JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii — For the remainder of August, the San Diego-based 3rd Fleet will be headquartered in a scrum of tents in Hawaii while its command takes part in unprecedented, worldwide Navy drills. Large Scale Exercise 2021 kicked off last week, with synchronized training taking place among five numbered fleets within U.S. Fleet Forces Command, U.S. Pacific Fleet and U.S. Naval Forces Europe. “The training is based on a progression of fleet battle problems and scenarios that will assess and refine modern warfare concepts, including distributed maritime operations, expeditionary advanced base operations, and littoral operations in a contested environment,” the Navy said in a news release last week.
The worldwide exercise is a subset of the even more extensive Large Scale Global Exercise 21, according to a separate news release last week by U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, whose job it is to make the joint force, multinational exercise a reality. Large Scale Global Exercise 21 incorporates the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps for training with military forces from the United Kingdom, Australia and Japan through Aug. 27. Roughly a dozen dark-green tents were pitched a week ago at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam to serve as 3rd Fleet’s temporary home.
“I’ve brought the entire headquarters function here, inside this expeditionary mock capability,” fleet commander Vice Adm. Steve Koehler told reporters while standing near the tents. “So, I’m command-and-controlling all of 3rd Fleet — both within the exercise and real world – from here,” he said. The fleet includes 100 ships, 400 aircraft and roughly 68,000 personnel, he said. (Stars and Stripes)
Comment: At least one article about this exercise mentions last year’s October exercise in which US forces got their collective asses handed to them by the red team simulating the Chinese. In that exercise US forces used the same outdated tactics and strategies from decades in the past. I now believe one of the purposes, if not the main purpose, of that exercise was to publicly discredit those old tactics and strategies, as well as the military brass still clinging to those ideas, and to pave the way for the adoption of the doctrine of multi-domain operations (MDO) throughout all commands and services. When I first wrote about MDO, it looked like only the Army was fully buying into the concept. Apparently, it’s well beyond an Army thought experiment.
This Navy is only one player, albeit the major player, in this exercise. It also involves Army, Air Force and Space Force units and HQs based throughout the world and across 17 time zones. I’m pretty sure at least one of the Army’s new MDTFs has a role. The overall command for the exercise is the US Indo-Pacific Command. When did that name change happen? None of this should come as a surprise. We’ve been talking about pivoting to Asia for a decade now. As I said before, the doctrinal shift is long overdue. Russia and China have already shifted in this direction. We’re playing catch up.
This change must be painful to the fighter pilot mafia in the Air Force and Navy. Long range air defense, surface and anti-ship missiles both hypersonic and subsonic are changing the game. So are unmanned drones of all types. Yes our mach 5 hypersonic AGM-183A missile has yet to pass a test, but it’s not scheduled to be operational until 2030. There doesn’t seem to be any panic in spite of Moscow’s demonstrated operational success with long range and hypersonic missiles.
We are not without some pretty good missiles of our own. Among our stable is the Standard Missile 6 (SM-6) or RIM-174 Standard ERAM which is deployed on over 60 Navy ships. It’s capable of mach 3.5 and can be used for air defense, ballistic missile defense and anti-ship missions. It’s also being looked at in a surface attack mode with GPS capability. It’s over the horizon targeting capability can be cued from on-board guidance systems, the launching ship or other ships and aircraft. This fits right into the MDO doctrine. The Army has decided to equip its MDTF medium missile artillery units with the SM-6 and Tomahawks, which are also undergoing major enhancements.
What this MDO doctrine is not suited for is nation building or R2P missions. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a damned good thing. It doesn’t mean we’ve foresworn our penchant for military adventurism, but it’s nice to see a return to the talk of deterrence. International harmony is a pipe dream, but mutual deterrence is a realizable alternative. And it’s far preferable to seeking full spectrum dominance.