Pacific Command Strategy Centers on Partnership, Readiness, Presence
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
HONOLULU, May 18, 2009 The three major tenets of the U.S. Pacific Command strategy – partnership, readiness and presence – are having a powerful impact in bringing together the joint, interagency and international capabilities required to promote regional stability, the command’s top officer told American Forces Press Service.
The strategy, revised last fall to better support the new U.S. national military strategy, establishes the three major keystones for engagements throughout Pacom’s area of responsibility, Navy Adm. Timothy J. Keating said.
The strategy recognizes the broad focus of the Pacom mission, he said, as well as the importance of galvanizing the broadest array of alliances, partnerships and working relationships possible to carry it out.
Almost three years into the job, Keating said he’s more convinced than ever that every player counts.
“It is more indelibly imprinted on my mind than it was on Day 1 or Day 100 or Day 500 the necessity for working on an interagency, international, multilateral basis,” he said. “It’s greater than ever, and the spirit of cooperation and collaboration engendered is unmistakable.”
As he travels Pacom’s vast area of responsibility – half the surface of the globe that includes half its population spread across 36 countries – Keating works to build on that spirit of partnership.
And with few exceptions, he said, he’s impressed to find that across a very broad spectrum, “folks have common goals and are increasingly cohesive in working together to achieve those goals.”
Even the smallest countries in the region have a role to play, he said. “There is no country so big that they can make all the strategic decisions and execute themselves, and there is no country so small that it can’t make a contribution,” Keating said, borrowing an observation from former Joint Chiefs Chairman Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace.
“We’ve got big countries and we’ve got small countries [within the AOR],” he said. “And as we travel and talk and watch and work with the folks of Tonga through Mongolia to India and everybody in between, we are seeing firsthand that they are all interested” in working together toward common goals.
The most striking example of these growing military-to-military relationships comes in the form of military exercises, which have increased significantly in scope, sophistication and participation.
Keating pointed to the Malabar 2009 naval exercise that wrapped up May 3 as an example of the growing combined exercise program. India led this year’s Malabar, in which about 4,000 members of the Indian, U.S. and Japanese navies trained together in surface, subsurface and air operations. They also conducted a visit, board, search and seizure operation aboard USS Blue Ridge to simulate searching a merchant vessel.
Similarly, this year’s Cobra Gold exercise in Thailand included five principal participants and 22 observers, including China.
“These are full-scale amphibious landings with jets screeching overhead, ships operating offshore and thousands of soldiers participating in real field training exercises,” Keating said. Cobra Gold also included a humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercise, as well as U.N. peacekeeping training.
The scenarios are designed to be tactically and operationally challenging, with a span that’s appealing and valuable to every participant, Keating said.
“Not everybody in our AOR … has aircraft carriers, F22s and the 25th Infantry Division,” he said. “But the key is tactics, techniques and procedures. … And the exercises are devised and implemented to be very challenging across a wide spectrum, because everyone has some contribution to make.”
Dovetailing with exercises, military educational exchanges provide forums for sharing expertise as well as understanding. Keating noted high interest among partner nations in sending their senior commissioned and noncommissioned officers – and those destined to fill those ranks -- to U.S. military schools.
“That is one of the most important initiatives our country has,” he said. U.S. training assistance pays off in enhancing partner nations’ capabilities so they can play a bigger role in current and potential missions, the admiral explained.
One striking example is taking place in the Straits of Malacca. The strategic waterway linking the Indian and Pacific oceans that was plagued by piracy until Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore formed a partnership focused on maritime security. Thailand and the Philippines are increasingly participating as well.
The result is a dramatic drop in pirate attacks – from almost 50 a year just three years ago to less than five in 2008, Keating said.
Although the U.S. military provided training as well as technology and equipment support to the initiative, Keating described it as a minor supporting role, as the partners took center stage to carry it out. That’s a critical point, he said, because the U.S. military simply can’t be everywhere there’s a current or potential threat.
“This is an advantage of partnership,” he said. “We in the United States don’t have to be everywhere, doing everything. By increased cooperation and collaboration, we can rely on and depend on our friends, allies [and] partners throughout the region.”
As Pacom strives to increase capability among partner militaries, it’s also promoting another key tenet of its strategy – readiness – at home, Keating said.
Like their counterparts elsewhere throughout the U.S. military, Pacom-based ground, air and naval elements have been taxed supporting operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, Keating conceded. But these demands have never jeopardized the command’s ability to execute its security plans, he said.
“We are a force ready. We are a force equipped. We are a force trained,” he said.
In fact, Pacom is benefitting from the vast combat experience of its force, which Keating called “unparalleled in our country’s history.”
“These young men and women have been in the crucible,” he said. Young troops have been thrust into leadership roles in combat, and find themselves making strategic-level decisions at the corporal level.
“We have this bench strength that is unprecedented, and we will enjoy the benefits of their very, very demanding work for decades,” Keating said. “And in United States Pacific Command, we capitalize on that every day.”
These forces provide the day-to-day presence Keating said sends an unmistakable message of the United States’ continued commitment to the region.
“Virtual presence equals actual absence,” he said, borrowing a junior officer term. “You can do all the [video teleconferences] you want, and you can have instantaneous global communications. But nothing replaces boots on the ground, jets in the air and ships in the harbor. You have to have forces ready, and then you have to have forces present.”
Sometimes that presence is subtle, as in the upcoming Pacific Partnership mission that will send U.S. military, nongovernmental agency and volunteer medical professionals throughout the South Pacific on a humanitarian assistance mission.
Emphasizing the “partnership” in the Pacific Partnership mission, Keating called the program a “profoundly powerful” way to reach out to and bring hope to those in need.
“It’s also a great way to win the hearts and minds of thousands and thousands of people in our area of responsibility,” he said.
The direct result, he said, is less likelihood that they’ll elect to support violent extremists, making it more difficult for them to operate.
“Our overarching mission is to defend the homeland and prevail in the struggle against violent extremism,” he said. “And folks are less likely to support violent extremism if they understand the goodwill expressed by the citizens of the United States of America and other countries in our AOR.”
These and other initiatives – all promoting partnership, readiness and presence in the region – are having a positive impact in promoting peace and stability, Keating said.
“I am convinced it is working,” he said of the Pacom strategy.
One measure of that success, he said, is the fact that the region continues to enjoy a relative peace, with no significant military incidents and no state-on-state conflict.
“In a way, it’s what hasn’t happened,” Keating said. “Some of that is good fortune. But a lot of it is due to a concerted effort by a lot of people, including those at Pacific Command.”