It has been said, “You don’t have to get ready when you stay ready.” In 2018, upon assuming duties as logistics director for U.S. Forces Korea, I considered U.S. military forces’ preparedness to conduct large-scale ground combat in the Indo-Pacific region. I quickly realized U.S. forces are not ready, but must get ready—and stay ready.
As a result of the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. homeland, the U.S. Army focused primarily on prosecuting the global war on terrorism, which tied U.S. forces to the Southwest Asia region and counterinsurgency fights in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. This orientation, while appropriate then, caused organizational structure rebalance to meet war demands for smaller forces operating in limited areas for limited durations. This rebalance saw the Army divest large-scale, ground combat scenarios training, with logistics capabilities trade-offs at all levels.
Because of these decisions, the Army is in the peculiar position of having to prepare to prevail in large-scale ground combat in the Indo-Pacific.
Conducting a large war in the Indo-Pacific requires an Army that is properly staffed, trained and equipped for mission requirements that could range from forcible-entry operations, to ground combat operations, to unconventional and hybrid threats. Moreover, these monumental tasks will require ground forces capable of operating in an environment consisting of over half the world’s population, seven of the world’s 10 largest standing armies, 14 time zones, 36 nations and over 3,000 languages.
Indicators show that the Army is, in fact, making huge efforts to improve its doctrine, training and leader development associated with prevailing during large-scale ground combat operations. In 2019, the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, produced Army Doctrine Publication 3-0: Operations, which serves as the Army’s view on how soldiers conduct prompt and sustained operations across multiple domains. It also sets the foundation for how the Army will train in relation to unified land operations. Army combat training centers have increased the intensity and realism of large-scale ground combat with added complexity of operations across land, sea, air, space and cyberspace.
U.S. Army Pacific established the Joint Pacific Multinational Readiness Center in Hawaii and Alaska, where the U.S. military is conducting operations, activities and making investments with the theater Army’s Pathways exercises. These exercises were designed to “put into motion a pathway of [training and operational] activity into multiple countries for extended periods of time, linking a series of events and exercises on a variety of topics,” said now-retired Gen. Vincent Brooks, then-commander of U.S. Army Pacific. This plays a critical role in building capacity for the joint force.
Allies Are Vital
The U.S. military is not alone in these exercises; our allied military commands also play a vital role. Their inclusion is critical to helping build interoperability connections (human, technical and procedural). The value of these exercises is immeasurable; they use the framework and funding of existing security cooperation exercises and tie them together in time and geography that challenges every command echelon.
In September, U.S. Army Pacific commander Gen. Charles Flynn stated, “[U.S. allies] appreciate the ability to come together as a multinational force [and] learn from one another, and they are doing that more and more.”
While this trend is helpful and must be maintained, it is just a partial deposit to the investment required for U.S. ground forces to be able to fight and win in the Pacific. The other part of the investment must be vested in the modernization and readiness of logistics capabilities within the Army.
Because the Army provides a large part of the foundational forces and capabilities in support of the joint force in the form of logistics and services functions, the resources aligned to this endeavor will have a significant impact on the U.S. military’s response in the Indo-Pacific realm.
To meet the United States’ commitments in Asia, the Army must align resources toward bettering industrial base capabilities and improving policies associated with maintaining a viable industrial base capable of generating sustainable materiel readiness. An initial start is the Army’s Organic Industrial Base Modernization Implementation Plan that focuses $18 billion across five lines of effort ranging from facility advancements and updates, to energy and environmental enhancements. This investment in the Organic Industrial Base is a small deposit in the right direction in order to drive global integrated logistics within the defense industrial base.
The Army cannot do it alone. A comprehensive top-down industrial base strategy, with oversight from congressional depot caucuses that oversee national industrial base policies and laws, would allow the Army to modernize and preserve its strategic support area within the continental United States. This top-down strategy would ensure that the Army’s investments would be protected from the impact of budgetary uncertainty, which causes readiness trade-offs in the industrial base.
Although there remains looming uncertainty in Washington, D.C., and around the world, the Army must seize this window of opportunity to strengthen military projection and logistics capabilities so it preserves its ability to provide globally responsive ground forces capable of successful expeditionary maneuver within the Indo-Pacific.
Finally, the U.S. government must surgically exercise its diplomatic, informational, military and economic instruments of national power in order to set conditions for successful outcomes within the Indo-Pacific region. This requires a whole-of-government approach to posture for success should the U.S. expend its national treasure—its soldiers—in a conflict within the Indo-Pacific.
This starts with looking at where the Army has access, presence and influence, as well as where the Army wants and needs that access, presence and influence. State and defense efforts must complement each other to enable success.
To be sure, many observers suggest that emerging technologies are changing the character of warfare and that rapid advances will spur state and nonstate actors to continue to exploit similar counterinsurgency and hybrid warfare of the past two decades. Therefore, the application of resources to build and preserve military readiness for potential large-scale ground combat in the Indo-Pacific is peremptory.
However, failure to prepare for the worst-case scenario, in a region that encompasses half the globe, is unimaginable. The United States’ failure to prepare in peace will ensure that the military will not prevail in war.
No matter how well integrated its elements of national power or how well staffed, trained and equipped its forces are, along with its active industrial base capacity, if the U.S. is not able to resource the mission and make rapid adjustments to account for changing circumstances, it will not succeed.
To this end, building and preserving readiness—the summum bonum of its military strength—must dominate current and future decisions on military preparedness to ensure that allied joint forces can prevail in the Pacific and around the world.
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Maj. Gen. David Wilson is commanding general of the U.S. Army Sustainment Command, Rock Island, Illinois. Previously, he served as commanding general of the 8th Theater Sustainment Command, U.S. Army Pacific. Before that, he was director of logistics, U.S. Forces Korea/U.N. Command, and deputy director of logistics, Combined Forces Command, all in South Korea. He is a graduate of The Citadel, South Carolina, and has two master’s degrees: one in general administration from Central Michigan University and one in national resource strategy from the National Defense University.