Pacific Command Breaks Down Terrorists, Builds Partnerships

October 2007
By Robert K. Ackerman
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An antisubmarine SH-60F helicopter with the USS John C. Stennis takes part in exercise Valiant Shield 2007 in the Pacific Ocean. The U.S. Pacific Command is conducting joint and coalition exercises to improve operations and extend security efforts throughout the vast Asia-Pacific region.
Coalitions key to large-area security.

The U.S. Pacific Command is reaching out to former enemies and even potential adversaries to help maintain security in the vast Asia-Pacific region. Some of these efforts are aimed at prevailing in the Global War on Terrorism, while others simply are part of a long-term effort to keep the dozens of nations that make up the region from going to war with one another.

The Pacific Command (PACOM) is actively engaged in combating terrorists throughout the region, and it is contributing forces to active warfighting efforts out of area. More than 30,000 PACOM personnel are deployed in the U.S. Central Command’s (CENTCOM’s) area of responsibility in support of military operations there.

Regional security operations are focusing on increasing the number of nations that are willing to take part in U.S.-led multinational coalitions. Even nations that may view themselves as potential adversaries are being invited to the table.

But there has been no decrease in PACOM’s focus on deterring threats and defending the homeland, according to its commander, Adm. Timothy J. Keating, USN. “We’re a warfighting headquarters, and we’re prepared to defeat anyone with the temerity to challenge us,” he declares.

However, the admiral emphasizes that PACOM would prefer not to engage in kinetic military operations. So it is placing strong emphasis on theater security cooperation and strengthening bonds among nations that have fought each other in the past.

The region has made dramatic progress over the years in attaining a measure of security, the admiral notes. “In most cases, life is quantifiably better—more secure; for individuals there is more economic prosperity; more people have a voice in their governments; and the human rights situations have improved in many countries.

“We’re very optimistic about the future.”

Sustaining that peace and security throughout the region is at the core of the command’s mission, and challenges range from regional tensions to activities related to the Global War on Terrorism.

Most diplomats and military leaders want to work with the United States to continue that peace and security, he says. However, some countries are “less transparent” than the United States might prefer, the admiral adds. No single nation is a major cause for concern, and no threat recommends increased concern in PACOM’s area of responsibility. Anywhere the potential exists for military concerns, other positive developments—such as improved economic prosperity—outweigh these potential conflicts, the admiral states.

The top concern is the threat of terrorism, and al-Qaida has branches and sympathizers throughout the region. PACOM continues to track potential terrorists, monitor their activities and communications, track the flow of their money and interrupt their operations. The next manifestation of the terrorist threat may be geographical, but the admiral warns that a future incident could take place in the maritime arena. He hastens to add that the command has no intelligence about any training for or indication of that type of possibility, but it does rank on the list of areas of concern—more so than any conventional military threat.

Many of the countries that are key to battling terrorists in the Asia-Pacific region have substantial Muslim populations—Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and India, for example. The command has worked on developing good partnerships with these and other nations, and it has had successes with military-to-military exchanges that largely focused on helping “train the trainer,” the admiral says.

“The visits that I’ve had, the exchanges we’ve had, the exercises we conduct and the educational opportunities that are available to those allies are encouraging,” he continues. The admiral recounts how he recently visited Mongolia, Cambodia and India—three countries facing different challenges. During these visits, he found a cooperative, mutually beneficial atmosphere with a desire to work more closely with the United States.

The anti-terrorist coalition, to varying degrees, is making life harder for the terrorists, Adm. Keating maintains. Ongoing efforts have reduced ungoverned areas of the region where terrorists might find sanctuary, and the terrorists are finding it harder to communicate and to move around. “It’s not just the United States that is doing that—it is an interagency, international approach, and it is a coordinated activity,” he declares.

Major changes are underway in Guam, where U.S. forces are increasing their presence. Part of the impetus for this is an agreement with Japan to reduce the U.S. military footprint on Okinawa, while other elements come from a desire to redeploy a range of U.S. forces. “Our ability to look one or two moves farther ahead will be enhanced by the improvements we’re making at Guam,” the admiral observes. “The advantages that we will realize with Guam because of its position in the Pacific are not insignificant.”

One of the focal points for the Asia-Pacific region is China, and U.S. relations with that country remain important. In the past year, China tested an antisatellite (ASAT) weapon, and that test has had repercussions throughout the region. The admiral relates that during a recent visit with Chinese military officials in China, he conveyed to them that the ASAT test “was not conducive to the peaceful rise” that China claims is its broad strategic objective. Adding that the PACOM delegation let these officials know that it was “less than thrilled” by the conduct of this test, the admiral nonetheless offers that the test does not dramatically alter the regional threat picture.

