BLOG: the US refocus on the Pacific
25 Sep 12 | By Tim Mahon
In January this year the United States announced a ‘new’ defence strategy, indicating it would ‘rebalance’ its deployed military forces towards Asia-Pacific, noting that US security and economic interests are "inextricably linked” to the region.
US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has recently been at pains to point out this is not a strategy aimed at either containing or threatening China. But with the world’s second largest economy (though there are signs that the boom is slowing dramatically) and armed forces that are being transformed with significant financial and technological investment, the impartial observer has to conclude that China represents a major consideration for the implementation of the new US strategy.
However, the prospect of more training and a larger number of
bilateral and multilateral exercises in the region reared its head recently. In
an interview given to Associated Press from his Hawaii headquarters Lieutenant
General Francis J. Wiercinski, commander of US Army Pacific, indicated he is
looking for his forces to undertake more training with nations such as India,
Indonesia, Japan and Malaysia.
As the US withdraws from Afghanistan, the army forces in the
region will still be considerable: over 70,000 troops.
The exercises proposed, however, are likely to cover a wide range of scenarios and force strengths. Not only will there likely be arrangements similar to the US Marines, who regularly rotate up to 2,500 troops through an Australian training camp near Darwin, there are also probably going to be a large number of exercises such as the current disaster relief preparation drill taking place in Tonga with a handful of US Army specialists. As threats evolve and the role of the military continues to change, this sort of quasi-military exercise in collaboration with other governmental agencies is bound to increase.
This raises the question of the training facilities available for such exercises. Bilateral exercises may well settle for existing facilities, with the exercise scenario built around what is possible rather than trying to create new facilities from scratch. But what about multilateral exercises? How can realistic training be provided on a distributed basis across a vast region while accommodating the requirement for skills enhancement and new training?
One answer, of course, is simulation. Existing US distributed training facilities will undoubtedly form the core of a network that could offer significant training advantages, but will we see integration of other national assets into the mix. Will the new National Modelling & Simulation Centre in Brunei, built by CAE, find itself acting as an exercise hub at the centre of regional activities? Will we see US troops joining their Indian counterparts in T-72 and Arjun tank gunnery simulators? To what extent will joint training be possible, involving regional air forces and naval units in collaboration with ground troops?
It is early days as yet to determine answers to these questions with any degree of accuracy. But as budget cuts continue to hit hard, all forces involved – especially the US – are going to be looking for a better and bigger bang for their buck. So companies such as CAE, Rheinmetall, Cubic, BAE Systems and Saab, all of whom have significant bandwidth of capability and considerable assets in the region, may well find themselves addressing a market for contracted-out exercise support services. All have a deal of experience in doing this in Europe and other more traditional markets – it will be interesting to see how that experience plays out on a broader, more variegated tapestry.