The U.S. Army is building up forces and international ties throughout the Indo-Pacific region to counter growing Chinese aggression and strengthen nervous regional allies, the commander of the U.S. Army Pacific said in an interview.
Army Gen. Charles Flynn, in charge of more than 100,000 Army soldiers stationed from India to Alaska, said the vast region is not a theater that can be patrolled and defended solely by American air and naval forces.
“A lot of people say it’s an air and maritime environment. No, it’s not. It’s a joint environment and requires joint solutions,” Gen. Flynn said in an exclusive talk with The Washington Times.
A combat officer who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq, Gen. Flynn has spent nearly a decade in Asia building close ties to fellow army leaders in the region, many of whom are now senior commanders, defense chiefs or civilian government leaders.
Gen. Flynn is now the senior leader of what is called a “theater army” spread throughout the Pacific and Indian Oceans, a force that he says plays a key role in keeping the peace in the region from an increasingly confrontational China.
“Essentially, [China‘s] effort is to displace us regionally and achieve regional hegemony,” Gen. Flynn said. “That is their goal. They’ve got global aspirations beyond that. All of this is things that they’ve stated or written.”
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To counter the threat in the Pacific, Gen. Flynn said his forces are concentrating on military training and alliances, specifically working to be able to operate together with as many regional states’ armies as possible.
“In my view, the great counterweight to what they are doing is our network of allies and partners,” he said. “I think the strength of what land power represents in the region is to bring that network of allies and partners more closely together so that we have a common view and shared understanding of how to counter any of those destabilizing activities that are happening in the region.”
Army forces in the Indo-Pacific include the service’s formidable logistics and supply capabilities, needed to keep military forces operating cohesively in a conflict. In addition to 22,000 Army troops in Korea, the Army‘s Pacific command oversees 3,000 troops in Japan, 14,000 in Alaska and 28,000 in Hawaii, where the headquarters is located as part of the Indo-Pacific Command.
Japan is a key hub for Army prepositioned stockpiles and the service also plays a key role in missile defenses, handling both Patriot and THAAD missile defense batteries.
Army special operations forces under the general’s command also have key roles in the U.S. security strategy in Asia.
A ‘land guy’
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Gen. Flynn describes himself as “a land guy” regarding military matters, because that is where “people live and nations exist.”
In the Indo-Pacific, armies, rather than navy or air forces, make up 70% to 90% of the military forces of regional states and thus working together with allied land forces is key to unified efforts to keep the peace, he argues, in part because what the army is explicitly designed to defend is precisely what is at issue across the region.
“Armies are huge in that part of the world and they’re important,” the general said. “Why? Because armies protect the national sovereignty of countries. What is under stress and duress are violations of national sovereignty.”
Gen. Flynn rejects the criticism that the United States is an interloper in the Pacific. In addition to the strategic Hawaiian islands, U.S. territory in the Pacific Rim includes Guam, Northern Marianas, American Samoa, along with Alaska and the West Coast.
In recent years the Army set up major training centers in the region for use by both American and foreign troops. The centers allow militaries to practice in environments where they could be fighting in a future conflict, whether it is island-hopping in the tropical South Pacific or patrolling the frozen areas of Northeast Asia and South Asia.
Three centers are now operating, one in Hawaii for tropic island simulation, one in Alaska for cold-weather training and a moveable training facility currently based in Indonesia, where a major international military exercise, Garuda Shield, will kick off Aug. 1. The U.S. and 13 regional armies will take part, including, for the first time, soldiers from Japan. The training exercise, traditionally focused on the U.S. and Indonesia, will be “significantly larger in scope and scale” than in previous years, U.S. officials say.
The training centers “allow us to generate readiness in the region” and “prepare Army forces to operate closely with allies,” Gen. Flynn said.
Army military operations in the Indo-Pacific follow a force posture known as “Operation Pathways” to refine war-fighting techniques and tactics in the region together with allies, especially long-range targeting across the vast space of the oceans.
Gen. Flynn said another important element of the Army operating in forward areas is “really just denying key terrain in the region from some of the destabilizing activities that do go on and that are being conducted or committed by the Chinese.”
During remarks at the Aspen Security Forum last week, the general cited what he said was Beijing’s push to increase control and influence over Pacific island nations, as well as the tense, at times violent border dispute with India.
Gen. Flynn said he’s “comfortable” with U.S.-Taiwan army relations, despite rising concerns that China is moving closer to military action to reclaim what the mainland claims is sovereign Chinese territory.
“We remain committed to providing Taiwan with the military means to defend itself in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act,” he said. “I would also like to highlight that our long-standing defense relationship with Taiwan remains aligned with the current threat posed by [China].”
The general noted: “I’m very comfortable with where they are right now but, as [Defense] Secretary [Lloyd] Austin has said, we don’t want to see the status quo over Taiwan change unilaterally, certainly not through military action.”
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Taiwanese have announced the creation of a defense mobilization agency that Gen. Flynn said is “one indicator of recognition that something’s different” in cross-strait relations.
China has been stepping up military provocations near Taiwan with frequent warplane incursions into the Taiwan air defense zone and large war games near the island. The Pentagon is working to bolster the island’s defenses with more asymmetric warfare capabilities that would allow the smaller, weaker Taiwanese military to better hold off a stronger Chinese military.
U.S. Army relations with Japan’s military are exceptionally close, Gen. Flynn said, with frequent military training and exercises. The Japan Self-Defense Forces also may train in Alaska to better prepare for a defense of the northern Hokkaido Island.
The general said he speaks regularly with Japan’s Gen. Yoshihide Yoshida, chief of the staff for the Ground Self-Defense Forces. Gen. Yoshida just returned from Europe and will hold talks with Gen. Flynn and Australian military leaders next month in Australia as part of what is called a “senior leaders’ seminar.”
Gen. Flynn said the Army has transformed its posture in the Indo-Pacific by creating the 11th Airborne Division in Alaska, and setting up the Joint Pacific Multinational Readiness Center to provide Arctic, jungle and archipelago training.
Next year the Army will add one of its 132 Army watercraft systems to Japan. The systems move combat forces, equipment and supplies.
The Army also added its first multi-domain task force to the Indo-Pacific. The task force, according to the Army, is a fighting force specifically designed to “synchronize precision effects and precision fires in all domains” against what are called “anti-access and area-denial forces” – a term used to describe China’s military in the region.
A second task force is planned for the Pacific.
“I’m pretty excited about the things that we’re doing out there right now. That’s a lot. Those are all new,” Gen. Flynn said.