The four-star admiral in charge of U.S. operations in the Pacific is calling on the Army to consider shouldering a greater role in coastal and maritime defense and to consider new ways of using land-based rocket and howitzer systems to defend against enemy naval threats.
Adm. Harry Harris, the commander of U.S. Pacific Command, addressed a crowd dense with soldiers at AUSA's Land Power in the Pacific, or LANPAC, Symposium on Wednesday in Hawaii.
Harris described a pressing concern for him, the South China Sea, where trillions of dollars in annual global commerce that passes through the region's sea lanes is being threatened by Chinese territorial claims. The admiral has previously China's deployment of missiles onto the territorially contested Paracel Islands near Vietnam represented "clear" acts of militarization.
"One thing I can tell you, the question of the role of land forces in ensuring access to and maneuver in shared domains, is something the US and our friends, allies and partners must address," he said. "Not only as a matter of security, but also as a matter of economic prosperity. As I just told you, our adversaries get this."
In light of threats presented by China and other near-peer adversaries, Harris called on the Army to look at ways to use High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, and Paladin 155mm artillery as coastal defense systems.
"If we get this right, the Army will kill the archer instead of dealing with one of the its arrows," he said.
New, sophisticated technology would give the Navy and Army an edge if they collaborated in long-range defense, Harris said. He described a 2015 exercise, Northern Edge in Alaska, in which F/A-18 Hornets located an enemy ship at sea and passed data to artillery systems on land by means of an extended tactical information network.
Other, similarly collaborative efforts, are within the realm of possibility, he said.
"How cool would it be to use ground-based artillery to put steel in the deep blue sea today, emplacing intelligent sea mines to restrict maneuver in the maritime domain," Harris said. "In other words, we should be able to deny the enemy the sea from the land."
Harris said he expected these kind of innovations to take significant work and he didn't have solutions for all the cross-domain problems he hoped to address.
"But I figure that since soldiers are fond of telling sailors you're a lot smarter than we are, I've come to the right place to get those answers," he said.