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Technology Will Be the Leveling Tool for Pacific Rebalancing

November 16, 2012
By Robert K. Ackerman
E-mail About the Author

TechNet Asia-Pacific 2012 Online Show Daily: Day 3

Quote of the Day: “Anyone who wants to go to conflict is not right.”—Lt. Gen. Francis J. Wiercinski, USA, commanding general, U.S. Army Pacific

Technology advances hold the key for the U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) to fulfill its new missions as part of the U.S. strategic realignment toward the Asia-Pacific region. Many of the technologies that top the wish lists of PACOM leadership are the usual suspects: enablers of interoperability and data sharing. But, in addition to introducing new capabilities, technology advances also are needed for defending against emerging vulnerabilities.

The third and final day of TechNet Asia-Pacific 2012, held November 13-15 in Honolulu, Hawaii, featured a well-distributed set of PACOM leaders describing their challenges and needs. One panel featured four of the command’s joint directors discussing their requirements in the context of each other’s fields. Ultimately, the head of the Pacific Fleet delivered a straight-up wish list designed to carry the fleet well into the foreseeable future.

One item that seemed to be at the top of everyone’s list is the ability to share information across domains. Rear Adm. Paul B. Becker, USN, commander, PACOM J-2, director for intelligence, cited the ability to engage in multidomain data transfer. That common wish was expanded on by Brig. Gen. J. Marcus Hicks, USAF, director, communications systems, J-6, PACOM. Gen. Hicks also requested interoperability and the ability to move data across the domains.

More specifically, PACOM needs the ability to promulgate and disseminate a combined air tasking order across the services and the coalition, according to Maj. Gen. Michael A. Keltz, USAF, director, strategic planning and policy (J-5), PACOM. And, operationally, the command needs comprehensive interoperability, said Rear Adm. Robert P. Girrier, USN, director for operations/J-3, PACOM. He called for plug-and-play interoperability, saying that it will be a long-term capability that will not go away.

Lt. Gen. Francis J. Wiercinski, USA, commanding general, U.S. Army Pacific, gives the Pacific land warfighter’s perspective at TechNet Asia-Pacific 2012.
Lt. Gen. Francis J. Wiercinski, USA, commanding general, U.S. Army Pacific, gives the Pacific land warfighter’s perspective at TechNet Asia-Pacific 2012.

Among the individual services, the Army may be facing the greatest technology-driven changes of all. Lt. Gen. Francis J. Wiercinski, USA, commanding general, U.S. Army Pacific, offered that the Army of 2014 will little resemble the force of today because of a doubling of technology advances. “The Army will be completely different from today in two years,” he said, adding that new warfighters then will not even recognize many of today’s legacy systems.

Information technologies will be important for the Army to respond rapidly, the general continued. One activity that will be required of the U.S. Army Pacific is disaster relief. “I can predict with 100 percent accuracy a natural disaster in the pacific region—I guarantee it,” he said. “And, we in uniform do not have the luxury of telling the President of the United States ‘time out.’”

The Navy perspective was front and center in a presentation by Adm. Cecil D. Haney, USN, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. While saying that the rebalancing has been ongoing for some time and is proceeding well, he also listed some new capabilities the fleet will require to continue its progress. These include flexible, low-signature capabilities; the ability to operate in a degraded environment; and capabilities to better fuse, analyze and exploit larger data sets. The admiral also called for pervasive interoperability, both internal and external; cost-effective offensive solutions; and a fire support coordination capability that integrates all fires.

These capabilities fit into the fleet’s overall priorities as enunciated by its commander: improve warfighter readiness; have a powerful forward presence; and strengthen relations and improve interoperability with coalition allies and partners.

Adm. Cecil D. Haney, USN, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, describes the Navy’s technology needs for the Asia-Pacific theater at the final luncheon of TechNet Asia-Pacific 2012.
Adm. Cecil D. Haney, USN, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, describes the Navy’s technology needs for the Asia-Pacific theater at the final luncheon of TechNet Asia-Pacific 2012.

These technological advances for PACOM also offer their share of new vulnerabilities, one of which is being felt today. Gen. Wiercinski warned against over-reliance on cyber technologies to the point where users cannot function in a denied environment. Forces do not train for that contingency as much as they used to in the pre-cyber age, and that training could be vital if full-scale cyberconflict erupts. “People don’t know how to use pens, paper and maps anymore,” the general declared. “If those systems go down, we won’t know what to. I think I’m the only guy who knows how to use a map and compass.”

Another vulnerability involves cyberwar. Gen. Hicks suggested that PACOM may be better served by having its commander wield some authority over cyberoperations in its region. Given that many PACOM area nations are engaging in cyberoperations against U.S. assets, the general offered that the PACOM commander should be able to make cyber decisions within his theater. The concept would be to make risk decisions locally at a high level.

With cyber as the fifth domain, it has the potential for undoing advantages in the other four. Gen. Keltz declared that air, land and sea warfare is a thing of the past. The new doctrine is cross-domain warfare; and any country that gains control of the nonkinetic domain could obviate the U.S. supremacy in the kinetic realm.

But, above all, the same technologies that create new vulnerabilities could be vital for avoiding war. Gen. Hicks noted that PACOM is working on enforcing peace while preparing for contingencies. These include humanitarian assistance/disaster response, but by maintaining security, conflict could be prevented.

Gen. Wiercinski warned that a conflict breaking out in the South China Sea would create a critical economic crisis. “Our nations’ economies would collapse,” he said. “It is feasibly not viable for any nation to go to war over the South China Sea.”

The combat veteran emphasized the need to prevent an outbreak of hostilities in more than just economic terms. “The most important domain is the human domain,” he said. “We live in Phase Zero operations every day—nobody is shooting anybody. It is preferable to Phase 3.

“Anyone who wants to go to conflict is not right,” the general declared.

Mark your calendar for TechNet Asia-Pacific 2013, October 29-31 in Honolulu, Hawaii.

 

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