Although the Navy and Air Force have generated more headlines related to the Pentagon’s much-discussed Pacific Re-balance, the Army has taken a series of initiatives to advance its standing in the Pacific region.
Army leaders have expanded exercises with allies, boosted Foreign Military Sales, and emphasized military-to-military partnerships. The service has also set out plans to regional align units across the Army to establish expertise in the Pacific and other areas of the world.
Over this past summer, U.S. Army Pacific was made a 4-star command during a ceremony at Fort Shafter, Hawaii. Gen. Vincent K. Brooks was named U.S. Army Pacific Commander at the event, which was led by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno.
Odierno regularly references the Pacific-reblance, often citing the importance of land armies and allied relationships in the region. In July, Army Secretary John McHugh referred to the rebalance efforts as a "return to our roots" while speaking in Hawaii.
"It may not be evident to everyone, but the fact of the matter is the Army has for decades upon decades been a major presence in the Pacific. The last 12 years have caused us to focus in two theaters of conflict, but as those have begun to wind down in the last year, it allows us to get back to the things we've been doing very, very well for a very long time," he said.
When the Army's top leaders gather in Washington D.C. next week for the Association of the U.S. Army's annual meeting, the service's role in the Pacific is expected to be discussed at length. The theme for this year's conference is "Globally Responsive, Regionally Aligned." Those alignments include a focus on Africa and the Middle East, but Army leaders plan to increase its commitment to the Pacific.
Overall, seven of the world’s 10 largest armies are in the Pacific theater, a vast, sprawling area covering 16 million square miles, 39 nations and territories and more than 25,000 islands. In fact, five of the nation’s seven defense treaties are based in Asia, said Rickey Smith, Director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center, Forward.
“When forces of other nations are predominantly Army, then that is a good fit for us. We are globally responsive, we are regionally engaged. PACOM is a key region and this is an area where we see a natural progression for the Army,” Smith said.
In a move that raised some eyebrows, the Army has been working with the Navy to conduct at-sea landing exercises for helicopters in order to sustain an ability to be expeditionary.Over the summer, Army helicopters landed in a series of exercises aboard a handful of Navy ships, including the USS Ponce, an amphibious transport dock.
The exercises took place in what's called the 5th fleet area of responsibility, an area which covers the Arabian Sea, Persian Gulf and other waters nearby. Photos of Army helicopters landing on Navy vessels surprised many and drew questions to whether the Army was impeding on Marine Corps missions.
Explaining that the Army has a role in the often-discussed Air Sea Battle operating concept, Smith said the Army wants to work closely with its partner services to address potential Anti-Access/Area-Denial challenges. AirSea Battle, or ASB, is an operating concept designed to help U.S. forces gain access to contested areas and project power. The Air Force and Navy dominate the conversation on Air Sea Battle as the name implies.
“We see things as Air Sea Battle as complementing our work in terms of maintaining access,” Smith said.
The Army currently has 18,500 soldier stationed in Korea, 2,400 in Japan, 2,000 in Guam, 480 in the Philippines, 22,300 in Hawaii and 13,500 in Alaska. The service plans to support the national defense strategy by strengthening partnerships with existing allies in the region and conduction numerous joint exercises, service officials said.
“The ground element of the Pacific rebalance is important to ensure the stability in the region,” said Col. Michael Donelly, U.S. Army Pacific spokesman.
Citing the importance of regional ties, Donelly said the U.S. will next month host the U.S.-China disaster management discussions.
“This is the second year we’ve done this. We collaborate and have an open discussion about disaster management,” he said.
Foreign Military Sales is another key area of Asia-specific emphasis for the Army.
In fiscal year 2012, the Army completed $19.3 billion in FMS sales involving technologies ranging from Apache attack helicopters to radars, small arms and air defense systems. The majority of the business went to Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Australia and Singapore.