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US Army gets long-range missiles to guard against China

A common hypersonic glide body (C-HGB) launches from Pacific Missile Range Facility, Kauai, Hawaii, March 19, 2020. (Oscar Sosa/U.S. Navy)

In a discussion Tuesday on the future of the Army in the Indo-Pacific, two top service leaders reiterated that the ground force isn’t stepping on the toes of the Marine Corps or Air Force budgetwise or operationally in developing long-range missiles.

Big land invasions are out and maritime missile forces are in—requiring the Army to adjust its fire accordingly.

Far-reaching “precision fires ” are the Army’s No. 1 modernization priority under its biggest change in 40 years and as it seeks new capability by fiscal 2023, including its first hypersonic weapon and a missile that can hit targets up to 930 miles away.

The perception of interservice conflict comes with both the Army and Marine Corps developing fast-moving island-hopping forces that can sink ships around islands in the Western Pacific if deterrence with China fails.

“The systems we’re developing are more along the lines of a campaign rather than quickly expeditionary-type systems, ” Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. James McConville told the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “And so I don’t see us in competition with the Marine Corps. We’ve got a great Marine Corps. They have roles and missions that are extremely important, as does the United States Army.”

McConville added that “when I take a look at the size of the forces that we have, every single armed force member is absolutely key, along with our allies and partners, in providing the deterrence that we need.”

Gen. Paul LaCamera, head of U.S. Army Pacific at Fort Shafter, said the Army would provide the “mass ” for island operations.

“So, I think whether they (the Marines ) are there first (and ) we come in behind them, that allows them to continue to move on, ” he said.

LaCamera said that U.S. Army Pacific has about 52, 000 assigned personnel and another 25, 000 available on short notice for the region that extends from the West Coast of the U.S. to the west coast of India, and from the North Pole to the South Pole.

China and Russia have intensified their interests in the Arctic, and the Army on March 16 released its strategy for the region titled “Regaining Arctic Dominance, ” which includes specially trained and equipped combat brigades.

Mark Cancian, a senior adviser at CSIS and moderator for Tuesday’s discussion, said that “this is both an exciting and a challenging time for the Army.”

The Army is developing a wide range of new capabilities to adapt to great-power competition with China, he said.

“On the other hand, this is happening as (defense ) budgets have likely peaked and there will be severe competition for resources, ” Cancian said.

McConville said in a “multidomain ” transformation paper—a term used to describe the Army’s goal of operating with other serv ­ices across land, sea, air, space and cyberspace—that “although our Army still maintains overmatch, it is fleeting. In the face of determined adversaries and accelerating technological advances, we must transform today to meet tomorrow’s challenges.”

The Army has the 5th Security Force Assistance Brigade, which advises allies and friends in the Indo-Pacific, and a Multi-Domain Task Force—a centerpiece of its transformation—that can rapidly deploy with a wide suite of capabilities, including High Mobility Artillery Rocket System missiles. Both entities are at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.

The task force recently took part in a Marine Corps exercise that saw soldiers fly to the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai on a C-17 cargo jet with a HIMARS truck to simulate sinking enemy ships at sea.

The Army plans to have two Multi-Domain Task Forces in the Pacific, one for the Arctic, one aligned to Europe and one prepared for “global response.”

In September, Brig. Gen. John Rafferty, director of an Army long-range fire effort, said a new missile with a range up to 930 miles could prove beneficial in Pacific island chains.

“What a dilemma that would create for our adversary, ” Rafferty, in a reference to China, said in an Army-produced news story.

The Army officers were asked Tuesday how much of a challenge it will be to get allies such as Japan to base a Multi-Domain Task Force and long-range weapons in their countries.

“That’s a political decision, ” McConville said. “The (Biden ) administration will, I believe, lead with a policy, and that will be shaped by diplomacy between our countries.”

The president of the Air Force Association, meanwhile, sent a question to the forum asking whether the Army’s emphasis on deep strike duplicates Air Force fighter and bomber capabilities and whether investment in Army systems creates increased budget and operational risk for airmen tasked with attacking deep targets.

McConville said that “we don’t see that ” as competition.

“To me this is about providing options to a combatant commander, options from the land that gives them the capability to … strike ground targets through a different method and, quite frankly, not necessarily putting pilots at risk.”

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