INDO-PACOM Commander: New Warfighting Concept Requires More Joint Training, Ranges to Prep for Tougher Fights

March 4, 2020 7:04 PM - Updated: March 25, 2020 12:01 PM
Adm. Phil Davidson, participates in an honors ceremony at the Brunei Ministry of Defence on September 10, 2019. U.S..S. Navy Photo

SAN DIEGO, Calif. –The future force must transform into one that’s jointly trained and integrated across all warfighting domains and with regional allies and partners to counter threats including China’s growing military and global influence, the commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific said on Tuesday.

“New geopolitical realities, expanding warfighting domains, and emerging technical capabilities are challenging the doctrinal status quo,” Adm. Phil Davidson, commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, said Tuesday at the WEST 2020 defense conference co-hosted by U.S. Naval Institute and AFCEA. So “the joint force must continue to transform its doctrine, or we will have little to fall back on except our recent experience in counter-insurgency and constabulary operations.”

Davidson, who took the helm of INDO-PACOM in 2018, spoke about transforming the joint force into one better poised to deter, and if needed, to win against more sophisticated adversaries like Russia and China.

“The National Defense Strategy charges us with revisiting the way we think about these last three decades of warfare,” he added. Similar challenges occurred in the Cold War era, when the Army’s AirLand Battle doctrine paired its maneuver forces with the Air Force’s deep fires, along with NATO partners, against Soviet aggression.

Transformation efforts today must also include a greater focus on training the joint force, Davidson said. More advanced joint training capability and capacity must match technology advances and tactical developments.

“Unfortunately, our current range, test, and/or training facilities are built separately by each service, sometimes by their service test and development community and rarely with the joint force in mind. Further, they are not funded to enable joint training,” he said. “We must all strongly advocate for a joint network of live, virtual, and constructive ranges in key locations around this region – but I would argue it’s around the globe – to support joint and combined exercises, experimentation, and innovation.”

Along with key major military training and test ranges on the West Coast and Eastern Pacific that include air, ground, surface and subsurface domains, Indo-Pacific Command has three key facilities: Pacific Missile Range Facility at Barking Sands, Kauai; Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex; and the Reagan Test Site on Kwajalein atoll.

The Defense Department “must find a way to integrate and network these ranges to achieve the full potential of the new warfighting concept, just as the National Training Center became a fully instrumented, state-of-the-art training facility to realize the potential of AirLand Battle,” Davidson said. “The only way to combat the security challenges we face in today’s dynamic operating environment is through a continuous campaign of joint experimentation and high-fidelity, multi-domain training.”

Integration of those U.S. ranges with allied ranges in the region, in Japan and Australia, would build joint, combined capability and capacity and create “a fully instrumented live-virtual-constructive proving ground, something our allies and partners don’t have,” he said.

And a Joint Range Network would provide “the ability to reveal certain capabilities we want our adversaries to see, and conceal the things we don’t want them to see. This has got to be a major component of any strategy of deterrence,” he added.

Davidson didn’t mention it specifically, but a provision in the fiscal 2019 National Defense Authorization Act directed the Pentagon to develop and implement a strategic plan to improve capabilities of DoD training ranges and installations and “identify and address deficits in the capabilities of Department of Defense training ranges to support current and anticipated readiness requirements to execute the National Defense Strategy.” It set an April 1, 2020, deadline for a progress report to Congress on the development of the strategic plan, to be led by the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment.

It’s unclear how much transformation of the joint force, as Davidson highlighted in his speech, can be done amid a department-wide budget belt-tightening vision and without buy-in from the military services facing their resource constraints.

“At this point, and given the bills the services I think are trying to balance, it hasn’t really come up in the conversation in the last few months,” Davidson said in response to a question about who could advocate for such transformation. “Most of that responsibility resides
within the Joint Staff, in the J-7 where they do doctrinal development and in fact are working on a Joint Warfighting Concept and have a due date at the end of the year.”

Davidson wants to increase the complexity and strength of joint, combined exercises in the region, which include Talisman Sabre, Keen Edge and Valiant Shield. Joint training funds and existing exercises provide opportunities for continued joint training, but to take advantage of that going forward, “I think we need to seriously look at how we’re evolving our joint funding for those exercises in order to make sure we are getting all that we can out of it,” he said. “It’s not enough to try to build on a service exercise.”

He praised the Navy for the Rim-of-the-Pacific exercise, the large, multinational maritime exercise run every two years by U.S. Pacific Fleet. “RIMPAC is as joint as any exercise that the joint force funds and runs under their command and control. We have to look for opportunities there as well,” he added.

Gidget Fuentes

Gidget Fuentes

Gidget Fuentes is a freelance writer based in San Diego, Calif. She has spent more than 20 years reporting extensively on the Marine Corps and the Navy, including West Coast commands and Pacific regional issues.

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