- The Washington Times
Wednesday, July 27, 2022

The U.S. Army is building up forces and international ties throughout the Indo-Pacific region to counter growing Chinese aggression and strengthen nervous regional allies, the commander of the U.S. Army Pacific said in an interview.

Gen. Charles A. Flynn, in charge of more than 100,000 Army soldiers stationed from India to Alaska, said the vast region is not a theater that can be patrolled and defended solely by American air and naval forces.

“A lot of people say it’s an air and maritime environment. No, it’s not. It’s a joint environment and requires joint solutions,” Gen. Flynn said in an exclusive talk with The Washington Times.

A combat officer who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq, Gen. Flynn has spent nearly a decade in Asia building close ties with fellow army leaders in the region, many of whom are now senior commanders, defense chiefs or civilian government leaders.

Gen. Flynn is now the senior leader of a “theater army” spread throughout the Pacific and Indian oceans. He said the force plays a crucial role in keeping the peace with an increasingly confrontational China.

“Essentially, [China’s] effort is to displace us regionally and achieve regional hegemony,” Gen. Flynn said. “That is their goal. They’ve got global aspirations beyond that. All of this is things that they’ve stated or written.”

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To counter the threat in the Pacific, Gen. Flynn said, his forces are concentrating on military training and alliances, specifically to operate with as many regional states’ armies as possible.

“In my view, the great counterweight to what they are doing is our network of allies and partners,” he said. “I think the strength of what land power represents in the region is to bring that network of allies and partners more closely together so that we have a common view and shared understanding of how to counter any of those destabilizing activities that are happening in the region.”

Army forces in the Indo-Pacific include the service’s formidable logistics and supply capabilities, which are needed to keep military forces operating cohesively in a conflict. In addition to 22,000 Army troops in South Korea, the Army‘s Pacific command oversees 3,000 troops in Japan, 14,000 in Alaska and 28,000 in Hawaii, the location of the headquarters as part of the Indo-Pacific Command.

Japan is a hub for Army prepositioned stockpiles, and the service handles Patriot and THAAD missile defense batteries.

Army special operations forces under the general’s command also have vital roles in the U.S. security strategy in Asia.

A ‘land guy’

Gen. Flynn describes himself as “a land guy” regarding military matters because that is where “people live and nations exist.”

In Indo-Pacific states, armies, rather than navy or air forces, make up 70% to 90% of the military forces. Working with allied land forces is crucial to keep the peace, he said, in part because the army is explicitly designed to defend what is at issue across the region.

“Armies are huge in that part of the world, and they’re important,” the general said. “Why? Because armies protect the national sovereignty of countries. What is under stress and duress are violations of national sovereignty.”

Gen. Flynn rejected criticism that the United States is an interloper in the Pacific. In addition to the strategic Hawaiian Islands, U.S. territory in the Pacific Rim includes Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa, Alaska and the West Coast.

The Army has set up training centers in the region for American and foreign troops. The centers allow militaries to practice in environments where they could face fighting, whether it is island-hopping in the tropical South Pacific or patrolling the frozen areas of Northeast Asia and South Asia.

Three centers are operating. One is in Hawaii for tropical island simulation, and another is in Alaska for cold weather training. A moveable training facility currently based in Indonesia will be the site of an international military exercise starting Monday. The U.S. and 13 regional armies, including soldiers from Japan for the first time, will take part in Garuda Shield. The training exercise, traditionally focused on the U.S. and Indonesia, will be “significantly larger in scope and scale” than in previous years, U.S. officials say.

The training centers “allow us to generate readiness in the region” and “prepare Army forces to operate closely with allies,” Gen. Flynn said.

Army military operations in the Indo-Pacific follow a force posture known as Operation Pathways to refine war techniques and tactics in the region with allies, especially long-range targeting across the vast space of the oceans.

Denying terrain

Gen. Flynn said another important element of the Army operating in forward areas is “really just denying key terrain in the region from some of the destabilizing activities that do go on and that are being conducted or committed by the Chinese.”

During remarks at the Aspen Security Forum last week, the general cited a Chinese push to increase control and influence over Pacific island nations and the tense, and at times violent, border dispute with India.

Gen. Flynn said he is “comfortable” with U.S.-Taiwanese army relations despite rising concern that China is moving closer to military action to reclaim what Beijing says is sovereign Chinese territory.

“We remain committed to providing Taiwan with the military means to defend itself in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act,” he said. “I would also like to highlight that our long-standing defense relationship with Taiwan remains aligned with the current threat posed by [China].”

The general noted: “I’m very comfortable with where they are right now, but, as [Defense] Secretary [Lloyd] Austin has said, we don’t want to see the status quo over Taiwan change unilaterally, certainly not through military action.”

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Taiwanese have announced a defense mobilization agency that Gen. Flynn said is “one indicator of recognition that something’s different” in cross-strait relations. 

China has been stepping up military provocations with frequent warplane incursions into the Taiwanese air defense zone and large war games near the island. The Pentagon is working to bolster the island’s defenses with more asymmetric warfare capabilities that would allow the smaller, weaker Taiwanese military to better hold off the Chinese military.

U.S. Army relations with Japan’s military are exceptionally close, Gen. Flynn said, with frequent training and exercises. The Japan Self-Defense Forces also may train in Alaska to prepare for a defense of its northern Hokkaido Island.

The general said he speaks regularly with Japanese Gen. Yoshihide Yoshida, chief of the staff for the Ground Self-Defense Forces. Gen. Yoshida just returned from Europe. He will hold talks with Gen. Flynn and Australian military leaders next month in Australia as part of a “senior leaders’ seminar.”

Gen. Flynn said the Army has transformed its posture in the Indo-Pacific by creating the 11th Airborne Division in Alaska and setting up the Joint Pacific Multinational Readiness Center to provide Arctic, jungle and archipelago training.

Next year, the Army will add one of its 132 watercraft systems to Japan. The systems move combat forces, equipment and supplies.

The Army also added its first multidomain task force to the Indo-Pacific. The task force, according to the Army, is a fighting force specifically designed to “synchronize precision effects and precision fires in all domains” against “anti-access and area-denial forces.” The term is used to describe China’s military in the region.

A second task force is planned for the Pacific.

“I’m pretty excited about the things that we’re doing out there right now. That’s a lot. Those are all new,” Gen. Flynn said.

• Bill Gertz can be reached at bgertz@washingtontimes.com.

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