Journal of Indo-Pacific Affairs, Air University Press --
The US Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) area of responsibility (AOR) covers more total area than any of the other geographic combatant commands; simultaneously, the region is faced with unprecedented challenges from North Korea, China, Russia, and violent extremist organizations, such as the Islamic State (ISIS), Abu Sayyaf Group, and Jamaah Ansharut Daulah. To prevent provoking escalation leading to open conflict, the United States must employ a policy of strategic empathy toward these emerging threats. Strategic empathy is seeing from the perspective of others and is crucial when making policy decisions regarding emerging threats. The United States is actively avoiding strategic narcissism, or the tendency to view the world only in relation to the United States, by focusing on environmental challenges unique to the INDOPACOM AOR and reposturing forces in the region to mitigate the risk associated with the vast separation from the continental United States, or tyranny of distance. Moreover, the United States can further decrease its tendency for strategic narcissism by reinvigorating a US-led economic strategy within Asia, developing cultural and language training standards for INDOPACOM aligned National Guard units, and leveraging its INDOPACOM partnerships to further identify equipment gaps that degrade US forces’ lethality.
The US Army re-established a jungle school in 2014, operated by the 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii. The Lightning Academy Jungle Operations Training Course (JOTC) offers training specific to the INDOPACOM AOR, a region that presents environmental challenges different from those of the desert and mountainous environments of Iraq and Afghanistan. Over the course of 12 days, students learn how to maneuver through the jungle in 8–14-person squads, utilizing repelling and ravine-crossing skills. Students learn how to purify water, build shelters, and make fire with resources obtained from the surrounding environment. JOTC is a premier training venue for local, regional, and global partners and is at the forefront of developing tactics, techniques, and procedures for a future INDOPACOM conflict.1 In doing so, the organization is identifying equipment shortfalls within the US Army, such as jungle-specific boots that drain and dry out quickly. In recent years, JOTC helped the US Army develop and test the now-available hot weather uniforms.2 With this, it is also important to realize the US military cannot employ a one-size-fits-all equipment solution to all areas of the globe. We must leverage the lessons learned at JOTC, during INDOPACOM exercises, and from our partners in the region to reduce equipment capabilities gaps. This equipment must be acquired or developed and then fielded to train with INODPACOM-aligned units. Doing otherwise will cause US troops and units to go into battle unprepared; they will be required to execute unrehearsed operations as they go and be less effective on the battlefield.
A State Partnership Program (SPP) with Taiwan is currently in development, with multiple state National Guard units under consideration to lead this effort.3 For nearly 30 years, the SPP has been successful in strengthening defense capabilities while leveraging multi-level relationships with partner nations to bring about regional stability. An increased and continuous National Guard presence in Taiwan will help meet the security challenges posed by China while supporting the broader INDOPACOM strategy. To ensure the success of a long-term relationship, all aligned National Guard units must fully understand Taiwan’s national interests, language, cultural norms, and traditions. This requires the development of intercultural and language-training standards at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels. A comprehensive understanding of Taiwan beyond the scope of military operations, and the ability for organizations to conceptualize the problem from a perspective other than an American perspective, will reduce friction and improve mission success beyond the battlefield.
Additionally, the United States can leverage its alliances in the region and encourage countries to combat major issues through multilateralism. Strong, lasting partnerships are built on shared challenges and the willingness for countries to work together toward common goals.4 The United States can still act as the hub, but multiple partnerships, or spokes, need to tackle issues such as regional terrorism, climate change, maritime security, infrastructure development, and economic growth.5 Doing so will promote a free and open Indo-Pacific region and limit coercion and intimidation from competitors like China. Currently, the United States is assessing its force posture within INDOPACOM and its ability to deter threats while facing the tyranny of distance. Developing a force realignment strategy with our allies in the region can ensure proper force allocation and guarantee that allies welcome additional US support. This will allow for longstanding partnerships, training and exercise cooperation, and supply and logistical support while ensuring personnel are established and integrated in the region to respond to any crisis that may arise. Furthermore, the tyranny of distance is especially daunting in a contested environment, and a solution to counter this challenge must be established before China’s influence and claims of sovereignty in the regional seas expand.6 Strengthening regional partnerships will serve to build and reinforce logistical networks to fulfill and sustain operations during a future conflict.
