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NEWS | May 16, 2024

Opportunities Outpace Challenges in the Indo-Pacific

By Maj. Matthew Pargett I Corps

In an era of geopolitical competition and evolving security challenges, the Indo-Pacific region remains a focal point of global strategic importance. From the Indian to the Pacific Ocean, this vast expanse of water dotted with archipelagos and population mega-clusters encompasses 40 diverse nations across 13 time zones. Throughout this critical region, America's First Corps is advancing how it meets enduring and emerging challenges. As America's regional operational headquarters, First Corps manages the daily activities of 40,000 U.S. Army soldiers and regularly campaigns across 21 countries to enhance relationships and build ally and partner capacity, all to support a free and open Indo-Pacific.

Speaking to civilian leaders, members of industry, and military officials from 18 nations across the Indo-Pacific on May 14 during the 2024 Land Forces Pacific Symposium (LANPAC) in Honolulu, Hawaii, Lt. Gen. Xavier Brunson, the I Corps Commanding General, reaffirmed the importance of these initiatives and underscored the need for better coordination and understanding of theater requirements across the combined and joint force to better support national objectives in the region.

"One of the things that USARPAC (U.S. Army Pacific) continually challenges the corps to do at the operational level is to ensure that we remain nested," said Brunson, describing how the corps supports the objectives of its higher headquarters in all activities conducted throughout the Indo-Pacific.

"For us, it's assuring friends, partners and allies that we are going to be there. That our presence means that we are out there to compete, and between eight to ten months out of the year the corps finds itself forward in the region, working alongside friends, partners, and allies. What we're trying to derive is deep human interoperability. We're trying to refresh ourselves on our procedural interoperability by way of how we fight."

Brunson referenced the collection of training exercises that occur under Operation Pathways, a campaigning initiative that occur in 21 countries across the Indo-Pacific annually, to further highlight the importance and value of regularly training west of the International Date Line alongside partners and allies at their training centers and installations.

"There are certain frictions that don't occur within the National Training Center, that don't occur at Fort Johnson, that don't occur at 21 Palms. They occur in the region. And when we capture these reflections from the things that we're doing, that nesting becomes even more important because what I'm able to do at an operational level is cast to that headquarters at USARPAC the things that were discovered about our partners and other ways and investments we might make in the future."

Taking questions submitted by panel attendees, Brunson addressed that a concern for him as a senior U.S. Army leader is that "In our history, we haven't done interwar well. We've decreased the size of our forces, we've stopped the experimentation necessary to continue to innovate during peacetime, and we find ourselves cast into adapting as we come into the fight. That keeps me awake at night. We have this unique opportunity to submit the land power network as it exists now to ensure that land power remains the pre-eminent concern of folks in the theater who recognize that this is a joint theater that will require joint and combined solutions."

Addressing key challenges of operating in the Indo-Pacific, Brunson said, "We're not NATO," establishing that in Europe, there is a pre-existing network that NATO members can operate on as a baseline but continued to say that "what we're going to require out here is a 'C' joint fires network. Because the 'C' is part of our asymmetric advantage that we have out here in the Indo-Pacific."

"If we don't think about 'C' solutions, combined solutions out here, we're going to find ourselves in a world of hurt," said Brunson.

"We often talk about the geometry of our geography based on long distances. But as we begin to look at every nation that's involved in this land power network, we start to consider every nation as a vertex, and as you go out from the vertices, you have these lines of communication that exist to make this network amongst all these nations. We have to start looking back at the vertices and say, what are the impacts of this nation? How do we need to be organized to take best advantage of the contributions they are making in the region?"

Brunson's emphasis on the importance of combined and joint campaigning across domains, as a measure to grow capacity across the force, underscores the value of persistent training events west of the IDL. While building partner and ally capacity, the exercises under Operation Pathways are critical for building human understanding across different procedures, languages, and cultures.

"There are some technological things that we have to bring to be the best partner that we can be, but I think if there's an increased importance of the human and procedural interoperability, then when it comes, whether it is competition and crisis or conflict, we will be set in place because we'll be valued."

Addressing the audience in his final remarks, Brunson stated, "I think that the challenges that we have in this region are absolutely legion, but the opportunities that we have in this region far outstrip and outpace any of the challenges that we have because there's a recognition that the solutions that are required for us in this region are going to require everybody."