WASHINGTON: As world attention focuses on Europe and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, US Army Pacific commander says his command remains focused on upcoming exercises and training events with allies in his area of operations, and that he was not asked to prepare to send troops to Europe.
General Charles Flynn recently returned from a five-week trip to five countries: Australia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia. Flynn’s trip was in part to reassure the allies that the military was committed to the region and to allay any fears that the United States “could be distracted from the region because of what happened in Ukraine”.
“I just reassured them, ‘Look, you know, we’ve got a lot of work here and we’re not going anywhere,'” Flynn said in an interview with Breaking Defense last week. “And on top of that, nobody was asking, and nobody was asking, for substantial support, at least from the military, from Europe. So I think that’s an illustration…that, you know, the he army and land power play an important role here with these countries.
Flynn said there was a “nuance” of concern from allies that as the United States focused on Europe and shipped weapons to Ukrainian forces, China could become more “assertive.” “. Flynn would not respond directly to whether China has become more assertive in the region since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but acknowledged that the Chinese military continues to operate in the region.
“They [allies] stay focused on the need for stability,” Flynn said. “And most, you know, that I’ve spoken to, they’re becoming more lucid about the aggression in the region and the risks it poses to their country.”
For example, Flynn noted that China is pursuing a security agreement with the Solomon Islands, located just over 2,000 miles from Australia. The Solomon Islands government, in turn, had to to reassure the United States and its allies that the agreement would not include a military base – although this claim was satisfied with some skepticism.
During his visits, Flynn said defense officials in the region continually stressed to him the importance of the U.S. presence there. Forces assigned to the US Army Pacific perform a variety of roles, ranging from disaster relief to security assistance and training of allied forces. The command has about a dozen exercises scheduled through October that span the Pacific, including those taking place in Guam, Malaysia, Japan and South Korea. Five other exercises have been completed so far this year, including a rotation of the Joint Pacific Multinational Readiness Center in Alaska – the first regional rotation of the combat training center in Alaska.
The exercises are all part of USARPAC’s larger Operation Pathways initiative which aims to expand U.S. engagement with allies and partners in the region. The Pacific Joint Multinational Readiness Centers in Alaska and Hawaii are important parts of the initiative because, when training, they can replicate cold, high altitude, mountainous terrain or jungle environments, respectively.
“It’s really important that we take advantage of the locations that we have here – these two footprints in Alaska and Hawaii – to be able to train and bring our partners and allies to these places that are much more like the region than, say, California or Louisiana. Flynn said, referring to combat training centers in those two states.
“Paths are our posture”
As the Department of Defense as a whole shifts to the Indo-Pacific, the military is changing the way it fights to be more dispersed and flexible in order to operate more effectively in the vast island theater.
Part of the goal of Operation Pathways is to change the posture of the Army to be more “forward-thinking” and to forge relationships with host nations to create this distributed footprint.
“Pathways is our posture. This is how we need to grow beyond the 20th century Cold War model that we needed with big bases,” Flynn said. “Our future concept is agile, it is distributed, it is networked, it is mobile. And it is integrated with our allies and partners in the region, because we gain from being able to give them the means.
Flynn also cited several other examples of how the Army operates further forward, including the Joint Pacific Multinational Readiness Center’s deployable training center, the Army sent to indonesia Last year. Additionally, the Army’s Prepositioned Stock-3 Afloat, which provides combat equipment to soldiers in theater, has successfully delivered equipment to the Indo-Pacific region. for the first time during an exercise with the 25th Infantry Division in the Philippines. And earlier this year, the First Corps conducted an experiment for Stryker Distributed Mission Command.
“What we’re trying to have is almost a version of, you know, more faces and more places. And through that, we’re able to ensure our ability to operate using the ports, using airfields and using training areas,” Flynn said.
Flynn said the best way for the military to maintain relationships in the region is to train militaries from other countries, and added that he sees a “recognition and a thirst” for the training centers. He said four of the five countries he visited on his recent trip are building training centers, although he declined to name which ones.
“It is really important for us to demonstrate our ability to conduct strategic movements and operational maneuvers in support of the joint force and in support of our allies and partners as a counterweight to any destabilizing activity in the region” , Flynn said.