In discussions of the so-called Asia pivot, the roles of the U.S. Navy and Air Force have been prominent, especially given the Pentagon’s development of the Air-Sea Battle concept. But the U.S. pivot to the Asia-Pacific cannot be reduced to Air-Sea Battle. The strategic rebalancing is a collective effort that spans all federal departments and all branches of the military. The Army, in particular, has a significant, if less understood, role to play.
In determining the respective roles of the Army, Air Force and Navy in the Asia-Pacific, policymakers must keep in mind the larger picture of the pivot’s objectives: to protect U.S. interests in the region and to manage China’s rise. The U.S. Army can contribute to these goals through its forward-positioned units, which can support both U.S diplomacy and a U.S deterrence strategy in both the military and political domains.
The U.S Army has long had a strong presence in the Pacific, due to its bases in California and Hawaii, and Asia, due to bases in Japan, South Korea and, until 1992, the Philippines. The human experience of being “in country” provides valuable cultural and practical information that cannot be gathered through the use of drones and satellites. The Army recognizes the need for such “special” information, especially after having fought the unconventional wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where cultural sensitivity quickly became the highest priority in both population-centric counterinsurgency campaigns.