Wed, Oct 12, 2005 - Page 9 News List

Flexibility is key for the US Army in Asia, Pacific

By Richard Halloran

Amid plans for a sweeping realignment of US military services in Asia and the Pacific, the army has begun extensive changes intended to turn it into the most flexible and expeditionary force it has been since the end of the war in Vietnam 30 years ago.

From Hawaii, where the headquarters of the army in the Pacific is situated, to the Pacific Northwest of the US mainland, to Alaska, to South Korea and to Japan, the army is being transformed, in the current buzzword of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Says Lieutenant General John Brown, commanding general of the army in the Pacific: "Almost every one of our brigades and divisions, and all of our major headquarters, will be undergoing transformation over the next two years to better enable us to fight the war on terrorism or engage in any other military operation."

This week, the army activated a new air defense command at Fort Shafter, headquarters of the army in the Pacific. The 94th Air and Missile Defense Command can be deployed anywhere in the region to fight alongside the Pacific Air Force against aerial attack.

Next year, the first elements of a new Stryker Brigade are scheduled to arrive at Schofield Barracks, the army's main post in Hawaii. The key equipment for the brigade's 3900 soldiers will be 300 of the 20 ton armored vehicles that can be transported by air. Another Stryker brigade has been posted in Alaska and three more will be formed at Fort Lewis in the state of Washington.

Supporting the brigade combat teams for the first time will be a reconnaissance battalion equipped with long range sensors, including unmanned aerial drones and analysts to provide quick assessments to brigade commanders. Before, such capabilities were available only at higher levels and it took time for intelligence to trickle down to combat commanders.

At Pearl Harbor is based an army experimental ship, the twin-hulled catamaran "Spearhead" that can move Strykers, troops, and weapons at 40 knots for 4,000km. The army plans to acquire 12 vessels, starting in 2010, with high-tech planning and communications gear that can prepare a force in transit to fight when it lands instead of needing time to get marching orders on the ground.

A brigade of paratroopers that was recently activated in Alaska has already shown an ability to overcome what US military people call the "tyranny of distance" in the vast reaches of the Pacific. The brigade loaded 600 paratroopers into six C17 aircraft where they strapped on chutes in-flight and flew 17 hours with aerial refueling to jump into northern Australia at 1am.

To set up a forward operational headquarters, the army plans to move the I Corps headquarters from Fort Lewis to Camp Zama, a US post southwest of Tokyo. Military officers said negotiations with Japan are progressing and an agreement may be reached in time for President George W. Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to announce it next month when Bush visits Japan.

At the next level up, the army headquarters in Hawaii, known officially as US army, Pacific or USARPAC, has been primarily responsible for providing trained and equipped troops to other commands in Asia and as far away as Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Over the next 18 to 24 months," Brown said, "things will change; we'll keep all our existing missions but we will also become a war-fighting headquarters."

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