The Backbone of U.S. Joint Operations

U.S. Army Roles in the Indo Pacific

Waves crash over the side of U.S. Army Vessel Churubusco in the Persian Gulf Jan. 9 during the training mission Operation Spartan Mariner.

Waves crash over the side of a U.S. Army landing craft utility (LCU) during training mission Operation Spartan Mariner

Photo by Maj. M. Gamble See/U.S. Army

A new volume from RAND Arroyo Center examines future roles for the U.S. Army in the Indo-Pacific. The Department of Defense has defined the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) as its priority theater.

INDOPACOM's area of responsibility contains more than 60 percent of the global population, seven of the ten largest militaries, and half of the ten largest manufacturing economies. Three of the United States' most stressing adversaries— the People's Republic of China (PRC), Russia, and North Korea— as well as enduring threats of violent extremists and non-state actors. To operate in the region, the Joint Force must contend with geographic challenges to force projection—time, distance, and limited land areas from which to operate.

The U.S. Army offers an evolving set of unique, reinforcing, and supporting roles to face these operational challenges in INDOPACOM. The Army is the backbone for enduring and integrated U.S. military joint operations. RAND researchers adopted several approaches to identify, assess, construct, and communicate narratives on the Army's role in the Indo-Pacific out to 2035. To explore the team's three conflict scenarios and projected roles, you can read the volume in your browser, or download a PDF copy of the report.

Findings from this project were published in 2023. The full volume includes maps and visualizations that describe three scenarios from the present day out to 2035.

Explore the Report Online

You can also download a free PDF to print or for offline use.

Competition and Conflict: Three Scenarios

An M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) launches a PrSM with an extended range beyond 400 km at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. The Army is also collaborating with the Navy to develop a land-based Tomahawk and Standard Missile-6 (SM-6) capability to augment its long-range precision arsenal.

An M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System launches a Precision Strike Missile (PrSM). (PrSM) is one of the Army's front-running munitions that addresses Long Range Precision Fires.

Photo by White Sands Missile Range

Researchers identified potential trends, enduring constraints, and Indo-Pacific ally and partner dynamics that will shape where, when, and how the Joint Force might operate within the theater. From these, they developed three scenarios that span from competition occurring today to potential crisis and conflict in the year 2035:

  1. Distant Border Clash

    The Competition and Crisis in the Aksai Chin Region scenario explores how the U.S. Army can develop military relationships with emerging partners in competition and provide non-combat support during crisis with limited to no access.
  2. Coercive Belligerence

    The Competition, Crisis, and Conflict in the South China Sea scenario explores how the U.S. Army can provide support to allies and the Joint Force in maritime crises, despite initial reluctance to allow additional U.S. combat power on allied territory prior to an overt Chinese attack.
  3. Multi-Region Crisis and Conflict

    Competition, Taiwan Strait Conflict, and Simultaneous Korean Peninsula Crisis outlines an Indo-Pacific scenario where simultaneous crisis and conflicts occur, stressing the Joint Force through overlapping and distinct operational challenges across both.

See the full volume for a detailed breakdown of each scenario, or jump to the scenarios in the online viewer.

Overarching U.S. Army Roles in the Indo-Pacific

Through table-top exercises, workshops, and an assessment of completed research—framed by the three analytic scenarios—the report identifies the following primary roles for the Army in the Indo-Pacific region.

Joint enabler

Ensuring joint military combat power is enduring and integrated across the region and throughout a conflic

U.S. Army Pacific Soldiers with Black Watch Company conduct operations on the island of Anguar in the Republic of Palau.

Photo by Staff Sgt. Solomon Navarro/U.S. Army

Adversary capabilities will continue to make joint operational concepts more disaggregated and conflict more rapid. These trends will further complicate operational demands across the region and within individual countries, stressing logistics distribution, air defense and ground security, communications, and C2. Overall, given the size, capabilities, and historical experience of the Army, it is uniquely placed to coordinate and provide this decisive support. As crises and conflicts become increasingly theater-wide and global, the Army will help ensure joint military combat power is enduring and integrated across the region and throughout a conflict. In addition, the Army has important roles in addressing post-crisis and conflict demands through reestablishing territorial control or assisting in or coordinating civil-military relations and reconstruction efforts.

Joint kinetic fight

Conducting tactical and operational support to target and deliver nonlethal or lethal effects

U.S. Army and Philippine soldiers take their positions as U.S Army senior leaders arrive during a combined live fire exercise in support of Salaknib at Colonel Ernesto Rabina Air Base in the Philippines, March 21, 2022.

Photo by Joshua Oller/U.S. Army

Fires allow the Joint Force to deliver specific lethal or nonlethal effects on a target at range. To execute successful fires, the Joint Force requires several different capabilities—not only the artillery, aircraft, or naval weapons, but the ability to find, identify, and track adversary targets. The Indo-Pacific region in particular presents challenges to joint fires through its distinct maritime-focused geography, reach of adversary capabilities, and a target-dense environment. Key targets for the Joint Force include maritime vessels, air defenses, logistics and command nodes, and advancing adversary ground forces. The value of Army ground-based LRPF depends greatly on positioning, survivability, and whether LRPF could bring an operationally significant volume of fire against adversary forces. In addition, a potentially significant Army contribution is the tactical and operational integration of multiple cyber, space, and electronic warfare intelligence sources to support joint targeting.

Strengthen and leverage relationships

Integrating regional deterrence through allied and partner relationship- and capacity-building

Soldiers from 2nd Infantry Division's 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team and the Royal Thai Army conduct training during the Cobra Gold exercise in Phitsanulok, Thailand,.

Photo by Sgt. Alvin Reeves/U.S. Army

The Army's role in allied and partner engagement and military relationship-building is critical to U.S. efforts to counter China's coercive activities and growing military capabilities. The United States will require allies and partners to enhance regional, integrated deterrence and support almost every contingency. Armies are the most prominent service in many Indo-Pacific countries, providing the U.S. Army with opportunities to help shape those countries' joint strategies and operational concepts and provide crucial coordination between partner and joint forces during conflict. Through training and other military engagements, the Army can not only help enhance allied and partner conventional capabilities but also assist in strengthening military and civilian resilience and responses to increasingly sophisticated Chinese gray zone activities.

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