Transcript: Media roundtable with Gen. Charles Flynn with USARPAC update September 13, 2023

By U.S. Army Public AffairsSeptember 18, 2023

Moderator: Jason Waggoner, OCPA Media Relations Division

General Charles Flynn: --Quickly open by saying there's three pillars in the National Defense Strategy--integrated deterrence, build enduring advantage, and campaigning. And there are three ways that we're operationalizing that strategy out here in the Pacific. In my contribution as the land component Commander to Admiral Aquilino at Indo-Pacific Command. And so, we operationalize the national defense three pillars with three ways. These are not means and these are not ends. They are ways. So, the three ways we do it is JPMRC, the Joint Pacific Multinational Readiness Center. It's the first training center that the Army has built outside of the continental United States and Europe in close to 50 years. The second way we're doing it is Operation Pathways. Operation Pathways is stitching together in time and space, the more than 40 joint and Army to Army exercises that we have across the Indo-Pacific. And this is our operational approach to campaigning in the region. And then the third way is the creation of what I refer to as Joint Interior Lines. I've written about this, spoken about it, but it is essentially being able to put combat credible forces forward in the region. Those forces largely must consist of command and control, protection, sustainment, and collection reconnaissance forces that can see, sense, and understand what's actually happening in the region, whether that is environmental conditions, adversary actions, friendly actions. And so, a combination of these three ways that we support and operationalize the National Defense Strategy, JPMRC, Operation Pathways, and Joint Interior Lines create positional advantage for the joint force. They create staying power for the joint force, and they create operational endurance for the joint force so we can deter war, because the aim out here is no war. And I'll stop there and take questions from anyone. Over.

Jason Waggoner: Okay, sir. Thank you for that. We'll jump right into it here first with Lita Baldor, and then we'll go to Haley Britzky. So, Lita.

Lita Baldor: Hi, General Flynn. It's Lita Baldor with AP. Thanks for doing this. We really appreciate it. Question about the Korean peninsula. Do you foresee any need for force changes or any other adjustments to either Army posture or anything on the peninsula, particularly as you see Putin meet with Kim today? Does that raise a threat level, in your view? How do you think this all plays out? Thank you.

GCF: Yeah/ No, I don't see a change in the force posture there. Of course, that's something for policy. And also, General LaCamera and Admiral Aquilino. But in my view, I think that what the US and ROK Forces are doing on the pen are substantially--is substantially different than what we were doing before by way of training, interoperability, and really operating across the region. I mean, you may or may not be aware, but the ROK Army just sent the battalion task force down to Talisman Sabre in Australia. And so, I think this increased operationalization, if you will, or the increased role that the ROK military is playing in the region is important. And I applaud the ROK Army and the ROK military for stepping up and taking their role much, much different today than they did in the past. So, thanks very much Lita.

JW: Okay, sir. Thank you for that. Next is Haley and then we'll go to Courtney Kube.

Haley Britzky: Yeah, thank you. And thanks, General Flynn, for doing this. Great to hear from you again. I'm wondering if you can provide us more detail. We heard in August that Admiral Aquilino spoke with Chinese officials at the Chief of Defense Conference in August. So, can you give us an update on sort of any updates on your end of communications with Chinese officials? I know there's been some difficulty there in talking with them. And then any impact or changes you've seen so far from the conversation Admiral Aquilino had in August?

GCF: I'm not aware of, I mean other than what's been reported, of their engagement. I think it was at the CHAD’s conference in Fiji. But beyond that, I'm not aware of any further engagements that Admiral Aquilino has had with senior Chinese military officials. As far as my engagement then I have had none to date. Thanks.

JW: Okay. Next up is Courtney. Then we'll go to Tom Bowman.

Courtney Kube: Thanks. Hey. Hi, General Flyn, good to talk to you. Thanks so much. I'm just wondering if you can talk about any impact that you're having right now or that you see having in the coming months because of Senator Tuberville's holds. Are you seeing--we keep hearing that there may be some sort of like a readiness concern here. Is there anything practical that you can point to where it's having an impact on you or even just even more generally on the Indo Pacific region?

GCF: Practically--on the Indo Pacific region, I would say I don't see any practical challenges that it’s creating in the region. I think practically speaking, though, from--I guess just from a family planning standpoint, it gets challenging not knowing at senior levels, particularly if you're overseas, say in Korea, Japan, or at great distance in Hawaii and Alaska. It gets a little difficult in terms of being able to identify when you're gonna change and who you're gonna change with and the timing of that. And I think know my secretary has expressed her concerns with it. So that's about my extent on it, Courtney.

CK: Thank you. Is there any--have you seen any indications that China or any adversaries might be looking to exploit any potential vulnerabilities during this time when there could be potentially months and months even going forward without some senior leaders in confirmed positions?

GCF: I'm not aware of any of that. No, I've not seen any of that.

JW: Okay, sir. Thank you. Appreciate that. We're gonna move on to Tom and then next will be Mike Glenn.

Tom Bowman: Hey, General, thanks for doing this. Really appreciate it. I've read the document you put out. There's very little, if any, mention of Vietnam. And I'm just wondering with the administration's signing of this deal with Vietnam, what does that mean, if anything, for you and your forces? Do you anticipate more training with Vietnamese troops, more port visits, them buying more equipment? Any sense of how this changes things at all?

GCF: Yeah. Thanks, Tom. Well, two things. First, I just was in Australia. In fact, I was in Guam, Malaysia, Australia twice, actually, and New Zealand. But I just returned recently from the Chief Army Symposium in Australia and met with the, I'll say the Lieutenant General Gwynn who is basically the director of the Army Staff in Vietnam. Very good meeting. They have long had, Tom, a campus. In fact, the US Government, through some separate funding, built a campus in Vietnam for peacekeeping operations, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, and search and recovery. They are very proud of that campus. I visited that campus in 2017. And so, we continue to support their efforts given the contributions that they make to UN peacekeeping operations and HADR across the region. The other thing that we do, Tom, you may or may not be aware, is the Army Corps of Engineers out here, the Pacific Ocean Division, has a long-standing relationship between the Mekong River Commission and the Mississippi or Columbia River Commission back in the States. This is an important sort of soft power, off axis approach in Vietnam that we've long taken because of the shared interests in freshwater, power generation, commerce, agricultural, gaming, and basically water control. And so, this is an area where both of those areas are areas that the US Army, through the Corps of Engineers and through our either medical or forces that we can offer to assist in HADR and PKO-like operations across the globe, really, that the Vietnamese do contribute to.

The last point I'd make on this is we are in discussions about a potential visit to Vietnam. And I don't know the dates of that quite yet, but I'm optimistic about being able to have a visit with the Vietnamese Army here, I'm gonna say in the next, maybe sometime between the next two to six months. Last time I did visit there was in late ‘17 as the Deputy Commanding General of US Army Pacific, and it was very positive. So, again, I think things changed during COVID obviously, and a number of other things have changed. One thing that hasn't changed, I think, is the strong link between the Vietnamese Army and the military, given the two things I just mentioned before and our Army-to-Army relationship today and into the future. So, thanks, Tom. Appreciate the question.

TB: Right, so you were talking about more humanitarian issues, water control. What about as far as actually training for military operations at the company-battalion level? Is there any appetite for that from the US or the Vietnamese or they want to kind of stay away from more armed kind of training?

GCF: Yeah, I'm not aware of that at this particular point. But again, I've not talked to them in any detail about that.

TB: Okay. Got it. Thanks.

JW: Thank you, sir. Okay. Next is Mike, followed by Paul McLeary.

Mike Glenn: Yeah. Hi, General. Thanks a lot for talking to us. I want to circle back to that--this meeting going on between Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin. I was wondering if you are sort of concerned that this growing relationship between Pyongyang and Moscow might cause some trouble for y’all in the Indo-Pac region?

GCF: You know, they get to choose meetings between senior officials at their discretion. So, if they choose to meet, then they get to do that. So, I'm not overly concerned about a meeting.

MG: Okay. All right. Thanks, sir.

JW: Thank you. Paul, and then Ashley Roque.

Paul McLeary: Hi, General. Thanks for doing this yesterday at the Maneuver Center of Excellence, you mentioned 2033 is a date that Chinese President Xi is gonna have to make some sort of decision about what he wants to do with his military. Obviously, other dates have been floated from 2027 and things like that. Why 2033? And what are you doing to prepare your forces and the forces you're partnering with be ready by 2027 to 2033?

GCF: Let me clarify what I said. What I said was that today, President Xi is 70 years old. So, ten years from now, he'll be 80 years old. And so, between 2023 and 2033, with 2027 right in the middle, in my view, there's decisions he's likely going to have to make because his tenure in his current role would likely require him to be thinking about what his legacy is going to be because he stated publicly and unequivocally, he intends to unify. And so that was my comment to that young audience at Fort Moore that the next decade, of which I was speaking to mostly captains, who I have a son who's a captain, so are mostly between the ages of about 25 to 27, that you're really looking at these officers who are captains today being majors or lieutenant colonels or even junior colonels over the next decade. So, my comment was really about them being prepared and thinking about the consequences of what will unfold out here in Asia and with the PRC and with the PLA and with the modernization, training, and the buildup of the military instrument that the Chinese have built. And so that was the whole context for why I made that particular comment. Does that make sense?

PM: Yeah. Appreciate it.

JW: Okay. Thank you for that. Next is Ashley, followed by Meredith Roaten.

Ashley Roque: Hi, General. At that same conference that you spoke at yesterday, General George and General Rainey have sort of been rolling out potential options for force structure changes and materiel. And General Rainey today was talking about sort of taking, reemphasizing, again, maneuver over fires, especially in the Indo-Pacific region. Just sort of--could you walk us through sort of what your take is on that and what it would need from a force structure and materiel solution perspective?

GCF: Yeah. In terms of, you know, there's some structural decisions, I don't want to get ahead of the Secretary or the Vice Chief on some of the things that do need to be decided. But I know in my current job and in my former job, that we have some modernization efforts that have been underway for a number of years. And those, I'll say hardware, platforms, and weapon systems are going to be arriving soon. Some have already arrived, and some are going to be coming later this year and beginning in ’24. Long range precision fires, batteries of various types, integrated air and missile defense systems and radars. There's network modernization efforts that are underway, et cetera. I think that one of the more transformative efforts that has been underway, but is not well understood or known because it's not a materiel solution, it's an organizational solution. Some of these don't get the notoriety that they ought to get but let me point to four of them.

One is the Multi-Domain Task Force. The second one is the Security Forces Assistance Brigade. The third one is the Theater Fires Element. And a fourth one is the Theater Information Advantage Directorate. All four of those organizational adjustments are also what I would call transformative efforts that are transforming how we're organizing, how we're creating human technical and procedural interoperability--three types of interoperability that are absolutely critical before new weapon systems or new hardware, software, or munitions arrive. And I think that these organizational adjustments, going to your question, are things that we in the Army are having to have a good, healthy debate about, because they're new organizations and they obviously compete with other organizations. So, what echelon they're at, whether it's tactical, operational, or at the theater Army level versus--and how much, how many, where do they go, what echelon do they fight at, who do they belong to, roles and functions? I think that is all really important work that is ongoing right now in the Army. And again, it's an area that everybody pays a lot of attention to a new weapon system or a new ammunition or a new, again, hardware, software. A lot of times they're not paying attention to the organizational adjustments that are going on. And I believe that the organizational adjustments are maybe more important or equally as important as, I'll just say, the bent metal things that are showing up. And we're learning out here in the Pacific from these new organizations on how we fight as a joint and how we fight as a combined and multinational force. Thank you.

JW: Okay, sir. Thank you for that. Next is Meredith, followed by Kimberly Underwood.

Meredith Roaten: Hi. This is Meredith Roaten from Janes. I wanted to follow up on the armor question a little bit more. You mentioned at your talk yesterday that you still see armor in the Pacific and tanks as a really important part of the combined arms team. The new upgrade for Abrams was announced last week, and I was wondering if you could talk about what kinds of characteristics do you see as being important for the Pacific theater and for your AOR in an effort like that?

GCF: Yeah, well, thanks. First of all, you know, going all the way back to World War II, tanks have been an important part of the combined arms force out here. And a number of nations in the region have tanks, they have armored divisions. The Philippine Army is a good example. I think I mentioned that yesterday. And by the way, Australia just purchased M-1 tanks. And we trained with the Australian Army in Talisman Sabre with their newly arrived M-1s. We also took watercraft out of Australia after Talisman Sabre and helped transport those tanks up to Indonesia for Super Gruda Shield. Again, US Army watercraft transporting Australian M-1s, an armor company minus up to Indonesia for a multilateral, multinational exercise. So, I believe that you’re gonna have the--need the entire inventory of combined arms ground maneuver in order to fight in restricted terrain. And the tank and armor capabilities in the Pacific is absolutely necessary for conducting operations out here in restricted terrain. And there is plenty of restricted terrain out here.

JW: Okay, sir. Thank you. [crosstalk] I'm sorry, we're going to have to press on here. Next is going to be Matt Beinart, and then we'll go to Ryo Nakamura after that.

Matt Beinart: Great, thank you. I wanted to ask about the new replicator initiative and just how you're thinking about the potential for mass amounts of assertable autonomous systems to assist the Army in the Indo-Pacific. And what sort of specific systems could you point to that would be applicable under that you'd be interested in? Thank you.

GCF: Yeah, well, I mean, obviously the unmanned systems and robotics that is in some test and development for us right now is important. This is a new announcement by the DepSecDef, so I applaud the effort to do that. I guess what I would say is JPMRC, the training center out here, is a great platform to be able to take robotics, AI, ML, any unmanned systems and put them in an environment and in conditions that replicate the region, like the eight island archipelago here in Hawaii, Tropic Jungle, and then you go up to Alaska, you have high altitude, extreme cold weather and mountainous regions. And so any development of unmanned systems, whether they be robots or other assets that are going to be linked to high data volume requirement platforms, that are going to have deep seated technology and advanced technology in them you're gonna need to put them in the hands of soldiers, and you're gonna need to put them in the hands of the Joint Force, and you're gonna need to operate them in the environment and conditions that most closely replicate the region. And I would say JPMRC in Hawaii and Alaska is just that, because to take them out into the region on an exercise, we're probably gonna want to see what the advantages and disadvantages, or at least put them in the hands of Commanders and leaders to be able to use them in training. And JPMRC, in my view, is a great place to be able to do that. So, I'm in favor of replicator initiative, some of the details on what those systems are, I'll wait and see what comes this way for us to use. Over.

JW: Thank you, sir. And my apologies. I may have skipped over Kimberly Underwood. Kimberly, are you still on the line?

Kimberly Underwood: Yes. Thank you, Jason. And thank you, General, for your time today. Wanted to ask, what do you think the largest challenges of implementing this vision are and then kind of what solutions maybe related to C2 that you're gonna need from industry to support this strategy? Thank you.

GCF: Thank you for that question. I think one of the biggest challenges is just the intellectual bias that goes into this theater and this region. It's long and openly been stated as an air and maritime theater. And I contend that it is not an air and maritime theater. It is a joint theater. It has joint challenges, and those challenges are only going to be solved by joint and multinational solutions. And so, the interdependencies of the Joint Force, in fact, in our own doctrine, it talks about, if any one element of the Joint Force is not considered or not successful, then the entirety of the Joint Force is weakened. Therefore, I believe that what the US Army and land power, the land power network represents out here, because these nations in this region are reliant on their large armies, and their large armies are designed to protect and defend their national sovereignty and their territorial integrity. And so there is a natural tendency to look at the map and think you can solve this with air and maritime power alone. And my fact or my thinking on this is that the land power network and armies out here are essential part of the solution. And therefore, the US Army in the Pacific, has an important and vital role in tying together the network of land power forces out here, armies, large armies. Because in my view, the security architecture that actually binds this region together is the Army. These nations have large armies. They don't have large navies and air forces, but they have large armies. And the dialogue and the relationships and the rehearsals and the readiness that we gain and the interoperability increases that we gain is of enormous value.

Let me point to one instance that's coming up. The Indo-Pacific Army Chiefs conference is run once every two years. This year, it's in New Delhi, India, in two weeks. In fact, I'm sorry, it might be in three weeks, but it's two weeks after the G20. Yes, the last week of September. So, it's two weeks after the G20 in India. We sent 36 invitations out to, basically, a number of all the nations in the region and some more. To date, we have 30 nations that are going to attend, and we are likely to have 20 to 21 Chiefs of Army attend. And so, this thirst out here for increased multinational engagement, both in exercising, training, but also in senior leader dialogue, I think is an outcome of the success that we are achieving out here. And I'm not saying that the Air Force, air power and the Naval, the maritime force is not doing those gauges as well. They certainly are. But what I'm expressing is there's a unique on the ground fingertip feel that you get when you're out in the villages, when you're out in the towns, when you're operating in the airspace, when you're operating in the ports, the airfields, out in the communities. And you're doing that with the sons and daughters that are out in the jungle, out in the mountains, and operating amongst the people. And that fingertip feel--if you want to know what's going on inside these countries, then ask somebody from the land force, because we're in the countries for extended periods of time and I think we have a very deeper and deepening understanding of what's actually happening in each one of these countries and within the subregions--subregions being Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, Oceania. So that's my view on it. Thanks for the question.