The United States has long been viewed as a security partner in INDOPACOM and will need to increase economic involvement in Asia.7 A well-formed economic strategy within INDOPACOM is necessary to strengthen relationships and cooperation with countries in the region, reducing their alignment or dependence on China. Establishing strong economic trade alliances can decrease the likelihood of military conflict in the region by motivating countries to avoid conflict to sustain trade and economic growth while promoting the United States–backed rules-based order.8In addition, it will provide alternatives to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, reducing future leverage China may choose to wield within the region.9 Promotion of mutual bonds and interests and increased cooperation is a logical step toward shoring up relationships with the East.
Achieving the national interests of the United States hinges on avoiding strategic narcissism in the INDOPACOM AOR. To fully employ a strategy of strategic empathy, strong regional alliances and partnerships must be cultivated and maintained. The JOTC training venue and the National Guard SPP are two current efforts to prepare for a future conflict and strengthen relationships. To enhance security and promote a free and open Indo-Pacific region, the United States must mitigate the tyranny of distance by realigning its forces, leveraging economic policies to disrupt Chinese influence, and filling region-specific equipment capabilities gaps.
MAJ Jason R. Mitchell
Major Mitchell commissioned in the US Army in 2009 as a Field Artillery Officer; he currently serves as the 177th Regiment RTI Operations Officer in the Michigan Army National Guard (MIARNG), with previous assignments as the MIARNG Officer Candidate School Commander and Platoon Trainer. Prior to joining the National Guard, Major Mitchell served on active duty with the 82nd Airborne Division and 17th Field Artillery Brigade, deploying in support of Operation New Dawn and Operation Enduring Freedom. His experiences include Fires Platoon Leader, Fire Support Officer, and Assistant Operations Officer.
Maj Lucas Freudenburg
Major Freudenburg (Michigan Air National Guard 2001–present) has flown combat missions in the C-21 and the MQ-9 in Operations Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom, Freedom Sentinel, and Inherent Resolve. As an instructor pilot, he has logged more than 2,100 flying hours including 1,140 combat flying hours, primarily in the MQ-9. Major Freudenburg has served as Exercise Chair for the National Guard Bureau Readiness Center and Chief of Scheduling, Chief of Standards and Evaluations, Wing Plans, and Director of Inspection in the Inspector General Office and as the Wing Inspector General.
Capt Paige N. Campbell
Captain Campbell commissioned in the Michigan Air National Guard in 2012 as an Intelligence Officer. She currently serves as the Senior Intelligence Officer for the 191st Operations Support Group at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, MI. Prior to joining the 191st Operations Support group, Captain Campbell served as an Intelligence Officer for the 127th Operations Support Group. Her experience includes multiple deployments to USINDOPACOM supporting the KC-135 mission, deployment to US Central Command in support of Operation Inherent Resolve supporting A-10 combat operations, and providing intelligence support during numerous Air Force and joint exercises. Captain Campbell was selected for the inaugural Future Strategic Leadership Program, developed by the Adjutant General Major General Paul Rodgers, with focused area of study being USINDOPACOM.
2 Charlsy Panzino, “New in 2018: Soldier’s to test Army’s new, improved hot weather uniforms,” Military Times, 30 December 2017, https://www.armytimes.com/.
3 John Feng, “Hawaii Top Choice for Taiwan-National Guard Partnership: Report,” Newsweek. 4 January 2022, https://www.newsweek.com/.
4 William J Lederer and Eugene Burdick, The Ugly American (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2019).
5 Richard Haas, “U.S. Policy toward the Indo-Pacific: The Case for a Comprehensive Approach.” Council on Foreign Relations, 24 March 2021, https://www.cfr.org/.
6 Scott Trail, “Marine Corps CH-53K King Stallion’s technical problems have been solved, maker says,” Defense News, 24 December 2020, https://www.defensenews.com/.
7 Haas, “U.S. Policy toward the Indo-Pacific.”
9 The National Bureau of Asian Research, “Key issues in the Indo-Pacific for the 117th congress,” 8 March 2021, https://www.nbr.org/.
The views and opinions expressed or implied in JIPA are those of the authors and should not be construed as carrying the official sanction of the Department of Defense, Department of the Air Force, Air Education and Training Command, Air University, or other agencies or departments of the US government or their international equivalents.