However, that does not mean that PACOM takes the test lightly. “It was an exercise that causes us some concern; it is not consistent with a country that professes to have no significant military aspirations,” he declares. “We don’t know whether the Chinese intend to conduct any further tests. We received no indication of that while we were there,” he adds.

China is one of those Asia-Pacific nations that is less transparent, the admiral notes. But PACOM is working toward developing a relationship that “in 10, 15, 20, 25 years” could be characterized as a partnership between China and the United States, he emphasizes. “We do not want China to think that we intend to fight them, [but] if they consider that, we want to be sure they know that we will win. We do not want it, in any way, shape or form, to develop into a military standoff—because it won’t be; it will be decisive, and we will prevail.

Adm. Keating (r) greets Marines aboard the USS Boxer after a nine-month extended deployment. Force redeployments throughout the Asia-Pacific region are strengthening alliances and improving power projection.
“The security posture that we want China to understand is as they characterize it—a peaceful rise,” Adm. Keating continues. “And we want to contribute to that so they would consider themselves partners.”

Working with the diverse nations of the region presents technical and cultural challenges. Adm. Keating notes the difficulty in ensuring coalition interoperability. “We have made a little progress,” he observes. “We have a long way to go, in terms of command and control of coalition assets.”

Part of the effort to overcome that hurdle is PACOM’s participation in “a broad set of multinational or bilateral exercises.” For example, PACOM recently held an exercise with India in the Bay of Bengal that the admiral describes as unimaginable just a few years ago. Two U.S. aircraft carriers joined an Indian aircraft carrier along with air and submarine assets from several countries in an exercise featuring a single command and control construct.

“We still have a little ways to go to be able to communicate directly in an accurate, real-time, secure fashion among the entire exercise participants,” the admiral reports. “But it is a lot better than it was a few years ago.”

The command’s J-7 directorate is sending personnel throughout the region to countries as diverse as Australia, South Korea and China in efforts to integrate interested parties into exercise scenarios that help bind countries to PACOM areas of interest, Adm. Keating notes.

Amid technical challenges, cultural complications abound. “Some of these folks have fought each other,” the admiral points out. “Memories can be long in this part of the world in particular.

“But, we are trying to be candid. We are not ignoring history; we’re trying to capitalize on it. We have demonstrated a quantifiable, positive trend [of peace and security] all throughout the Asia-Pacific region,” Adm. Keating shares.

PACOM is working hard to dispel any impression of a “them versus us” alliance, the admiral adds. The best way is to increase the desire for multilateral operations, and the command constantly is working to draw varied nations—particularly those with a history of conflict with their neighbors—into operational meetings and trust-building exercises.

Part of the reason for these successes can be found in the ongoing force transformation, Adm. Keating offers. Saying that the transformation has improved PACOM significantly, the admiral notes that its advantages are not always found in technological terms. Some of the troop redeployments, bilateral agreements and multinational operations owe their origins to the transformation. Arrangements that feature U.S. special forces training other nations’ troops are the result of transformational technologies, tactics, techniques and procedures.

The new shape of the transformed force and its enabling technologies allow PACOM to pass information more reliably and more quickly, the admiral allows. The command can project power much more accurately and with dramatically improved on-station times. Information gathering and intelligence systems also are greatly improved, he adds.

The admiral relates how he was returning via aircraft from a visit to India when he joined an hour-long secure videoconference with Gen. B.B. Bell, USA, commander, U.S. Forces Korea, who was on the USS Blue Ridge in an exercise off the coast of Korea. Other elements from PACOM headquarters in Hawaii along with a forward operating base in South Korea also joined the live videoconference. The four parties carried on a classified discussion using voice and video in real time as Adm. Keating flew across the Pacific.

This type of capability is a key to information sharing. It “dramatically and profoundly” increases the database tapped by decision makers and warfighters, the admiral states. The result is better situational awareness than was available just a couple of years ago, he says.

But neither situational awareness nor command and control are at an ideal point. Among PACOM’s needs is the ability to move large volumes of information “in a reliable, economical and preferably secure fashion,” the admiral states. Security aspects must be controllable so that some information can be controlled closely while other information is distributed more widely. New handheld communication devices under development in the commercial sector should be designed to cross over into the military realm, he suggests.

“Our ability to move and access information across the various boundaries—geographic, military, diplomatic—would help reduce the burden of the time/distance/heading challenge in our big area of operations,” Adm. Keating warrants.

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