In many ways, the future of U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC) looks similar to its past: Forward positioned forces will provide humanitarian assistance in partnership with the Navy and Air Force, as well as partner with host-nation forces to conduct multinational exercises and training programs.
The difference lies in the details. The 70,000 soldiers assigned to USARPAC, along with National Guard and reserve units taking part in the state partnership program with other nations, are looking to become even more active in the region, seeking to build new military-to-military partnerships with countries such as Vietnam and Myanmar. They also will restock and modernize garrisons in South Korea and Hawaii forced to make sacrifices as troops and equipment flowed to the Middle East over the first decade of this new century.
“You know, my boss is in Burma right now,” Maj. Gen. Roger Mathews, deputy commanding general of USARPAC, told Defense News when asked about some of the new outreach programs. “We are forward deployed in the region, so day in and day out we’re involved in working our relationships … to help develop everything from medical capabilities all the way through to major exercises.”
Given the new forward-leaning posture of U.S. forces in the region, Mathews said his job “is essentially being split next month, and we’re going to create a deputy commanding general for operations, Maj. Gen. Rick Burr, an Australian. That whole business of building partner capacity is huge, and you can see how that’s changing here.”
The Department of Defense recently announced that I Corps at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state will regionally align to the Pacific, “so what that does is give the [Pacific Command] commander assurance that he’s going to have another three-star capable headquarters in the mix,” Mathews said.
Since missions in the region range from theater security cooperation to humanitarian assistance to full-scale conventional operations, “there’s a lot that regionally aligned forces can do in this theater,” Mathews added, “and I Corps now has been added into that mix. That puts three three-star headquarters in the Pacific Area of Responsibility, with 8th Army being focused on the [Korean] peninsula.”
The Army also may establish a force rotation model to beef up the 2nd Infantry Division in South Korea, which would not only expose more soldiers to the region but also improve their access to prepositioned stocks the Army is looking to ship to the country.
“The use of strategic lift is a commodity [in short supply], so you really have to look at how you use your prepositioned stocks to shorten the timeline for use,” he said.
While plans for prepositioning stocks in the region are still in the works, Mathews did say that one of the priorities will be to make better use of Army training ranges in Hawaii, Alaska and South Korea.
“We’ve got to find a way to leverage those facilities without moving a lot of equipment and troops around,” he said. The service is considering positioning Stryker units on the Big Island of Hawaii, as well as placing stocks in Australia, since the Marine Corps is increasing its presence there.
Whatever missions American forces take part in across the Asia-Pacific region, they will likely occur in partnership with regional allies, Mathews said, since building partner capacity not only helps host nations, but increases American security, as well. Ë