CAMP ASAKA, Japan — The Army is accelerating its rebalance to the Pacific with three brigade-level Pacific Pathways deployments planned for 2015.
The missions follow this year’s four-month deployment of a brigade from Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington and personnel from Schofield Barracks on Hawaii to Indonesia, Malaysia and Japan.
I Corps commander Lt. Gen. Stephen R. Lanza, in Tokyo on Monday for the annual Yamasakura exercise with the Japan Ground Self Defense Force, said Pacific Pathways 2015 kicks off in March and will continue for nine months.
The first event involves a brigade deploying to Thailand, South Korea and the Philippines to participate in the Cobra Gold, Foal Eagle and Balikatan exercises, I Corps spokesman Col. David Johnson said.
Another brigade will go to Australia, Indonesia and Malaysia to join in the Talisman Saber, Garuda Shield and Keris Strike training. A third brigade will deploy later in the year, although the locations and exercises have yet to be settled, Johnson said.
Pacific Pathways is part of the Army’s effort to develop a semi-permanent presence in the region, adding to the large forces already stationed in South Korea and Japan. The rotational forces will allow for a U.S. presence in friendly nations without the expense and political complications of permanent overseas bases.
From a larger perspective, Pathways is part of the Obama administration’s Pacific pivot, which was intended to reinvigorate America’s diplomatic, economic and military influence in the region.
The brigade-level deployments — which eventually will include I Corps troops from Alaska — are a big step up from previous engagements by the Army in the Pacific, Lanza said.
“In the past, we would send a small contingent to these countries,” he said. “They (exercises in the Pacific) were more about partnership building and cultural exchanges.”
Pacific Pathways involves operational training and gives soldiers the chance to do reconnaissance and build relationships with partners in the region that will stand them in good stead in an emergency, Lanza said.
“We are doing things that are tactically significant in these counties,” he said. “Pathways facilitates future operations.”
Lanza dismissed talk of a turf war between the Marine Corps and the Army over engagement in the Pacific.
“The Pacific is big enough for all the services,” he said, noting that seven of the world’s 10 largest militaries are in the region.
Soldiers rotating there for Pacific Pathways will complement what the Marines do, he said.
“All these capabilities are required in the Pacific,” he said.
Yamasakura is not part of Pacific Pathways. However, Japanese troops will be in Australia as observers at next year’s Talisman Saber exercise, and Australian observers are in Japan for Yamasakura.
Lt. Gen. Koichi Isobe, commander of Japanese Ground Self Defense Force’s Eastern Army, noted that 4,500 of his troops were exercising alongside 2,000 U.S. personnel this month.
Lanza said I Corps is working with Japan on cyber and ballistic missile defense and operational fires and sustainment during Yamasakura.
The Army is integrating ever more closely with Japanese forces, he said, noting that U.S. and Japanese personnel are sharing a common headquarters during this year’s training.