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Army Plan For Pacific Still a Work In Progress

The Navy and Marine Corps’ top leaders will meet next week in Washington D.C. and focus on ways to speed up the rebalance of forces to the Pacific, but the Army’s part in the so-called Pacific Pivot remains in the concept phase.

“Remember that Pacific Pathways is still only a concept in development,” said Lt. Col. William Coppernoll, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC) based at Fort Shafter, Hawaii.

There was no timeline as yet for the start of what USARPAC envisions in the “Pacific Pathways” concept as a series of “bilateral and multi-lateral exercises and engagements with foreign militaries in the region,” Coppernoll said.

Meanwhile, top Navy and Marine Corps officers were lined up to speak at the Sea-Air-Space Exposition, the Navy’s largest conference of the year in Washington D.C. next week, on exercises already underway and upcoming with allied militaries in the Asia-Pacific region.

Last week, more than 4,000 Marines joined in the largest landing exercises in South Korea in more than 20 years. Brig. Gen. Paul Kennedy, commander of the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, later spoke from South Korea on the eagerness of Marines to get back to the Pacific.

“After 10 years of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, there may be people out there that say that returning to our amphibious roots will be too hard and assume it will take us a generation of Marines to re-learn how to do this,” Kennedy said. “I say we will do it in the blink of an eye.”

Adm. Samuel Locklear, head of the Pacific Command, and Gen. John Paxton, the assistant Marine Corps Commandant, have welcomed the Army’s role in the Pacific and stressed there won’t be inter-service turf battles under President Obama’s plan to have 60 percent of U.S. forces in the Asia-Pacific by 2020.

“You could put all the soldiers, all the airmen, all the sailors, all the Marines out there and we still wouldn’t cover it,” Paxton said in January. “So do I feel threatened? Absolutely not. Is there a place for all of us? Absolutely.”

Critics of Pacific Pathways have called it a plan for a costly and unnecessary duplication of what the Marine Corps already does. In a paper for the Brookings Institution, federal fellow Aaron Marx said “think of it as a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) without the ships, the expertise or doctrine.”

Finding places for the mix of U.S. forces was a key part of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s 10-day trip to the Asia-Pacific that began Tuesday. In Hawaii, Hagel met with defense ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on shoring up the rebalance.

As conceived by Gen. Vincent Brooks, the USARPAC commander, the Pacific Pathways plan would transform “how forces deploy into theater,” Coppernoll said.

“Instead of several smaller units traveling to an exercise for 10 to 30 days and returning home after a single trip, this new model for employment will deploy one tailored unit at a time along a Pathway,” Coppernoll said.

At an Association of the U.S. Army conference last October, Brooks described his difficulties in getting started.

Brooks said he was engaged in near daily videoconferences with the Pentagon on how to deal with the effects of the budget cuts on the Army’s role in the rebalance. “The full impacts have yet to show,” Brooks said at the time, but he noted that he had to cancel a long-scheduled training exercise with Japan.

“It puts at risk even bigger exercises” planned in the region for 2014, Brooks said, but the Army remained committed to the so-called “Pacific pivot.” He noted that he had been designated the commander of the land component in the Pacific rebalance, with a Marine as his deputy.

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