U.S. Army’s shift in Asia from disaster relief to war-fighting also seeks to improve allies’ capabilities

The U.S. military’s transition from a force structured to battle low-tech insurgents into one designed to fight and win high-tech, high-end wars with near-peer competitors will include the Army’s shift in focus from providing disaster relief to war-fighting throughout Asia.

The Trump administration’s National Security Strategy for Asia anticipates fighting a revisionist China or a well-armed North Korea — or both. But to do so, the Army will have to change its mentality as well as its mission focus, Defense One reports.

“It’s dramatically different,” said Maj. Gen. Charlie Flynn, the Army’s assistant deputy chief of staff who manages strategy and plans.

In the 1990s and 2000s, exercises in the Pacific were more “discreet, out-and-back operations” that “were kind of focused on disaster assistance, humanitarian relief, and it was really more for the ‘security cooperation’ part of it; much less so for interoperability,’” he said. “It’s vastly different today.”

Interoperability is Army-speak for being able to fight in a coordinated manner with allied forces.

Often when war with China or North Korea is discussed such a conflict is presented as strictly an ‘us versus them’ affair. But that’s not how it would play out in real life.

“We know we not going to fight unilaterally anymore,” said Lt. Gen. Gary Volesky, head of the Army’s I Corps.

“So we go to these countries not to do things like focus on humanitarian assistance,” Volesky said. “It’s to build readiness, not to consume it.”

Defense One noted further:

Today’s training means more attacks, more live fires with company and battalion levels, and more of it with foreign counterparts. Previously, the Army would to go country-to-country for shorter training visits, but now have modified those programs to stay longer in each country for deeper training specific to fighting. “It’s really focusing on those warfighting tasks,” Volesky said.

I Corps has been assigned to Asia, which is the first time an entire corps has been handed a specific region in which to train and defend. Now, 20 percent of the Army’s combat forces are assigned to Asia, showing the seriousness of the Pentagon’s efforts to prepare for great or regional power war there.

Analysis: In addition to assigning more ground forces to Asia, the U.S. Army is also focused on identifying shortcomings and then building up the capabilities of other armies it will fight with should war break out.

The process involves training with those additional forces and identifying operational shortfalls, then working to shore them up. This is being done via the Army’s Pacific Pathways pilot program, which “allows units to make several stops in the region and train with foreign militaries during an expeditionary-style deployment,” the Army News Service notes.

While this transformation has actually been underway at least since 2015, it’s really gotten a boost under the current administration. Regular budgets along with more money to fund force restoration and new weaponry, along with a new National Defense Strategy that calls for preparing for near-peer war, have all helped shift the Army’s focus.

But the effort being made to shore up the combat capabilities of allied ground forces is really substantial — and important. Troops from Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, and other regional allies will all serve as effective force multipliers for the U.S. Army, and should deterrence fail, the Chinese or the North Koreans will have more than just American troops to deal with.

Other allies, including Japan, are of the same mindset. The Japanese Self-Defense Force is becoming more muscular, and its newest officer corps, forged in West Point-like academies, believe Tokyo should be more reliant on itself and less so on the U.S. 

Making allied forces more capable also means their respective governments will be more confident not only in their militaries but in the Trump administration’s overall commitment to regional security throughout Asia. 

But none of this is likely to force China to rethink its revisionism or curb its quest to become the dominant regional power as well as a global player. So leveraging forces is a great response strategy should deterrence fail. China’s power is increasing but Bejing can’t field a force capable of offensive operations against several countries at once, especially if they are led by the U.S.



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