Wormuth: Army ‘Stepping Up’ to Indo-Pacific Challenges

Wormuth: Army ‘Stepping Up’ to Indo-Pacific Challenges

Soldiers training troops in the Pacific
Photo by: U.S. Army

From its strong relationships with partners and allies to its ability to set the theater, the Army has a critical role as the U.S. works to deter and compete with China, Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said.

“The reality is that competing militarily and strengthening deterrence in the Indo-Pacific is a joint undertaking, and certainly any potential military conflict with China would require the entire joint force,” she said. 

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has called China the military’s “pacing challenge,” and it’s a fitting description, Wormuth said.

While the U.S. was fighting in the Middle East for the past 20 years, China has implemented a “sweeping military modernization effort,” Wormuth said Dec. 1 during a virtual event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Today, the People’s Liberation Army has about 2 million personnel in its regular armed forces, and China has the largest navy in the world numerically and the largest air force in the Indo-Pacific region, she said.

It is conducting a “significant expansion” of its nuclear arsenal, and it has advanced precision weapons in “large and growing quantities,” Wormuth said. China also has “capabilities today to attack our sensors in space and our communication links that largely run through space,” Wormuth said.

Given the advances China has made, “we have to be clear-eyed about the challenge we now face,” Wormuth said. “We are in a competition with China that has far-reaching consequences.”

One of the Army’s core competitive advantages is its network of allies and partners, Wormuth said. 

“We’re always stronger when we work together with our friends, and the Army has very strong relationships in the region,” she said.

Assuring allies in the region is an “overarching mission,” and soldiers will continue to do that through exercises across the Indo-Pacific, she said. Examples include Pacific Pathways, which has U.S. soldiers in the region and working with partners for up to six months at a time, and deployments by the 5th Security Force Assistance Brigade, which is aligned to support U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. 

But if deterrence fails, the Army has at least five core tasks if there’s a conflict in the region, Wormuth said. 

The Army would be a linchpin for the joint force, establishing and securing staging areas and joint operating bases for air and naval forces in the theater. It also would be prepared to provide integrated air and missile defense and sustain the joint force—from secure communication networks to munition stockpiles—across the vast distances of the Indo-Pacific theater, she said.

The Army also can provide command and control at multiple operational levels and ground-based long-range fires, and, if needed, it can counterattack using its maneuver forces, she said.

Ultimately, the goal is to work to avoid war in the region, Wormuth said. 

“The Indo-Pacific region is a region of great opportunity for the United States but also real challenges,” Wormuth said. “The Army is stepping up to that challenge, both in terms of how we contribute to this country’s ability to compete with China, and our ability to deter coercion and aggression in the region.”