Pacific Army Combats Geography, Personnel Issues

October 2008
By Robert K. Ackerman
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A U.S. Army staff sergeant (r) helps train Indonesian soldiers in a Warrior Leader Course. Designed to build more effective noncommissioned officers, this training program is one of many undertaken by the U.S. Army, Pacific to strengthen ties between the Army and friendly forces throughout the large Asia-Pacific region.
A vast region taxes the full range of human expertise.

One look at a globe could define the vastness of the Asia-Pacific region, but the U.S. Army command responsible for it can apply that same description to the challenges it faces. These range from cultural issues among dozens of diverse countries to technological issues of network centricity and interoperability.

Maintaining good relations among many friends and allies, some fighting on their own fronts in the Global War on Terrorism, must be applied on a case-by-case basis—there is no one-size-fits-all solution. In the same vein, easy technological fixes are elusive because of the multitude of differences among militaries. And, U.S. forces are taxed to meet key personnel requirements while supporting the war on terrorism.

“The U.S. Army, Pacific is focused on becoming a technologically advanced and culturally astute element that can meet the nation’s security needs,” says Lt. Gen. Benjamin R. Mixon, USA, commander of the U.S. Army, Pacific (USARPAC). “We’re going to need all the elements that we can get from the civilian sector to enhance our technological capabilities—particularly as they pertain to command and control and the movement of information.”

The size and complexity of USARPAC’s area of responsibility underpins most of its challenges, Gen. Mixon offers. Meeting those challenges will require both technological and cultural advances. The technology side involves improved communications and command and control (C2) capabilities. The cultural aspect confronts significant differences among scores of nations, including many that are U.S. friends or allies.

“Our great military is engaged in a global war on terrorism that currently is focused primarily in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Gen. Mixon declares. “But we have strategic issues that are developing in the Pacific region that we have to make sure we keep our focus on, that we continue to develop our capabilities so that we don’t fall behind strategically against any known or unknown adversary in the Pacific.

“We can’t be marking time,” the general continues. “I understand as U.S. Army, Pacific commander that I am not the priority effort—and that is the right decision—but I still have to move forward to ensure that we are preparing ourselves to meet the strategic challenges that are going to face the nation in the future.”

He relates that many experts believe the Asia-Pacific region will have the most significant military and economic effect on the United States in the future. Army forces in the Pacific must continue to move forward concurrent with their contributions to the Global War on Terrorism.

Atop the USARPAC priority list is the Global War on Terrorism, the general declares. Forces in Alaska and Hawaii, along with operational control of forces at Fort Lewis, Washington, are part of the command’s contribution to the fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. More than 25,000 soldiers in brigade combat teams and combat aviation brigades have been joined by numerous National Guard and Reserve units in theater, and the 25th Infantry Division Headquarters has deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq.

The command also is supporting the Joint Task Force-Philippines, which is a special operations force. The USARPAC provides forces for security and support for C2 in humanitarian operations.

Many of the countries in the Asia-Pacific region are battling their own internal insurgencies or unrest. Gen. Mixon notes that the USARPAC works with many of these countries’ armies to increase their capacity and capability to deal with these internal challenges.

“We have to be culturally astute in dealing with these countries and also understand the political nature of their particular countries,” Gen. Mixon says. “We gain that experience working through our embassies in those countries and through the military personnel assigned to the embassies who have day-to-day contact with the militaries within that country.”

Helping eliminate poverty in the region might have the greatest effect on the area, the general offers. While that is not a military mission, USARPAC can and does work with U.S. embassies to aid with humanitarian projects such as building clinics and schools. Noting that U.S. Navy hospital ships have visited countries throughout the region, Gen. Mixon adds that these humanitarian efforts—coupled with Army training of other nations’ civil and military forces—can help promote development.

While the United States has many bilateral agreements with individual countries throughout the region, USARPAC is trying to encourage countries to adopt a multilateral approach to solving many of the region-wide issues. These issues include transnational terrorism, human trafficking and piracy. The command is focusing its international training on assisting efforts to counter these scourges.

One nation that is drawing closer to the United States militarily is India. Gen. Mixon reports that USARPAC has an ongoing dialogue with the Indian army, and it conducts a brigade-level command post exercise with its Indian counterparts. This exercise may grow into a multilateral event, he adds. The two forces also have performed unit exchanges at the company and battalion levels.

Gen. Mixon sees India as a key partner in multilateral operations such as humanitarian assistance and relief as well as in regional security measures. The general notes that all of the U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) service components are building good relationships and are training with the Indian military.

When USARPAC has been involved in multilateral or bilateral training, a key challenge has been to communicate with the other nations’ forces. Gen. Mixon notes that technological differences continue to exist, and participants have standard means of communicating such as the CENTRIX system, but communicating by current Web-based and satellite technologies can be difficult. Even if the partner nation is an English-speaking country, technological compatibility often is an issue that poses a problem for setting up a combined headquarters.

This is not an unusual problem for the United States with most of its allies worldwide. However, the many different nations of the Asia-Pacific region have more diverse technological capabilities that pose a greater variety of challenges. Gen. Mixon relates that USARPAC is working with PACOM to establish a common means of communicating with international partners.

It probably will require a common standard for USARPAC and partner nations to use, the general suggests. However, network protection will require limitations on coalition connectivity. Ultimately, USARPAC must determine how to leverage its ability to communicate and share knowledge with multilateral partners, he predicts.

This problem is increasing as U.S. forces worldwide embrace Web technologies for network centricity. With allies at risk of being left further behind technologically, experts are trying to find a solution to the coalition interoperability problem. Gen. Mixon offers that CENTRIX may provide an initial solution, but USARPAC still is investigating how to overcome these challenges. The answer remains elusive.

