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Research Questions

  1. What are the military and geopolitical trends in the Indo-Pacific, and what are China's strategies and tools for pursuing its objectives in the region?
  2. What are the operational challenges for the Army?
  3. What are the major constraints facing U.S. land force posture and operations in this theater?
  4. How feasible are three foundational concepts for land power projection in the Indo-Pacific, and what are their implications?

This report seeks to address how the U.S. Army can most effectively project and employ land power in the Indo-Pacific, during competition and conflict, with a focus on scenarios involving China. The authors developed three concepts to guide the Army's ground force role in the theater, offering the essential architecture of basing, information, relationships, and flexible combat power needed to make the joint force effective.

In addition to outlining the elements of a wide-ranging, dynamic Army role in the region, the authors produced several complementary insights that could help shape Army planning for the theater. Most of these are already a major part of thinking at U.S. Army Pacific. General principles of future Army power projection in the region are well understood; the task now is to take seriously their full implications and build the needed capabilities. The authors also identified several elements of a refined vision of power projection for the Army. That new vision includes several roles and missions apart from flowing large combat forces and focuses on smaller units that are more feasible within the assessed operational constraints.

Key Findings

  • The infrastructure for large-scale military operations—including logistical, surveillance and sensing, and communication networks—is lacking. Enhanced ground force combat capacity and capability will be largely irrelevant if this remains unchanged.
  • Modular, scalable options are critical. In a crisis or wartime scenario, what the commander or partner needs will vary by situation.
  • It is better to plan to deploy functions, not units. What will contribute most to Army roles in the theater will be essential functions that may require task-specific collections of functional capabilities.
  • Information resilience is a foundational requirement. In peacetime, crisis, and war, China, the primary U.S. rival in the Indo-Pacific, has identified U.S. information vulnerabilities as a major focus of its efforts.
  • The capacity to plug into partner militaries, very rapidly and with high levels of efficiency, will be a critical determinant of success or failure in most scenarios.
  • Horizontal-escalation options are minimal and dangerous. There do not seem to be promising roles or missions for the Army in threatening attacks or harassment outside the primary theater of operations.
  • The Army would benefit from tailoring its capabilities and force structure in U.S. Indo-Pacific Command to the operational requirements, not the other way around.

Recommendations

  • The United States and the Army should think of power projection as a task spanning all the phases of competition and conflict. Laying the groundwork for wartime operations in this massive theater is an essential task.
  • Establish relatively light, quickly deployable Army headquarters units as the foundational nodes of a command and control network, even though command and control as a general function will be shared by all services.
  • In a future multidomain operations environment, sensing and locating targets, especially under continuous cyber and electronic warfare attack, will be critical functions. Both in peacetime presence and early wartime deployments, the Army will project power in part by conducting this task.
  • Missions that improve the physical and institutional capabilities of the countries with which the United States is likely to fight are another way of projecting combat power.
  • Project combat effects virtually in such areas as cyber, space, and information warfare, using significant reach-back to capabilities based in the continental United States.
  • Prevent enemy power projection through air defense, counterspace, electronic warfare, antiship strike, and other means.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was sponsored by the United States Army and conducted within Strategy, Doctrine, and Resources Program within the RAND Arroyo Center.

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