As part of U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM), U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC) — the largest Army service component command — interacts with 36 nations that cover more than half the globe.
Army leaders recently pointed out that the Asia-Pacific region is home to seven of the world’s 10 largest armies and that 21 of the region’s 27 defense chiefs are Army officers. Maj. Gen. Roger Mathews, deputy commanding general, in a telephone interview talked about the command’s plans at a time when U.S. strategy is placing more emphasis on the region.
Q. What does Washington’s shift in strategy toward the Asia-Pacific region mean for U.S. Army Pacific?
A. The Army has moved to make I Corps at Joint Base Lewis-McChord [in Washington state] regionally align to the Pacific, so what that does is give the PACOM commander assurance that he’s going to have another three-star capable headquarters in the mix. The forces out here, in addition to training and preparing, also have the responsibilities of a forward-stationed force. So you’ve got missions that range from theater security cooperation — which could involve handling the piracy problem — to a possible pandemic, all the way to the opposite end of the spectrum, to full large-scale conventional operations. There’s a lot that regionally aligned forces can do, and I Corps has been added into that mix now. That puts three three-star headquarters in the Pacific area of responsibility, with 8th Army being focused on the [Korean] peninsula.
We’re also looking at using rotational forces in South Korea, but we’re not looking at new stationing anywhere in the theater. Part of that means prepositioning, looking at where we can locate equipment and gear for when we need it. 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.
Q. The National Guard and reserve have played a large role in USARPAC’s partnering mission in PACOM. Are you planning on continuing the state partnership mission at the same pace, or will it change given the reduced requirements in the Middle East?
A. Yes and yes. We have 64 or 65 [military-to-military] relationships right now, and we’re adding them — Vietnam is interested, and we’re looking at a partnership between Vietnam and [the Oregon National Guard]. What the state is able to provide is an enduring presence. They can come in, look at what the country needs and start that relationship, and then they’re another very valuable tool to the theater commander.
The program began in the early 1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and I really think that you can see the partnerships are oriented in that direction.
As we look to develop more partnerships in the region, we’re finding that some states have the capacity to do more than one [partnership mission] in some situations, so we’re advocating for that. It’s a huge arrow in the quiver of the PACOM commander to get that tailored support. Many countries who can’t afford a standing army are very interested in how we use the National Guard, and it’s useful for our partners to see how the National Guard works in terms of homeland defense and disaster response and how they develop a credible training program that is not part of an active-duty construct.
Q. What are some possible prepositioning sites?
A. One of the things we’re looking at is smarter use of our training ranges. We’ve got great training facilities in Hawaii and Alaska and [South] Korea. And now we’ve got to find a way to leverage those facilities without moving a lot of equipment and troops around.
A big part of that is live virtual constructive training, but also the smart positioning of heavier equipment. We’re looking at positioning Stryker [vehicle] units on the Big Island [Hawaii] so we can have them participate in training. We’re in talks with Australia for some positioning there as well. That would obviously help as we look to leverage the training areas of our partners.
Q. The 8th Army in South Korea recently received modernized Bradleys, MRAPs and the latest communication and situational awareness gear that is being deployed to Afghanistan. How significant is the modernization of the force on the Korean peninsula?
A. The single most significant responsibility they have is what we call “fight tonight.” They’ve got to be ready and prepared. One of the major responsibilities of the Army service component command is to look at the modernization of 8th Army. A key component to this is rotational forces. We’re not looking for new basing, but in the future, as we align forces in theater to support Pacific Command and then support the Combined Forces Command there in [South] Korea, how can we take Army forces and rotate them into theater to be more operationally prepared, and then to also take advantage of some of the training opportunities with our ally there? We have a tremendous relationship with South Korea, and while that relationship is changing over time, the latest and greatest capabilities are needed there. We’re looking at rotational forces as probably the most significant way of getting at that requirement.
Q. What in-theater capability gaps would you like to fill, now that more equipment may be available?
A. We believe we have the formations about right, but within those formations, how do we get at those gaps? A good example is how we’ve taken intelligence and moved it down in the formation, and you’ve got great teams in Central Command providing intelligence updates from the field, and we would like to see that occur here.
Then there’s unmanned systems, space and cyber. There are non-lethal capabilities being developed rapidly by some of our adversaries, and we’ve got to be prepared for that. It’s no surprise that on any given day, there are cyber activities that are occurring that have an impact on the region. That’s going to be a huge player. Space is the same — how we leverage space assets in terms of communication, global positioning, etc. Unmanned aviation assets, we see a big need for those. We see a need for sensors and how we build an architecture for missile defense. It’s going to be difficult for any one U.S. service to meet the missile defense needs in the region, so we have to fight in a joint context.
Q. That leads nicely into our next question. What role can the Army play in the Air-Sea Battle concept?
A. There’s a tendency to relate it to Air-Land Battle, and that’s really not a good comparison. You have 62 percent of the world economy going through this region, so to make sure that you have the global access that you need to secure the lines of communication, Air-Sea Battle was developed to take a look at the capabilities you require across the force in this huge theater. Certainly the Army has a role, and the [Defense] Department is working in that direction in a vigorous way.
Just recently, [PACOM commander] Adm. [Samuel] Locklear spoke with key leaders in industry, and one of the big topics was ballistic missile defense. It is hugely important. How we can network and provide deterrence against the threat is huge in this region.
Q. With the need for fewer units to rotate to Afghanistan, how can Army Pacific commanders keep soldiers — particularly young, battle-tested officers — engaged as they transition to more of a garrison force?
A. In this region, we’re focused on everything from the low end — potential pandemics, earthquakes, tsunami, piracy — all the way to high-order battle. There’s a multitude of things going on, so I think the notion of a garrison, peacetime Army is not the case. What you’re going to find is a globally committed force that focuses on each of those capabilities.
What we’re going to see coming out of 11 years of conflict is [a refocusing on training], since we may have lost our way in some of our tried-and-true principles.
Q. Do you mean more live-fire or realistic training scenarios?
A. Maj. Gen. Kurt Fuller [commander of the 25th Infantry Division at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii] is looking at the training ranges in Hawaii to address the full spectrum of his capabilities. If he is going to do a live-fire exercise, he’s going to fire all the weapons that formation would bring in that fight. We’re working hard at getting back to some of the basics in our training.
Q. What new partners is the Army looking to engage with in the region?
A. Well, you know my boss is in Burma [Myanmar] right now. We are forward deployed in the region, so day in and day out, we’re involved in working our relationships, going in with subject matter experts and with small teams to help develop everything from medical capabilities all the way through to major exercises. What we found in this region is that relationships matter. You have to build trust, and to do that, you have to be sensitive to our partners’ and allies’ needs. It’s not all about what the U.S. needs.
My position as deputy commanding general is essentially being split next month, and we’re going to create a deputy commanding general for operations, Maj. Gen. Rick Burr, an Australian.
Q. What are some of the primary security threats that PACOM and U.S. Army Pacific face in the near future?
A. This is the ring of fire, so every three days, there is a major event that happens that involves the loss of life or significant property loss. How we can come together to handle that threat is key.
China is hugely responsible in that regard, and as a positive force in the region, they add a lot, so we’re interested in furthering that relationship with China. China participated in the most recent Pacific Armies Management Seminar and asked to co-host it with us.
There is a need to have a presence in the region and sustain lines of communication, and that is the balancing act that PACOM works through its services.