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SECARMY Wormuth Pitches Army’s Next Role in the Western Pacific

Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth visits the Army’s current largest housing investment with USAREUR-AF Commander Gen. Christopher Cavoli, SETAF-AF Commander Maj. Gen. Andrew Rohling, and USAG Italy Commander Col. Matthew Gomlak in Vicenza, Italy Oct. 29, 2021. US Army Photo

The Army wants to shift its posture in the Western Pacific from a heavy concentration in the Korean peninsula to a more dispersed force throughout the theater, without stationing more soldiers in the Indo-Pacific, Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said Wednesday.

“We want to be flexible” in meeting the challenges from China from the Himalayas to the East and South China seas with the just over 100,000 soldiers in the region, she said in an online Center for Strategic and International Studies forum.

Among the challenges in the region: “Japan is worried about the Senkakus [islands Beijing claims it owns]; “China’s very aggressive actions to Taiwan” and the danger of “miscalculation in the South China Sea” in Beijing’s territorial disputes with nations there.

Wormuth highlighted the Army’s on-the-ground relationships with allies in building interoperability and adding capabilities to their security, the service’s role in providing air and missile defense and delivering necessary supplies to widely dispersed forces.

The Army also provides a Quick Reaction Force to a combatant commander to respond to a crisis.

A key player in this role of building closer relationships with allies and partners is the Army’s sustainment brigades, designed to better handle the flow of necessary supplies into a theater, she said.

Wormuth said that in many Indo-Pacific nations their armies are the senior service and training with them in cyber, space and long-range fires operations were important for future regional security.

In answer to a follow-up question on the Army’s role in a potential regional conflict, Wormuth said the service would play an “enabling role air and maritime forces.” As an example of this, she added, “there has to be a way to distribute fuel … and provide command and control,” network security, as well as air and missile defense to spread out forces over huge distances and the Army does that.

Offensively, the Army would be providing precision long-range fires and hypersonic missiles, as well as ground combat forces, Wormuth said. This included the service’s ability to counterattack if the United States homeland was attacked.

She added that stationing these weapons in the first island chain off the Chinese coast would depend on negotiations with allies over deployment on their territory.

On tensions with China over the future of Taiwan, she said the most important thing is “we work collectively to deter war.”

When asked about the Army’s support to India in its ongoing border dispute with China, she said it is providing cold weather gear and sleeping bags immediately. “We are providing some protective support … when they have asked for it.” Wormuth added that past agreements with New Delhi included the sale of Apache AH-64 attack helicopters and Chinook CH-47 heavy lift helicopters.

“We will look for opportunities to cooperate with India” in the future, Wormuth said.

Looking to the future of integrated deterrence, “we [in the Army] have developed a concept of multi-domain operations,” which she said the service is now turning into doctrine for operations.

The recently concluded Project Convergence 2021 exercise in the Arizona desert provided all services the opportunity to test high-speed connectivity over a spread-out battlefield, Wormuth said. She said this year the exercise experimented with 100 new technologies, specifically looking at operations to counter Anti Access/Area Denial defenses.

One facet of China’s modernization efforts for the past 20 years, Wormuth said, was to counter the United States’ ability to project power as it did in the two Gulf wars and Afghanistan. Among the steps Beijing has taken is the development of hypersonic missiles capable of circling the globe and long-range anti-ship missiles, in addition to fielding the largest navy in the world and the largest air force in the Indo-Pacific.

Wormuth said the Pentagon wants to “avoid this second Cold War framing” in designating China as a “pacing competitor.”

“We need to have channels of communications with the Chinese government,” she said.