Army leaders stress alliances, logistics at Waikiki conference

As Army leaders and other military officials gathered in Honolulu last week for the Association of the U.S. Army’s Land Forces of the Pacific symposium at the Sheraton Waikiki, mobility and logistics in the vast Pacific region took center stage in many conversations. The annual conference attracted 14 chiefs of Army from around the world.

It takes place as analysts have argued about where defense spending should go in the Pacific, a region that the Pentagon has long considered to be the realm of naval commanders. But as tensions with China simmer, the Army has been deploying troops around the region and trying to bolster its relations with other armies in the region. Army leaders want their presence to be known.


“The time is now for land power, ” said Gen. Charles Flynn, the commander of U.S. Army Pacific at Fort Shafter, in a keynote address kicking off the conference Tuesday. “The time is now for the United States Army to tell our story about the central role the Army has long played, and is playing, in the Indo-Pacific.”

During a panel at the conference in which Flynn shared the stage with Adm. Samuel Paparo, the commander of the U.S. Navy’s vast Pacific Fleet, Paparo said that he saw a need to deepen cooperation between forces on both land and sea. In particular, commanders are thinking of how to move their forces across the vast region as well as keeping them supplied with fuel, food and weapons they need to do their jobs.

“Sustainment is the hardest operational environment for a line combat arms commander to visualize and, accordingly, it’s got to be the area that we work absolutely hardest on,” Paparo said. “The force that teams the best is going to win in the end. And that, in the very end, is in the training of the joint force soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, guardians, Coast Guardsmen, among us all.”

The Army has for years been sending its forces around the region through Operation Pathways, which cycles American units in the Pacific through countries around the region as well as calling on them to host foreign forces at American bases for training events as the United States and China compete for influence. Last year, troops from the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia trained in Hawaii at the Pohakuloa Training Area.

But as the Army looks to its future on land in the Pacific, in Hawaii the service has been preparing for what could be a fight to renew leases on state land that the military trains on, which are set to expire in 2029.

Since November 2021, when fuel from the Navy’s underground Red Hill facility tainted the service’s Oahu water system, which serves 93, 000 people, island residents and leaders have been reassessing their relationship with the military. This month, Joint Task Force Red Hill, the organization tasked with removing fuel from the facility, announced Red Hill’s fuel tanks could be emptied as early as January.

As the military prepares to redistribute that fuel, the Pentagon is looking at the future of logistics and operations in Hawaii and around the Pacific.

“Competition requires presence, and if our partners don’t want us there, then we can’t be present, we can’t compete,” said Lt. Gen. Xavier Brunson, commander of the Army’s I Corps at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state. I Corps includes several units at JBLM, the 11th Airborne Division in Alaska, the 25th Infantry Division on Oahu and U.S. Army Japan.

Since 2012, the Army has tasked I Corps with focusing on Pacific operations through Pathways. Brunson has been working to streamline communications and organization of his far-flung forces as they conduct missions across their vast area of operations.

“The best way that we can compete is by assuring our partners and our friends in the region that we’re going to be there,” Brunson said. “Assurance is power. And again, if we take it down to its base level, it’s those human relationships that we build over time, through our campaigning effort, that is Pathways.”

China has been embroiled in a series of disputes with neighboring countries over territorial and navigation rights in the South China Sea, a critical waterway that a third of all international trade travels through. Beijing considers the entire sea its exclusive territory and has built bases on disputed islands and reefs to assert its claims.

Regional leaders are increasingly concerned that tensions between China and Taiwan could spark a major regional conflict. Beijing considers self-ruled Taiwan a rogue province, and Chinese leader Xi Jinping has vowed to bring it under China’s control by military force if necessary. A war or blockade of the island could disrupt trade across the Pacific and send ripples through the global economy.

Just south of Taiwan, the Philippines and China have sparred over the disputed islands. In 2016, an international court ruled in the Philippines’ favor and declared that Beijing’s territorial claims had “no legal basis.” But the Chinese military has continued to build bases and regularly intimidates Filipino fishermen in the area.

The Philippines recently elected President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who campaigned promising to negotiate with Chinese leaders to reduce tensions in disputed territories. But since Marcos took office, Chinese forces have continued to aggressively harass Philippine vessels and relations have soured even further.

After the Philippines signed an agreement with the Pentagon earlier this year, China’s ambassador to the country, Huang Xilian, seemingly threatened Filipinos living and working in Taiwan. During an appearance last month at the Manila Forum for Philippines-­China Relations, Huang said “the Philippines is advised to unequivocally oppose ‘Taiwan independence’ rather than stoking the fire by offering the U.S. access to the military bases near the Taiwan Strait if you care about the 150, 000 overseas foreign workers.”

The Army’s 25th Infantry Division at the Schofield Barracks has been regularly training in the Philippines and hosting Philippine Army troops in Hawaii through Pathways.

Maj. Gen. Joseph Ryan, commander of the 25th, told the Star-Advertiser that in the past “when I would talk to Philippine Army generals about the threat from China not just in the South China Sea, but to Taiwan and in the region, they would hand wave it, they would not really address it. They would change the subject … today is different.”

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