Indo-Pacific Soldiers Train for Tough, Varied Terrain

Indo-Pacific Soldiers Train for Tough, Varied Terrain

People at a panel discussion
Photo by: AUSA/Jared Lieberher

Mastery of the fundamentals is crucial in the Indo-Pacific, a region where soldiers may find themselves operating anywhere from the Arctic to the jungle to a megacity, a panel of experts said May 15.

“If you’re not well versed in the fundamentals, you’re not going to be able to do collective tasks,” said Lt. Gen. Christopher LaNeve, commanding general of 8th Army in South Korea. “You have got to be able to do the basics, the fundamental blocking and tackling, at the platoon, at the company and at the battalion, synchronizing all those efforts.”

During a panel discussion at the Association of the U.S. Army’s 2024 LANPAC Symposium and Exposition in Honolulu on preparing for the range of environments in the Indo-Pacific, LaNeve was joined commanders who are stationed in Alaska and Australia.

Soldiers from the 11th Airborne Division in Alaska train in some of the harshest conditions, conducting Joint Pacific Multinational Readiness Center rotations “in the dead of winter,” said Maj. Gen. Brian Eifler, the division commander. “We do it … in the darkest days of winter and the coldest months of the year,” he said.

Training in such conditions builds tougher soldiers, Eifler said, and it allows soldiers to receive high-end training without having to leave the region.

The division’s home station of Alaska also gives soldiers many opportunities to train with allies and partners, Eifler said, including Canada, Australia, Great Britain, Mongolia, Japan, Norway, Finland and Sweden.

“As far as getting that readiness, it’s training like you fight,” Eifler said. “That’s what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to come together in those harsh environments and bring the team in.”

One of the 11th Airborne Division’s close partners is the 11th Air Force. “The joint opportunities are there,” said Air Force Lt. Gen. David Nahom, who commands Alaskan Command and 11th Air Force. The Army and Air Force in Alaska do a good job of integrating and training together, but there’s always room for improvement, Nahom said.

Every training event is an opportunity to build readiness and relationships, said Col. Benjamin McLennan, commander of the Australian Army’s Combat Training Centre. “Everything is an opportunity to build the really important relationships that matter when everything else fails,” he said. “Everything we do with our partners … is a demonstration of cohesion, commitment and combined capability, and we believe that that contributes to that deterrent effect.”

There are many challenges when operating in the Indo-Pacific, the panelists said.

On the Korean peninsula, the North Korean threat is real and ever present. “Everything we do has to be about building readiness inside these units, because at any moment, they might be called upon,” LaNeve said.

Then there’s the vastness of the Indo-Pacific. “All of Europe can fit in Alaska,” Eifler said. “People don’t understand that. If we do not put our correct structure together and array the forces in the right place, … that’s the challenge for us, to have the right force mix in the right positions in the region.”

The varied terrain and differing infrastructure can be challenging for the Air Force, Nahom said. “We have an Air Force that was really designed, much of it, with Europe in mind,” he said. This includes aircraft designed to land on “nice, clean runways” after flying “European ranges,” he said.

In the Indo-Pacific, distance is a factor, as are underdeveloped runways, he said. “Sometimes you’re operating on runways that are too small for fighter operations,” Nahom said. “As leaders, we’ve got to find out where that risk is and take measured, smart risks. We have got to train to it, safely learn how to operate it. We cannot wait for the shooting to start.”

Logistics is another “huge” challenge, Nahom said, from the equipment needed to support fighter aircraft to moving fuel and bombs.

Providing soldiers with the proper equipment also is a challenge, Eifler said. “Most of our equipment is not designed to operate, function in these [extreme cold weather] temperatures,” he said.

In addition to working with industry and Army Futures Command on new capabilities and gear, Eifler said he and his team also have tapped into the native population in Alaska “that has survived in that environment” for generations.

“We’re challenged with things like battery life, energy, fuels and things like that that we have to always be on the edge of innovative future capabilities, otherwise, we’ll just be cold and tired and worthless,” he said.

At the end of the day, the relationships between service members from allied and partnered countries will make all the difference, as will tough, realistic training, the panelists said.

“There are no shortcuts,” Eifler said. “You’ve got to get out there in the environment.”