Pacific Command Fights Terrorists On Multiple Fronts

November 2002
By Robert K. Ackerman
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The largest unified combatant command region offers different perspectives of the same view.

Already tasked with maintaining a steady menu of operations covering one-third of the Earth’s surface, the U.S. Pacific Command now is fully engaged in the war on terrorism. The command is fighting disparate al Qaida groups in different countries concurrent with supporting operation Enduring Freedom in the Afghanistan region.

Fighting this multifront war comes in addition to upholding long-term bilateral alliances and maintaining regional stability among several strategic rivalries. These activities can range from military support for an ally to humanitarian aid for a troubled country on the brink of strife. And, as with other U.S. forces, the command is carrying this full slate of activities concurrent with managing the force transformation that is sweeping all of the military services.

Adm. Thomas B. Fargo, USN, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, lists five challenges facing his command. The first is the Korean peninsula, which despite a lessening of tensions between North Korea and South Korea remains a location where the stakes are fairly high. The admiral characterizes the chance of conflict there as “pretty low,” but the command works hard to deter any potential fighting. Large forces are arrayed across the demilitarized zone, and if a conflict were to break out, the loss of life potentially could be “more significant than anything else we’ve seen in the recent past,” Adm. Fargo declares.

The second challenge is terrorism. Adm. Fargo describes supporting and sustaining the global war on terrorism as his top priority. “It is the principal focus of all of our forces, and it has impacted us in a number of ways,” he says.

The third challenge is the potential for miscalculation among strategic rivalries in the Asia-Pacific region. This includes conflict among governments such as China, Taiwan, India and Pakistan, three of whom have tested nuclear weapons. Relations between the United States and China have played a major role in many regionwide security measures.

“We have a very careful relationship with China,” Adm. Fargo reports. “We look to develop areas where there is common ground.” He adds that the foundation of the discourse between the two nations is the Taiwan Relations Act, and the United States seeks “a frank and constructive discourse that is aimed at preserving peace and stability throughout the region.”

The fourth challenge is the instability that could be created by a failing state, especially with regard to humanitarian efforts. Consequences could range from famine to civil strife that threatens neighboring lands.

The fifth challenge deals with a task that is sweeping the U.S. military—transforming the force. Adm. Fargo emphasizes that his command must be properly postured for the future of the Asia-Pacific region.

The joint readiness of the force is a foundation of all of these challenges, the admiral states. This encompasses warfighting readiness as well as the ability to deal with the full range of challenges looming over the region. After the war on terrorism, this is the command’s top priority, he notes.

However, the war on terrorism is at the top of the Pacific Command’s list of priorities. The command has provided a large portion of its forces in support of operation Enduring Freedom in Southwest Asia. These forces include aircraft carrier battle groups as well as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms. Pacific Command special operations forces also have deployed to the Afghanistan region in support of activities there.

The command’s battle against al Qaida has not been confined to the terror group’s home territory in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pacific Command forces have been involved in the fight against Philippine guerillas tied to Osama bin Laden’s terror network. Adm. Fargo relates that the command stood up a joint task force commanded by the head of its Special Operations Command, Brig. Gen. Donald C. Wurster, USAF. This force’s mission was to advise and assist the Armed Forces of the Philippines to develop and wage a sustained counterterrorist capability.

The admiral notes that this operation, which went very well, principally focused on southern Mindanao’s Basilan Island. This campaign offered an opportunity to build a template of how to conduct counterterrorist operations in the Philippines, he continues. The main adversary in this conflict is the Abu Sayyaf group, which has waged numerous attacks on civilians in the remote region.

The U.S. special forces trained the Philippine forces to improve their planning and intelligence fusion as well as tactics, techniques and procedures. A commensurate civil action included building roads and digging wells, which enhanced allied force mobility and improved the lives of local residents.

As a result of these efforts, the Philippine armed forces have been able to reduce the number of Abu Sayyaf forces substantially, Adm. Fargo continues. From an initial force of about 800 fighters, the guerillas have been reduced in number to less than 150, and their key leadership has been interdicted. Equally important, the residents of Basilan Island have rediscovered a degree of normality in their lives by returning to school and resuming their daily routines.

The Pacific Command’s third front in the war on terrorism is the pursuit of the Jemaah Islamiyah, which Adm. Fargo describes as the al Qaida surrogate in Southeast Asia. Most recently, Singaporean authorities arrested more than a dozen members of Jemaah Islamiyah in September. Government officials claim the group also has operatives in Indonesia as well as a command cell in Malaysia.

“We learn more each day about this group,” Adm. Fargo maintains. He adds that the Pacific Command’s effort against Jemaah Islamiyah has been conducted “in very close conjunction with our friends and allies. We are starting to piece the mosaic together about this group and understand where and how they operate. As a result, various law enforcement agencies in the region have had some significant success interdicting it.

“Its clearly much more than a military effort,” he continues. “It is an interagency effort in conjunction with those host nations throughout Southeast Asia.”

Other efforts abound in the war on terrorism. The admiral relates that the command stood up a Joint Interagency Coordination Group for Counterterrorism at its headquarters in Hawaii. This group fuses interagency capabilities so that the command can produce actionable intelligence.

To protect the critical infrastructure and the people in Pacific Command communities, the command has formed joint rear area coordinators in Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, Korea and Japan. The admiral states that these organizations have been very effective in integrating local support efforts among U.S. Defense Department and nondefense agencies such as federal, state and local organizations, including host nation groups. Reservists have played a key role, which the admiral describes as “an immeasurable contribution to all that we have done in the global war on terrorism.”

