The U.S. Army's Asia Opportunity

China's A2/AD capabilities have many in Washington worried. America's land forces could help. 

1. Shift Army planning and capabilities towards land-based offensive systems. While the Army has spent the past decade focused on counterinsurgency and stability operations, it should shift more resources towards creating new, land-based ballistic and cruise missile forces. Positioning both mobile and fixed ground-based missile batteries in theatre, while also increasing the range of those systems and acquiring anti-ship missiles, will allow the Army to contribute to regional stability by both deterring adversaries from operating near partner states—subjecting enemy land- and sea-based anti-access and area-denial (A2/AD) forces to greater risk. This would have to be done in partnership with regional allies, but an integrated web of A2/AD systems among allies would greatly increase the costs of any hostile action in the region. The Army’s existing expertise in missile defense and partner-capacity building make it a natural choice to spearhead the cultivation and integration of partner, land-based A2/AD networks that would constrain and deter Chinese aggression in the region by using the very same tools they are using to dissuade us from maintaining our presence and intervening in regional crises.

2. Expand contributions to air and missile defense. In addition to a more offensive role, the Army can enhance strategic stability in the region by improving its Air and Missile Defense (AMD) capabilities. The missiles of China’s Second Artillery Corps have the range to reach most U.S. bases throughout the region. While hardening and dispersing U.S. facilities in the Western Pacific will always be a part of the equation, the Army can further contribute to joint force survivability by improving the capabilities of its AMD systems like Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) or Patriot. Making AMD platforms more mobile, concealable, and situationally aware will be critical investments for future contested environments. A land-based electromagnetic rail-gun or eventually directed energy capabilities such as high-power lasers should also be considered by the Army as a way to reduce the costs of successful defense against salvos of precision-guided munitions.

3. Improve ties with partner states and grow their capacity. Partnership is the game in the U.S. Pacific Command, whether for deepening security relationships or improving interoperability for future humanitarian assistance and disaster response missions. Ground forces are an important component of our partner states’ security strategies, and increasing cooperation between U.S. and other ground forces should only help solidify a more collaborative relationship between the United States and its Asia-Pacific allies. Joint regional exercises like COBRA GOLD and BALIKATAN improve joint operability between states while building the capacity U.S. partners need to feel more secure; these exercises should be preserved and expanded in productive ways.

4. Improve mission support capabilities. Army forces in the Pacific include diverse mission support groups, including combat trainers, Civil Affairs units, engineers, logisticians, military intelligence, Special Operations Forces, and Foreign Area Officers, among others. These components support and/or augment the capabilities of PACOM forces and partners. The Army’s Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, as part of the U.S. Transportation Command, also sustains forward-deployed forces throughout the Asia-Pacific. In addition, the Army pre-positions supplies and equipment afloat or on shore for use in contingency scenarios. Though these Army activities may not receive as much attention as others, they undergird any U.S. joint and combined deployment or exercise in the region. Improving logistical interoperability within the services and with Asia-Pacific partners will enhance our ability to respond to peacetime and wartime contingencies in the region.

The rise of China’s antiaccess network is shaping the principle threats to the United States in ways that demand, as Huntington tutored, shifts in national policy and the strategic concepts driving our military services. Let me be clear that I believe the Army’s ability to seize and hold large portions of land will remain an enduring core competency fundamental to preserving options for future policy makers. However, alongside its traditional missions the Army must consider concepts and capabilities for imposing costs and providing affordable theater defenses that will allow it to contribute to maintaining peace and stability in critical regions like the Asia-Pacific.

Rep. Forbes is Chairman of the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee. In the winter of 2014, he co-led a bipartisan Asia-Pacific Oversight Series for the House Armed Services Committee. You can follow him on Twitter: @Randy_Forbes.

Image: Flickr/The U.S. Army/CC by 2.0