable cultural, and practical, information that cannot be gathered through the use of drones and satellites; human intuition and discretion is not an objective science that can be easily replaced with computers.
The Army recognizes the need for such “special” information, especially after having fought the unconventional war in Iraq and Afghanistan, where cultural sensitivity quickly became the highest priority through the “winning the hearts and minds” concept.
According to Army FM 3-16 says, “The commander’s understanding of the local infrastructure improves his or her situational understanding. While traditional reconnaissance elements still provide much information, local media, diplomatic mission personnel, and civilian agencies can provide information not available elsewhere.” This passage from an Army field manual emphasizes the importance of working with foreign countries in creating a holistic defense and deterrence strategy.
The U.S. Army is not unique in having a long history of prominence in Asia; most other militaries in the Asia-Pacific region are dominated by their armies.
Seven out of the world’s ten largest armies are located in Asia, while 21 out of 28 chiefs of defense in the region are army generals. Furthermore, the armies of many of the Pacific countries are the largest component of their respective militaries and also share close ties with their civilian governments, which often include former army officers in leading policymaking positions.
Thus, the peer-to-peer interaction between U.S. Army leaders and their counterparts in the Asian armies could produce beneficial means to collection information as well as impart defense and deterrence messages to foreign countries.
This U.S. Army can therefore contribute well to the planned engagement dimensions of the Asian Pivot — the cultivating of political and military relationships with foreign governments.
All branches of the U.S. military have Foreign Area Officers (FAOs) to work as regional political-military specialists in embassies and service headquarters all over the world. These FAOs work as defense attaches, security assistance officers, and military political planners.
While the FAO program draws officers from all branches of the U.S military, the Army has the largest and oldest program. Having FAO officers in foreign countries provides cultural immersion that in turn produces regional specialists who can better understand the cultural nuances, strengths and weaknesses, and the needs of host nations.
This practical experience provides political and military advantages that may enhance political-military exchanges between the U.S government and foreign governments as well as producing better military strategy and standard operating procedures regarding those countries when military action is taken.
Working with Partners and Calibrating the Level of Support
The US Army can be forwarded positioned in partner countries, but this is a double-edged sword.
Deploying is either than withdrawing. Determining duration needs to be part of any support for counterinsurgency partnerships.
Forward positioned units and deterrence is the fact that these units can respond to any terrorist activity that may occur in Asia. The Army already has substantial experience in asymmetrical warfare and supporting counterinsurgency operations.
One of the lessons from the war on terror that the U.S Army has learned in engaging with foreign populations is the idea of winning their hearts and minds.
In the war on terror, this hearts and minds policy was used as a counterinsurgency tactic in order to engage with civilians through cross cultural understanding and thus create amiable relationships between the Iraqi/Afghan people and U.S. soldiers.
An effect of this approach was to help the local populace to recover and grow from the war effort and ultimately turn away from the influence of terrorism and anti-American propaganda. Such an approach can be applied to the Asia-Pacific region when appropriate.
In addition, forward positioned equipment and small elements of soldiers also helps build relations in key regions, thereby resulting in an effective deterrence strategy in the Pacific region.
The USARPAC leadership understands the difficulties of having a large footprint in a host nation and thus aims to place forward-positioned equipment to facilitate rapid deployment of US Army units into areas of interest rather than keep them indefinitely in the host nation.
The Role of Special Forces
However, it could be more beneficial to maintain smaller detachments of U.S. Army troops within the region that would mirror and mimic the U.S. Special Forces mentality of self-sufficiency and small operational upkeep, which would result in a small U.S. military footprint and maintain subtlety within a nation.
Deploying fewer U.S. troops in a foreign county also presents less logistical difficulties, with fewer people and less equipment to support.
U.S. Army Special Forces units commonly operate with a light footprint.
They integrate into local units, training and guiding them as opposed to resorting to direct action. The adoption of Special Forces tactics in the forward deployment of U.S Army forces in the Pacific may allow the United States to integrate its military into the existing host nation’s infrastructure, thus removing the need for the U.S. military to create its own support systems.
A smaller detachment of U.S soldiers can more adequately rely on the host nation supply lines, thus eliminating some logistical costs and issues that would plague a larger fighting force. A beneficial byproduct of such a system is that the absence of a more developed U.S. infrastructure in a foreign nation reduces the U.S presence, resulting in a more cordial, and productive, U.S-host nation relationship.
Deployed units, of short or longer duration, provide opportunities for the U.S and foreign militaries to conduct joint training exercises which provide a good means to keep bilateral communication lines open. Many foreign militaries desire to cross-train with the U.S. armed forces and this can help the Pentagon establish forward operating places.
Furthermore, joint training exercises can be used as a symbol of mutual goodwill and to promote military camaraderie, which can also help improve relations between the United States and foreign countries.
These cross-training exercises not only share U.S training methods with host nations but sheds light on their regional capabilities and tactics, techniques, and procedures, which can aid U.S. policy makers in making well-informed defense decisions.
Most importantly, joint training exercises can also help develop the militaries of host nations, thereby allowing them to produce more effective defense and deterrence strategies of their own. It is advantageous for the United States to empower these countries so that they can better counter any threats without their needing to receive more extensive and direct military support.
But again, the challenge will be to calibrate forces to be deployed, in terms of size and duration of operations.
There is little desire by Pacific nations for large numbers of deployed US Army forces in the region. Engagement yes; sitzkreig no.