The Army next month will ship roughly 80 mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles from Kuwait to the 8th Army, 2nd Infantry Division, in South Korea to begin a six-month evaluation of how the MRAPs might be integrated into the brigade combat teams there. (2nd Lt. Karl Wies / Air Force)
The U.S. Army has launched an ambitious modernization effort that involves sending new equipment, along with battle-tested gear, directly from war zones in the Middle East to South Korea as the service turns its gaze to the Pacific.
The Army next month will ship roughly 80 mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles from Kuwait to the 8th Army, 2nd Infantry Division, in South Korea to begin a six-month evaluation of how the MRAPs might be integrated into the brigade combat teams there.
The battle-tested MaxxPro MRAPs are the latest step in the effort, which also involves shipping the newest communications, networking and situational awareness technologies to the 20,000 U.S. troops in South Korea.
Army leaders has been very public about their desire to be included in any larger Pentagon-wide shift in strategy toward the Asia-Pacific, but the service has not always been able to fully articulate the role it intends to play there, despite the fact that 60,000 soldiers are deployed to the region.
The South Korean modernization, then, may serve as one of the early clues to how the Army will allocate resources to combatant commanders in a postwar environment. As soldiers in South Korea begin to evaluate these new technologies, the 2nd Infantry Division, which is permanently stationed in South Korea, may also be acting as a “test bed for a lot of new capabilities,” said Army Lt. Col. Joe Scrocca, spokesman for the 2nd ID.
“As we begin to look to the future with the focus being on the Pacific, I think 2nd ID and the 8th Army together are going to be the spearhead for the testing of a lot of these future capabilities,” he said.
The infantry division was also the first unit to receive the latest survivability upgrades to the Bradley fighting vehicle, as well as the first — even before those in Afghanistan — to be issued the new Force Battle Command Brigade-and-Below/Blue Force Tracking equipment. About 1,000 vehicles will be outfitted with the new capability, which gives soldiers greater situational awareness and network connectivity. The division also has been issued Abrams M1A2 Systems Enhancement Program tanks and has been upgrading about 300 Humvees.
It’s also significant that the 2nd ID will be the first non-Afghanistan fielded unit to receive the Army’s much-touted Capability Set 13, a suite of the latest communication, situational awareness and vehicle-mounted networking gear. They are all tied together by a new network that allows dismounted soldiers to push data to higher headquarters while on the move.
Some observers see the hand of Gen. James Thurman, head of U.S. forces in South Korea, behind this modernization project.
“This is all happening because Gen. Thurman is a war fighter and his mantra is readiness,” David Maxwell, of the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University and a recently retired Special Forces colonel with experience in South Korea, wrote in an email. “He knows that a high state of readiness gives the alliance the flexibility to deal with everything from provocations to instability and collapse to war.”
Defense News contacted Army leaders for comment on Thurman’s involvement with the new equipping strategy but did not receive a response by press time.
Lt. Gen. John Campbell, deputy chief of staff who heads the service’s G-3/5/7 office, told Defense News recently that not only is technology getting an overhaul in South Korea, but the service is taking a look at the manning levels of units deployed there. The general traveled to South Korea in January to assess the readiness and manning levels of the force, since over the past decade of war, South Korea “may have not been manned at that high a level. We’ve taken a hard look and we’ve asked 8th Army [to identify] specific units to make sure that we man them up to a different level to help their readiness.”
The topography of South Korea, with its sharp hills and ravines, “really destroys networked communications and makes it very challenging to communicate, especially the way the Army communicates right now,” said Capt. Christopher Williams, commander of D Company, 2-9 Infantry Regiment.
To try to overcome these limitations, the Army is also sending several new communications systems fitted onto Caiman MRAPs. Called Global Network on the Move-Active Distribution, the 8-inch-tall, 120-pound roof-mounted system provides secure, vehicle-mounted, on-the-move satellite communications; the 2nd ID plans on evaluating it this year.
While 8th Army already uses Raven and Shadow UAVs, the unit is about to begin evaluating the T-Hawk vertical-take-off-and-landing UAV, which was once part of the Army’s Future Combat Systems plan, before being scuttled in 2009.
Since Army units in South Korea are not part of the normal deployment, reset and training force generation model used in the Army, issuing this new equipment has been something new for 8th Army, said Maj. Peter Rasmussen, the 2nd ID’s force integration officer.
“We put all this new equipment training into a six-week window between the spring and fall exercises,” he said.
The pullout from Iraq, the drawdown in Afghanistan and the strategy shift to the Pacific region have “allowed us to move up a little bit higher on the priority list,” Rasmussen said.
Maxwell also sees the modernization of U.S. Army forces in South Korea as being important from a strategic messaging perspective, “both to demonstrate the commitment to the alliance, as well as from a deterrence perspective because North Korea tracks all these announcements, and this new equipment sends the right message of strength and resolve of U.S. forces,” he said.