The Role of the US Army in the Pacific: The Perspective of the PACOM Commander


2016-05-29 When we wrote our book on evolving Pacific strategy, we highlighted what we thought was a critical need to reshape how the Army positioned itself in the Pacific.

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 in terms of both the coming transfer of command authority and the changing nature of technologies and strategy that deterrence of North Korea demands.

Even within South Korean defense itself, the U.S. 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 U.S. bases in the region, and support of deployed forces is a core U.S. Army mission…..

However, 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…..

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.[ref] Laird, Robbin F.; Timperlake, Edward (2013-10-28). Rebuilding American Military Power in the Pacific: A 21st-Century Strategy: A 21st-Century Strategy (The Changing Face of War) (p. 325). ABC-CLIO. Kindle Edition.[/ref]

Apparently, the current PACOM commander agrees.

According to Admiral Harry B. Harris, Jr., Commander, U.S. Pacific Command in a speech delivered to the US Army Association in Hawaii on May 25, 2016:

During the Civil War, Army coastal artillery was used to engage ships.

In the early 1900s, the batteries at Fort Kamehameha here in Hawaii were built to defend against the maritime threat. The Army’s Coast Artillery Corps took on this mission, as well as some mine warfare missions, and later anti-aircraft, too.

But as time passed and the need for longer range and more mobile defenses increased, we developed maritime and air capabilities that allowed the Army to divest itself from the coastal defense business. The Coast Artillery Corps was disestablished and the anti-aircraft defenders morphed into Air Defense Artillery.  

Well, guess what… in the 21st Century, I believe the Army should consider getting back into this business because we now face an inverse problem. 

Incredibly sophisticated missiles are proliferating throughout the world.

Countries like China, Iran, and Russia are challenging our ability to project power ashore, from the sea, through ever-more sophisticated anti-ship missiles.

More and more, adversary rocket forces are projecting power over the water in order to protect their control on land.

They are also developing land attack missiles and the precision targeting systems that can threaten our facilities ashore.

We need systems that enables the Army to project power over water, from shore.

Fort Kamehameha hasn’t moved an inch since it was built… but what we need today is a “Fort HIMARS” – a highly mobile, networked, lethal weapons system with long reach – and if we get this right, the Army will kill the archer instead of dealing with all of its arrows.

I believe that the Army should look at ways to use the Paladin and HIMARS systems to keep at risk the enemy’s Navy… not only the enemy’s land, which we already do and do well. 

The Army will be back in the coastal defense game, in a completely new way. 

With today’s technology, we don’t have to sacrifice range for mobility.

Adm. Harry Harris, commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, has urged Pacific Army leaders to project the power of their land-based service into the air, sea and cyber domains. Credit: US Navy
Adm. Harry Harris, commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, has urged Pacific Army leaders to project the power of their land-based service into the air, sea and cyber domains. Credit: US Navy

According to an article published by Stars and Stripes by Wyatt Olson on May 26, 2016:

Imagine, he said, a Navy F-18 Hornet fighter jet acquiring a target at sea, but then passing the information through a sophisticated communication system to, say, an Army High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS, which has a top range of roughly 200 miles.

“Wow, a Navy fighter communicating with an Army ground-based system to kill a sea-based target,” Harris said. And though this scenario might sound “aspirational,” he said, such a capability was demonstrated during last year’s Northern Edge exercise in Alaska.

“So this is well within the realm of possible,” Harris said…..

“We need systems that enable the Army to project power over water from the shore.”

The Army should establish a “Fort HIMARS,” he said, “a highly mobile, networked, lethal weapons system with long reach. And if we get this right, the Army will kill the archer instead of dealing with all of its arrows.”

As Ed Timperlake put the opportunity:

A key challenge is to shape an understanding of the appropriate tactical and strategic role of the US Army in the Pacific.

One just has to look at the geography of the Pacific and ask why just Guam and does a THAAD Battery always have to be moved by truck?

The answer to this question is part of a larger question: how does Army missile defense play in the attack and defense enterprise within the strategic quadrangle?

US Navy and Japanese Aegis ships, THAAD on islands, and “Rapid Raptor” which are a parts of an evolving con-ops that can be proof of concept for F-35 and tankers can make tactical and strategic moves to many PacRim airfields.

The problem is the US Army is not a lift command.  It borrows USAF lift to move around the vast Pacific. And the Afghan war has weighed heavily on the lift and tanking resources of the USAF and its ability to support the joint force.

What is needed is to rethink how to support ADA in the Pacific without overtaxing lift assets.

An alternative way to think about the ADA approach is to build the support facilities throughout the Pacific whereby THAAD and air defense can be supported. THAAD–globally transportable, rapidly deployable capability to intercept and destroy ballistic missiles inside or outside the atmosphere during their final, or terminal, phase of flight. THAAD Weight launch vehicle, fully loaded 40,000kg=88, 184 lbs or 44 short tons.

The Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of missile battery truck alone is 66,000 lbs.

Now let us rethink how it might be deployed to remote islands as part of a flexible grid.

The CH-53 can take 30,000 lbs internal or sling 36,000 external-range unrefueled is 621 nm. The MV-22 human capacity is 24 combat-loaded Marines-range app 700 miles.

The actual missile battery is 26,000 lbs and well inside the lift capacity of a CH-53.

The problem is the mechanics to raise and lower the battery and rearm. A battery lowered from the air sans truck on reinforced concrete pads with calibrated launch points may make sense. A separate modular lift device could be put in place to load and reload.

Consequently, taking apart modules doesn’t appear to be a showstopper, and Marine MV-22s flying in Army ADA troops into any reasonable terrain is absolutely no problem.

The weight of TOC and Radar maybe of concern, and it appears that in todays world there may have been little appreciation by Big Army on using MV-22 and CH-53Ks.

To be very fair the US Vietnam War Army did get it brilliantly by setting up firebases in remote areas with helo lift of very heavy guns.

A THAAD island maneuverability concept is the same in principle but with different technology.

Combine ADA Batteries with the ability to move a floating airfield as needed inside the potential sanctuary of a 200+ KM protection umbrella of disbursed island bases with ADA batteries and power projection of the sort needed in Pacific defense is enhanced.

The targeting and thus war fighting capability of a projected threat from any PLAA2AD becomes incredibility complicated. A distributed offensive defensive grid is an additional factor in the US current PLA or North Korean IRBM kill chain R&D efforts.

Editor’s Note: We have focused considerable attention on the Army ADA opportunities in the Pacific and an expanded role. For some of these stories, along with exlusive interviews with a number of key warriors in crafting the new approach see the following: