Pacific Pathways overcomes the tyranny of distance

| March 4, 2016 | 0 Comments
Pacific Pathways overcomes the tyranny of distance

Friends and families bid farewell to the crew of Logistic Support Vessel-2, the U.S. Army Vessel CW3 Harold A. Clinger, here June 6, as the Hawaii-based Army Watercraft System began its first trans-Pacific voyage in support of Pacific Pathways 15.2. The vessel will be supporting Talisman Sabre 15 in Australia, Garuda Shield 15 in Indonesia and Keris Strike 15 in Malaysia. (Courtesy photo from 545th Transportation Company, 45th Sustainment Brigade, 8th Theater Sustainment Command)


Brig. Gen. Kurt J. Ryan
Army News Service

The Pacific Pathways program strengthens security cooperation and provides an array of options for the U.S. government to respond to crises in the Pacific region.

The Army is testing new ways of engaging throughout the Pacific.

To get there and operate there, the Army is experimenting with an innovative employment concept known as “Pacific Pathways,” or just “Pathways” for short.

The program leverages contract and military sealift married with Army capability packages to operate across the Pacific for two purposes: to strengthen security cooperation and conduct crisis response. A unit deploying under this program is called a Pathway.

The Army conducted three Pacific Pathways deployments in 2015 and participated in multinational exercises in Thailand, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia and Japan. Each deployment consisted of elements of a brigade combat team from the 25th Infantry Division.

Two Pathways are scheduled for 2016, and more are planned for 2017.

Pathways represents a new way of doing business. It saves the Army money by reducing back-and-forth transportation costs for individual engagement exercises.

The Pathways initiative also allows the United States to have a rotational presence in parts of the Pacific where permanent basing may not be possible, thereby providing a quick response capability for humanitarian emergencies or regional crises.

The Pathways program certainly has areas that can be improved. Current laws and policy limit access to the most capable and cost-effective vessels – those that are owned by the government and managed by the Military Sealift Command.

When U.S. government vessels are not available, the government prefers contracting U.S. flag commercial ships. When these ships are unavailable, the military must rely on contracting other commercial vessels.

The first problem is that the Army in the Pacific currently lacks dedicated strategic and operational intra-theater assigned sealift. Having dedicated strategic sealift vessels instead of relying on commercial vessels would make the Pathways initiative more effective.

It would allow access to shallower ports; enable multiple loading and unloading options; provide secure communications; offer bunks for more troops; allow for bulk fuel, ammunition and water storage; and provide maintenance and medical treatment facilities. It would also strengthen the capabilities of the U.S. Pacific Command.

Second, to increase effective operational capability for units on a Pathways deployment, a tailored array of crisis-response equipment and supplies should be part of the unit’s ship manifest. For example, during typhoon season, a Pathways ship could contain humanitarian crisis response equipment and supplies, such as emergency shelter supplies, food, bottled water and medical kits, in addition to the equipment necessary for the unit’s planned military exercises.

To strengthen the ability of any Pathways unit to engage in crisis response, the Army should strengthen expeditionary mission command packages – preferably at the division level – and routinely exercise them during a comprehensive emergency deployment readiness exercise.

These command and control elements could be structured and trained to fly on short notice for rapid deployment on a small number of cargo airplanes.

Linking this rapidly deployable command and control capability with a Pathways unit could dramatically improve the nation’s ability to respond to typhoons, tsunamis and other crises in the vast Indo-Asia-Pacific region.

By placing units on a Pathway for several months, the Army contributes to effectively meeting regional objectives for military-to-military engagement while also providing senior U.S. leaders with flexibility and options for responding to crises across the huge distances in the Pacific.

Learning from and improving on the Pacific Pathways deployments will ensure that future iterations will provide greater value for the. The Army continues to build security and stability with allies and partners throughout the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.

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