JW: Okay, sir, we're gonna just take one more question. I called on Ryo Nakamura, and you've got the last question. Ryo, go ahead.

Ryo Nakamura: Thank you very much for doing this. I want to ask you about watercraft units in Japan and Australia that the US Army deployed this year. What effect will that capability bring to the US Army and the Joint Force? And more broadly, I wonder how important Japan and Australia are in terms of Army logistics operations. Thank you.

GCF: Yeah, thanks for the question. So, we have, as you may or may not be aware, we have Army watercraft permanently stationed here in Hawaii. We have Army watercraft stationed forward in Japan, in Yokohama North Docks. Of course, we have a couple of piers there in Yokohama North Docks in Tokyo Harbor. We also have a couple of piers down in Naha, down in Okinawa. Those Army watercraft are used routinely out here in the Pacific to move joint capabilities. So, we're not just moving Army stuff around. We're using those watercraft. And some of them are vessels, and some of them are landing crafts. We connect those with our barges and bridges, and we're able to do joint petroleum over the shore, joint logistics over the shore like we did down in Australia for Talisman Sabre. Interestingly, or I'm excited to, and we announced this earlier, but there's a composite watercraft company, one of our modernized watercraft companies that's going to be stationed in Japan. It will begin arriving--and some of the people are arriving now, and that will be built up between ‘23, ’24, and early ‘25. That's a 280-man composite watercraft company. So now we'll have an active watercraft company in Japan, Yokohama North Docks, with 13 vessels. We already have an active company and detachment headquarters back here in Hawaii. And then we are in discussions with Australia about the potential for the use of watercraft in Australia. And then obviously, there's lots of opportunities there, given that one of the modernization efforts underway with Australia is to modernize their watercraft fleet. So, I think there's a natural advantage to the Australian Army and the US Army sharing and seeking opportunities to work together with our watercraft that are here in Hawaii, Japan, and then operating across Southeast Asia all the way down to Australia.

Last comment I make on watercraft. Some of you may or may not be aware, but we actually, on the joint petroleum over the shore demonstration, it really wasn't a demonstration, it was a demonstration of a capability that we already have. And then the joint logistics over the shore, again, that we utilized at Talisman Sabre in Australia, those capabilities came out of not just Hawaii and Japan, but we had assets that were in Korea, and we brought stuff all the way out here from Fort Eustis, Virginia, from [inaudible] Brigade. So, the deployment of all of those assets to be able to do joint petroleum over the shore and joint logistics over the shore in Australia was again, it points to the strength of what the US Army, the theater Army, provides as foundational capabilities to the Joint Force. And it was just a fantastic demonstration, I think, of our capabilities for the Joint Force.

JW: Okay, sir, thank you very much.

Patrick Tucker: Jason, can I try and sneak one in real quick? This is Patrick with Defense One. Is that okay?

JW: Uh, go ahead.

GCF: Yeah, real quick. I do have to go, so.

PT: Okay. Thanks. Appreciate it. So, I'm looking over at your exercise schedule and all the different countries that are participating in it. None of the exercises are based on a Taiwan defense scenario. They're all kind of specific to each individual partner. So, my question just I guess it's a yes or no question, if you like. Do your regional exercise partners like Indonesia, Malaysia, et cetera, the Philippines, obviously, do you have an understanding of how they would participate in US operations in the event of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan?

GCF: No. Nor does it really matter, because when you talk about all those exercises, what we're doing out here is in a very cooperative, unified, and committed way. We are collectively acting as a counterweight to irresponsible and overly aggressive behavior. But what I am seeing is that each of these nations out here are working to defend their national sovereignty and protect their territorial integrity from irresponsible behavior that is unfolding right in front of their very eyes. So that's what I'm seeing. And I'm seeing that the countries are pulling together and seeking ways to increase their multilateral and multinational integration with each other and with the US. And that's what I'm seeing. So, thanks very much for the question. Thank you.

JW: All right, thank you, everybody. That's gonna wrap it up. You all have the link to USARPAC's public affairs office if you have any follow-up questions. Thank you, General. And everybody, have a good day.