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War in the Pacific wouldn't be all aircraft carriers and air power, and a top general says the US Army won't be sitting on the sidelines

Chris Panella   

War in the Pacific wouldn't be all aircraft carriers and air power, and a top general says the US Army won't be sitting on the sidelines
  • The US Army would play a pivotal role should conflict arise in the Pacific, a top general told Business Insider.
  • There are biases and misconceptions about the joint force and the region, he said.

As the US military attempts to shift its focus to the Pacific, preparing to deter and if necessary fight in a potential war with China, there are often misconceptions about where the Army fits into the picture, a top general told Business Insider.

While maritime and air power elements are important to the larger joint force and would play a very critical role in a fight in the region, the commanding general of US Army Pacific said that his forces are also vital to the fight.

When "people look at the map" and "see a lot of blue," they think they're going to "solve that problem with a lot of maritime forces and a lot of air forces," Gen. Charles Flynn, who leads USARPAC, told Business Insider during an interview at Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks, Alaska.

"And while they are absolutely important, the security architecture that actually binds the region together is armies," Flynn added.

The Pentagon has identified China as the US military's "pacing challenge" and tracks its military developments closely.

Reports on the Chinese military show a tremendous growth in the number of ships for a country that already boasts the largest navy in the world, notable improvements to the Chinese air force through improved pilot training and more capable aircraft, and the expansion of the missile force.

Many of these efforts are designed to confront and deny US aircraft and naval ships access and the ability to maneuver in the area, as well as target and destroy them in a fight.

The implications of these developments have become increasingly apparent as China flexes its muscles.

China's military exercises, which feature more warships with threatening capabilities, have raised tensions around Taiwan and in the South and East China Seas. And it's pilots have also engaged in aggressive behavior in the skies, often executing unsafe intercepts of US and allied aircraft.

All of this raises questions about what the US needs for a fight in the Pacific.

Last fall, Flynn wrote that China's increasingly aggressive behavior toward the US and its allies in the Pacific "has renewed emphasis on the aspects that free societies value most, such as: protecting our people, preserving our territorial integrity, and defending our homelands."

"That is why land power matters in the Indo-Pacific — and why the capabilities that only the US Army provides at scale and at echelon are more important now than ever before," he said.

"Some may consider the Indo-Pacific an air and maritime theater, but it is not," Flynn said. "It is a Joint theater, with joint challenges, that require both Joint and multinational solutions!"

USARPAC is the Army's largest theater army and covers the Army's largest region of operation, making its involvement in the area critical should war unfold. When the Pentagon released its annual report on China's military power last fall, it said China was prioritizing its missile force's abilities to deter and deny enemy forces movement and function in the region, part of a broader anti-access, area-denial strategy.

Flynn told Business Insider that China's A2AD arsenal may pose less of a threat to the Army and allied land forces, which could survive and remain operational were the Chinese military to use its missiles and other assets to target aircraft carriers, aircraft, and fixed bases.

Part of USARPAC's strengths in the theater would come from mobility, stealth, and the flexibility to keep ground troops adaptable. Last year, US Indo-Pacific Command said the Army served a unique role in the joint force as its contact layer, effectively acting as a deterrent to conflict by operating on the edge of friendly borders and in the theater without having to fight their way into it.

To better prepare for potential conflict in the Pacific and show off what the Army is capable of, USARPAC has increased its trainings and partnerships across the region.

Many of these exercises — such as the new Joint Pacific Multinational Readiness Center, with rotations in Alaska and Hawaii — are designed to bring the US Army and its allies together to war game, experiment with new equipment and technology, and improve how troops fight in the vast range of environments present in the Pacific.

In the interview with Business Insider, Flynn said that the Army has long been pivoting towards being ready for war in the region and doesn't always get the credit deserved for doing so.

"I believe that the Army has demonstrated, through its actions out in the Pacific, a substantial shift into the Pacific, by the way that we're reorganizing and adapting and training and deploying and employing forces in the region," he said.

Those efforts, Flynn noted, have sometimes gotten a little lost in the noise.

"There's this entire effort that has been underway for the US Army in the Pacific," he said, "and it's largely lost in the debate over, 'We need more airplanes and more vessels.'" As Flynn emphasized, there's a lot that makes the joint force work.

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