As Army leaders look toward the next steps in modernizing the force, they stressed the importance of working with allied partners both in Europe and in Southeast Asia.
In the midst of a $178 billion fiscal year 2021 budget proposal, the Army plans to expand its competitive advantage against near peers in Southeast Asia and the Pacific region.
During an event in Washington Wednesday sponsored by the Center for a New American Security, Army Secretary Ryan D. McCarthy said the service is exploring the possibility of establishing expeditionary bases in Southeast Asia, similar to those on the European continent.
While McCarthy said in a trip overseas that foreign military partners in the region have shown enthusiasm toward expanding basing, potentially to serve as locations for military exercises such as Pacific Pathways. Facing the threat of China's own modernization efforts and its anti-access/area denial sensor technology, establishing a forward operating base for long-range precision fires could help quell that threat, he said.
"It's amazing how energetic they are for us to establish more robust expeditionary basing to increase the size and scale of our exercises," the Army secretary said. "It's tremendous energy. We have not had a specific discussion about that to date. But nothing but excitement."
Last week the service announced the activation of V Corps, which will support an operational command post in Europe, but will be based in the United States at Fort Knox, Kentucky. V Corps is expected to be established by the fall.
The Army created emergency deployment readiness exercise program Defender 2020 in Europe to boost Soldier readiness in the region, along with helping Soldiers synchronize with partner nations and enforce the National Defense Strategy.
"The National Defense Strategy talks about great power competition," said Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville. "It talks about great power competition, but great power competition does not necessarily mean great power conflict. The way you avoid conflict is through strength. The way you avoid it is strong relationships with partners and allies in the region and working together."
McCarthy cited the service's greater emphasis on the annual Pacific Pathways joint military exercises, held in Thailand and the Philippines, where the U.S. trains with partner nations. McCarthy and McConville have had their eye on the region since they served as the Army's undersecretary and vice chief of staff, respectively. They previously met with U.S. Indo-Pacific commander Adm. Philip Davidson to discuss operations, plans and capabilities, specifically what he needs to keep a competitive edge over near-peer threats.
"There's going to be no greater deterrence than boots on the ground, training side-by-side with allies," McCarthy said.
In Defender 2020, the U.S. will deploy a division-sized force to six European nations, the largest American deployment of its size in more than two decades. The deployment will coincide with other annual exercises in Europe to increase readiness and interoperability by mobilizing a large combat unit to respond to a crisis. The exercise actually began Jan. 23 with rail transport of equipment to ports from Fort Hood and Fort Bliss, Texas, and also from Fort Stewart, Georgia.
"Standing together with our allies and partners shows strength," McConville said. "And Defender 2020 is an exercise that allows us to practice, rehearse our ability to bring forces into Europe and work closely with our partners and that's what's going to happen in the next couple of months."
McConville noted another measure that could strengthen U.S. forces: the Joint Chiefs of Staff support a joint command and control system among the services called the Joint All-Domain Command and Control system. The system will coordinate combat across multiple domains. The system would standardize data and deliver it more rapidly to troops on the ground. McConville said that the Army is close to signing an agreement in April toward establishing the system.
The Army has been working on an Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System, or IBCS, that will share sensors among different shooters, ranging from Avengers to Patriot missiles systems. The Army is also experimenting with high-energy laser and microwave technology to bolster its air and missile defense capabilities.
"Some of the problem sets we see in the future that range from unmanned aerial systems or swarms," McConville said. "You don't want to be shooting Patriot missiles at small UASs (unmanned aircraft systems). So you have to come up with solutions sets to that and then on the far side you have hypersonic missiles that you've got to deal with. What it really comes down to is a layered type defense that picks the right weapon system at the right range and protects the forces."