Several key lessons learned by the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) in Afghanistan are being incorporated into Pacific Command planning, training and operations. Adm. Fargo observes that the CENTCOM operations represented the early stages of a necessary move toward true sensor-to-shooter capability. While the long-sought goal of a complete real-time link is not yet at hand, actions in Afghanistan demonstrated the ability to turn targeting information around very rapidly and deliver a weapon accurately.

The corollary to this capability is the importance of precision strike, he continues. That capability, coupled with sensor speed, has been central to the success of operation Enduring Freedom. “Speed and precision strike, along with the kinds of sensors that we need to bring to bear both now and in the future, will allow us to get to this construct of sensor-to-shooter,” the admiral declares.

The value of aircraft carrier battlegroups in providing joint force access also was demonstrated. Adm. Fargo relates how the USS Kitty Hawk provided an afloat forward staging area for special operations forces. Naval forces were able to provide access tailored uniquely to operational circumstances. Being able to move these carriers into the region quickly also helped provide precision strike quickly, he adds.

Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) assets proved to be “very precious in terms of the nation’s inventory,” the admiral states. “In some respects, I think we are ISR-poor in terms of the global requirement,” he adds. Their value was shown in the successes attained by the Predator unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), and the Global Hawk UAV will be even more valuable in the future.

The importance of lift also was brought home, especially in providing access for in-transit forces. Describing it as a key component of the command’s warfighting effort, the admiral says that the country will need to keep developing it. He cites the C-17 as an important asset for that activity. The concept of global reach also proved its worth, with the admiral citing the “natural marriage” between the B-2 bomber force and tactical air forces, especially carrier-borne.

Special operations forces showed how they could adapt to unique missions. And, above all, operation Enduring Freedom highlighted the urgency to transform the U.S. military to be able to carry out the kinds of missions that will define future military operations, Adm. Fargo maintains.

Challenges aside, the admiral characterizes the long-term outlook for the Asia-Pacific region as “very positive.” In terms of defense strategy and the U.S. national security strategy, there is a clear understanding of the region’s growing importance. The command has identified several areas—Northeast Asia, East Asian littoral, South Asia and Southwest Asia—that are very important to the United States.

The nation must continue to reinforce its constants in the region, the admiral states. Among these constants are the long-standing bilateral relationships with countries such as Korea, Australia, Thailand, Singapore and the Philippines. Another constant is the command’s forward presence, which demonstrates the continued commitment to security in the region.

A fundamental element of that forward-deployed force is the command’s combat capability. And, continuing to maintain military supremacy throughout the region may depend on the force transformation now underway throughout the Defense Department.

“This is a very dynamic region, but we need to improve the tail-to-tooth ratio,” he emphasizes. New concepts such as reach-back will be very important to the command, the admiral states.

The command’s approach to transformation must begin at the tier-one level, which features the CINC-21 concept; the tier-two level, which involves the joint mission force constructs that the command has put forth; and the tier-three level, where forces must develop the kind of common tactical picture that will ensure that tactical commanders in the field can operate effectively.


Information Technologies Enable Current, Future Missions

New information technologies and systems are providing immediate benefits to the U.S. Pacific Command.

The Navy’s shipboard IT-21 program already has changed the way the fleet communicates, notes Adm. Thomas B. Fargo, USN, commander of the Pacific Command. Prior to IT-21, a ship’s combat information center usually was characterized by a cacophony of noise from radio frequency voice chatter. Now, chat and instant messaging have stifled the disquiet and allowed operators to transfer more information more efficiently. In addition, the nature of these messaging systems creates a record of the information conveyed to and from the communicators.

IT-21 also is the primary afloat means of accessing the Web, the admiral continues. Being able to publish and subscribe to information on Web sites, as well as send and receive e-mail to coordinate forces, provides the fleet with effective and efficient methods of information dissemination.

The increasing emphasis on network-centric operations has revealed several key information system shortcomings, however. Adm. Fargo states that the command’s information technology needs fall into two general categories.

The first is to improve network capacity to the warfighter. Achieving information superiority will require moving large volumes of information to and from the warfighter. This is essential for maintaining vivid and complete situational awareness, the admiral declares, as well as achieving understanding at a glance.

“Many people envision large volumes of information as pages and pages of text messages, which can overwhelm users and result in information overload,” he says. “I am talking about maximum use of multimedia such as video, shared applications through collaboration software and high-resolution imagery.” These types of tools can empower operators to digest more information, and the command then can move collectively toward a more knowledge-based environment, he adds.

A large network capacity is necessary for achieving this type of capability, and the command’s responsibilities in remote and austere locations require a robust and resilient network. The admiral notes that the command’s Joint Task Force Wide Area Relay Network, or JTF WARNET, is a step in this direction. A future step would be to extend this capability to each tactical field element by using both military and commercial satellite communications and secure wireless links, he offers.

The second category is to provide strong but agile network security enclaves. While the command currently can establish good strong network security enclaves, the ability to share information with coalition partners is inhibited by the need to restrict information in those enclaves, which are not accessible to coalition members.

“To be network-centric, we need the network to be agile and to allow for the dynamic interconnection of nodes that support several communities of interest,” Adm. Fargo points out. “Typically, we can have several simultaneous operations involving different coalition partners occurring in the Pacific at any given time. Being able to support these concurrently is an information technology challenge,” he maintains.

The admiral continues that the command’s Combined Operations Wide Area Network, or COWAN, initiative may help achieve this goal. A highly agile form of virtual private networking, COWAN nonetheless poses both encryption and collaboration challenges. The command needs an information system that is interoperable with U.S. and coalition forces while being agile enough to permit selective collaboration in multiple joint/multinational environments simultaneously, he concludes.

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