Fort Shafter, HI - Regional army chiefs and leaders addressed priorities and methods for operating responsibly in a COVID-19 environment during the first Indo-Pacific Landpower Conference, May 19-20, hosted virtually by Gen. Paul J. LaCamera, commanding general of U.S. Army Pacific.
“These are unprecedented times, but we must make a concerted effort to remain connected, to share best practices and lessons learned, and adapt our operations and activities to the new environment we’re facing,” said LaCamera.
During the two-day conference, entitled “Preserving a Free and Open Indo-Pacific post COVID-19,” leaders from 23 armies participated in a series of keynote addresses and panel discussions about the significant challenges currently facing the armies in the region.
The army leaders and representatives from the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command’s Joint force, industry and academia exchanged ideas for increased cooperation toward a rules-based international system.
Providing first-day keynote remarks, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, Commander, Adm. Phil S. Davidson emphasized the current priorities for U.S. joint forces throughout the region: protecting our people, maintaining readiness and assisting the whole of government response.
“Protecting our people has remained my top priority from the beginning,” said Davidson. “We continue to take all prudent measures to limit the spread of COVID-19, while also ensuring the Joint Force is trained and ready to defend the nation.”
Davidson added that despite the cancellation or postponement of various exercises, he remained confident of the readiness of the force and the availability of alternative solutions to regional training that would continue to enhance interoperability alongside allies and partners.
Gen. James C. McConville, chief of staff of the U.S. Army, joined the forum the second day and expounded upon the adaptive nature of the force to respond to the pandemic and mitigate its impact.
“I have been very encouraged over the last few months by the incredible flexibility and ingenuity of our armed forces,” McConville said. “We’ve adapted all across the Army, putting new processes in place to ensure the health and safety of our people.”
In a discussion among the army chiefs, Royal Thai Army Commander in Chief, Gen. Apirat Kongsompong, highlighted the exercises Cobra Gold and Hanuman Guardian as positive examples of how the U.S. Army and RTA demonstrated the discipline to prevent any infection among the thousands of soldiers involved.
Reaffirming that COVID-19 is a global challenge that no nation can face alone, one panel centered on the successful response efforts employed to mitigate the spread of the virus.
Leaders from 8th Army, based on the Korean peninsula, facilitated presentations from representatives of the Republic of Korea Army and the Taiwan Army, sharing best practices to broaden understanding and enable more effective measures to combat the virus.
“The key factor that allowed the ROK Army to successfully interdict the impact of COVID-19 and prevent the spread of the virus was our preemptive lockdown and halt to all passes and leaves months prior to the government’s social distancing implementation, and preventive quarantine standards stricter than health authority measures,” said Chief of Staff Republic of Korea Army, Gen. Suh Wook.
Suh further described recent training performed by the ROKA at the regimental level and successful completion without any confirmed cases using a framework focused on separation, multi-level prevention and strategical communication. He expected to expand future field training based on this experience and framework.
Also with a focus towards the future, a panel hosted by America’s First Corps at Joint Base Lewis-McChord explored ways USARPAC will continue to exercise many of the Army’s modernization priorities alongside the Japan Ground Self Defense Force and Australian Defence Force. Panel members presented their vision of the employment of forces capable of seamless, multi-domain warfighting between the physical and virtual worlds.
Conference participants represented armies from Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Maldives, Mongolia, Nepal, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Timor Leste, Tonga, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Along with the army chiefs and joint force members from Indo-Pacific Command, additional participants included representation from the U.S. Department of State, Hawaii’s local diplomatic corps, the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Strategic Studies, and the University of Hawaii.
In closing, LaCamera described the value of the bilateral and multilateral network of armies dedicated to preserving the ideal of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific.
“The strength of our alliances and partnerships in the Indo-Pacific is our greatest military capability, and our advantage is our soldiers,” he said.