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NEWS | May 15, 2024

US Army Pacific, ally military leaders discuss deepening partnership

By Maj. Jonathan Lewis, U.S. Army Pacific Public Affairs Office

The most senior military officers with U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC), the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF), the Republic of Korea Army, and the Australian Army spoke optimistically about the potential for broader and more frequent cooperation between their forces in a panel May 15, 2024, during the Land Forces in the Pacific (LANPAC) conference hosted here by the Association of the U.S. Army.

The four general officers spoke about partnership, cooperation, understanding, and deterrence to an international audience of military leaders from across the Indo-Pacific, in this 11th and so far, largest iteration of this annual conference.

"The greatest counterweight that we have to any adversary actions is the network of allies and partners," said Gen. Charles A. Flynn, commanding general, USARPAC, as he opened the panel. He highlighted the dramatic increases in scale, realism, and relevance of the U.S. Army's training with allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific. Flynn also mentioned the increase in multi-lateral exercises, noting that several exercises continue to grow, some with up to 30,000 soldiers from over a dozen countries participating.

One of the central ideas discussed in the panel was that the armies must strengthen the ‘strategic landpower network,’ a label for the relationships between ally and partner armies which train together toward collective security in the Indo-Pacific region. The network regularly practices its functions and builds its ties through Operation Pathways, the U.S. Army’s exercise program that brings armies together in bilateral and multilateral training across the region, with logistics linkage between exercises and countries.

“Our job is to develop, demonstrate, rehearse the collective capability that gives expression to the collective will in our region,” said Lt. Gen. Simon Stuart, Chief of Army, Australia. “We're doing it better, faster every day.”

Stuart highlighted how Talisman Sabre, originally a bilateral U.S.-Australia military exercise, has grown to include more countries, more troops, and more integration in the last few years. It’s now one of the largest exercises in the region.

The other idea central to the panel’s discussion was that ‘positioning’ is essential. Stuart said that positioning allows for persistent interaction with allies and partners, which in turn develops relationships, trust, and assurance. It supports integrated deterrence and confers additional risk on a would-be aggressor.

The panel was noteworthy for the inclusion of Japan's and South Korea's most senior army officers, seated side by side, and talking about increasing cooperation. With the caveat that further increasing their partnership would require national policy-level reviews, each expressed interest in working closer together.

"We're making plans towards the future with a trilateral concept with Japan and the U.S. and how we're going to make this training beneficial for the future," said Gen. Park An Su, Chief of Staff, Republic of Korea Army through an interpreter. "This trilateral collaboration is only at the starting point, but I believe we can see the expanded version sometime in the future."

Gen. Yasunori Morishita, Chief of Staff, JGSDF said through his interpreter that the JGSDF benefits from training with the U.S. and others in ally and partner training areas such as the Joint Pacific Multinational Readiness Center (JPMRC). "As Gen. Park said, it's important for us to work together, human-to-human, to develop a shared understanding, from the senior level to the field level, to train together and develop the credibility of our collective will."

Gen. Park and Gen. Morishita both said their countries are interested in further collaboration on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions, as well as other trans-national, non-military cooperation.

Both located geographically close to China, Japan and South Korea are each long-time allies of the United States. The three countries announced a trilateral military cooperation relationship following top-level talks last summer at Camp David, Maryland. President Joe Biden, South Korea’s President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japan’s Prime Minister Kishida Fumio met to discuss the details and then formally announced the agreement Aug. 18, 2023. This meeting paved the way for multilateral military exercises and facilitated information sharing about North Korea’s ballistic missile and cyber activities.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III called the meeting historic. “Cooperation among our three countries delivers security and prosperity for our people, the Indo-Pacific region and the world," he said. "We are working more closely than ever with the Republic of Korea and Japan in support of a common vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific region."

Gen. Flynn spoke about ‘projecting our alliances’ into the region, referring to Operation Pathways, multi-lateral collaboration at JPMRC, and the development of the strategic landpower network.

Gen. Morishita said Japan’s exercise Yama Sakura has also expanded and that the JGSDF seeks engagement with more partners in that exercise, adding that “It’s important to show the world our cooperation.”

Gen. Park expressed the same commitment to demonstrating cooperation and partnership, by practicing the defense of freedom through military exercises. He added details about Republic of Korea Army training at the U.S. National Training Center, and a U.S. Marines unit from Okinawa training in the mountains of the Korea Combat Training Center and then repeated that he looks forward to more multi-lateral training with the JGSDF.

Gen. Stuart said that building the strategic landpower network is projecting our alliances and that working with allies and partners enhances our options. He emphasized that the training creates persistent connections that are important in terms of campaigning to deter.

​The four general officers ended the panel discussion reiterating their intent to continue working together to expand security cooperation and partnership.

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