A sergeant with the U.S. Army, Pacific 25th Infantry Division, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team patrols Taji Qada, northwest of Baghdad. Even with its vast area of responsibility, USARPAC regularly contributes forces to the war in Iraq.
The U.S. Army, Pacific has completed its part of the Army’s transformation into modular brigade combat teams, Stryker brigades and combat aviation brigades. It now is in the process of transforming the commander’s headquarters into a more operational role by developing an operational command post and a main command post. The headquarters of the theater enabling commands—including the 311th Signal Command (Theater) and the 8th Theater Sustainment Command—are transforming and growing. This is to provide PACOM with a deployable operational capability for C2 of Army forces or even of joint forces.

But a big hurdle looms when it comes to manning those command posts. Gen. Mixon allows that operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have imposed significant personnel requirements, and in the interim USARPAC will not be able to meet its full operational capability. 

“If there is anything that I could change, it would be to increase the manning and capability of my headquarters more rapidly,” the general declares. “Then I could fully flesh out my operational mission.”

Gen. Mixon emphasizes that this staffing shortfall poses the greatest threat to USARPAC being able to carry out its mission. He warns of the potential inability to obtain the proper number and skill sets of people that are needed to do operational activities in headquarters.

Currently, to meet this challenge, USARPAC uses National Guard and Reserve forces to augment its personnel. “We are taking some of our great professional civilians, and they are taking on the responsibilities of the uniformed service members, and we’re finding that we’re able to meet our day-to-day requirements as well as continue to move forward,” the general says.

These National Guard and Reserve components are filling gaps in unit exchanges—the company- and battalion-level training opportunities that USARPAC is using to build relationships. These components also provide subject matter experts for key activities. “The Guard and Reserve forces that we have today are dramatically different than they were eight years ago,” Gen. Mixon offers. “They are combat-experienced, they are seasoned and they are a real source of pride for all of us in our opportunities to work with them.”

The general states that USARPAC is leveraging theater security cooperation exercises to enhance C2 expertise. This approach has worked since the tenure of his predecessor, Lt. Gen. John M. Brown III, USA (SIGNAL Magazine, November 2006). Now, USARPAC must man the headquarters at an acceptable level to achieve full operational capability, he adds.

Two large exercises will be held this year with Thailand and with Japan. They will allow USARPAC to exercise all of its C2 processes and procedures, even though it is not fully manned in its headquarters. 

The standup of the 311th Signal Command is serving a vital role in USARPAC’s operations, Gen. Mixon says. It has greatly enhanced USARPAC’s ability to communicate and to establish C2 across the vast region. The command already is involved in exercises, and it has enhanced its capability to the point where it can provide up to 17 C2 nodes throughout the Pacific, the general reports. The 311th also is closely involved in building the Army’s LandWarNet throughout the Asia-Pacific region. “They really are the cornerstone to USARPAC achieving its operational mission,” he declares.

Before the 311th stood up, USARPAC used to need to pull forces from outside the theater to conduct exercises or operations. Now, the 311th can provide that C2 capability internally on a day-to-day basis. Gen. Mixon relates that the command also provides significant expertise to his G-6 for designing the C2 networks needed across the region. And, the 311th also protects USARPAC networks. “They have added an exponential capability to do our operational mission,” he says.

Yet the 311th is not fully modernized, and this is indicative of one of USARPAC’s problems—adequate technology. Gen. Mixon notes that the signal command is not yet equipped with the Joint Network Node or some other modern communications gear. He is aiming to have that command modernized as quickly as possible, and he wants the director of information management (DOIM) battalions—which are just as important as the tactical battalions—to be fully manned and capable of providing their functions.

And the 311th’s security mission is vitally important to USARPAC. Gen. Mixon believes that the 311th is one of the best outfits of its kind in information assurance and network protection. He cites the ability to protect USARPAC’s networks as a top priority, and he is seeking solutions from industry. “What I’m looking for is information assurance,” he posits.

Another item on his wish list to industry is the ability to move significant amounts of information over available bandwidth in theater. “The problem is how to move the amount of information you need to move,” he says. “You either enhance the system’s capability or you figure out a way to compress the information so that it will move. There must be a technical solution.”

Being responsible for troops across the vast region increases the difficulty that USARPAC faces as it tries to move information further down the line to the individual warfighter. Gen. Mixon cites Web-based technologies as one key to achieving that goal. Portals to allow access to information are another important element. A user should be able to find the information that he or she needs in two or three mouse clicks, the general offers. Web page design should be intuitive and easy to understand for the average soldier.

“We’re trying to take advantage of the ability to place things on the Web and to use portals to enter certain areas where information is stored so that we can get the information as quickly and as efficiently as possible to the warfighter,” Gen Mixon affirms.

Industry can help USARPAC by developing a seamless networked environment in which personnel have only one e-mail address, one telephone number, one file storage location and one standard collaboration suite. This would apply whether in garrison, training, power projection or deployed location. Many of these attributes are goals in the Army’s LandWarNet program (SIGNAL Magazine, August), but they offer greater-than-average significance for the vast Asia-Pacific region.

That region also can be served by highly secure and cost effective wireless networking solutions. They would increase mobility and flexibility both in garrison and deployed.

Human interfaces with information technology need to be improved. Personnel also need interfaces that can be molded quickly to help better capture, organize, store and retrieve information. And, for the future, USARPAC will need less expensive, lighter, more power-efficient and less manpower-intensive integrated systems.

“The U.S. Army, Pacific is dynamic in that we are looking toward the future, we are putting plans in place to meet the challenges, and we fully intend to overcome all of the hurdles that might be in our way to ensure that we are postured to meet the nation’s security needs,” Gen. Mixon warrants.

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