Adm. Phil Davidson
WASHINGTON: At a time where the Navy has been pretty quiet about All-Domain Operations — an emerging war fighting concept being pushed by the Pentagon’s top leaders — the head of Indo-Pacific Command, commander of the Navy’s biggest theater of operations, has proposed a bold new plan.
In a speech at a navy conference earlier this month, Adm. Philip Davidson offered an expansive vision of how to transform the way US forces train and partner with allies across the vast Indo-Pacific region, calling for the services to be linked in new, more permanent ways.
His remarks also implicitly call for the Indo-Pacific to receive the kind of attention Congress has lavished on the European Command over the past five years, where over $20 billion worth of European Deterrence Initiative money has built and repaired runways, training ranges, ammunition storage facilities, and helped fund a series of ramped-up exercises with NATO allies.
Davidson’s plan calls for investments in a network of training ranges across the region where all of the armed services can train together to practice the kind of tech-centric war the Pentagon says will dominate the future.
The current sites and training ranges Davidson oversees “are not funded to enable joint training,” he said. “We must strongly advocate for a joint network of live, virtual, and constructive ranges in key locations around the region to support joint and combined exercises, experimentation, and innovation.”
Davidson wants to develop an ‘Indo-Pacific Warfighting Concept’ that includes fully integrated ground forces, special operations forces, cyber, space forces all backed up by long-range fires. “For its backbone,” he said, “we need a joint — joint — network of training ranges capable of meeting the exercise, experimentation, and innovation objectives of the new warfighting concept.”
Significantly, Davidson said these forces and their systems need to be meshed together permanently, and not as “an ad-hoc joint force shaped to respond to a crisis only after it occurs.”
Those concepts dovetail with an emerging Joint Warfighting Concept being put together by the DoD’s Joint Staff at the direction of Secretary of Defense Mark Esper. The report is due by December, and could have wide-ranging impacts on how the military trains and equips to meet current and future threats.
Davidson identified four areas where he wants to see more investment:
Integrated air and missile defenses with “multiple sensors and interceptors distributed across the region to protect – not only the Homeland, including U.S. territories, but also our U.S. Forces forward.”
Long-range precision strike weapons “from across all platforms, services, and domains to hold at risk a variety of target sets.”
Joint command and control networks “that provide speed and flexibility in decision-making, which allows penetration and then disintegration of an adversary’s systems and decision-making.”
Artificial intelligence, quantum computing, remote sensing, machine learning, big data analytics, and 5G technology.
While many of these weapons and capabilities are being developed among the services, the pitch to employ them together on specific training ranges in Indo-Pacom can be seen as the admiral’s push to gain greater recognition from a Pentagon leadership group consumed by the current force buildup in the Middle East, while also pumping billions into Europe to shore up allies concerned over Russian muscle-flexing.
Davidson’s pitch was likely included in a report he is expected to deliver to Congress this week. The congressionally-mandated ‘1253’ report allows Davidson to bypass the Pentagon and make his pitch directly to lawmakers.
While every combatant commander across the globe will reliably insist they need more funding, more attention, and better infrastructure, Davidson is the only commander who can point to the Defense Secretary’s declaration that his region is his “priority theater,” as Mark Esper has said repeatedly about the Pacific.
Some priorities are clear. “Missile defense in Guam — it’s become such a power projection hub — along with additional runways in various locations to include fuel and ammunition storage” are critical for Indo-Pacom said Eric Sayers, a former Pacom advisor and adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. There’s also a need for “theater joint enabling capabilities for how you fight a fighter or surface combatant,” since the services are great at generating forces but won’t pay for a combatant commander to enable them.
Daniel Kliman, director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security and former Asia hand at the Pentagon said he isn’t surprised by the push for more capabilities in the region, particularly “air and missile defense, and strengthening through balancing” with allies. “It’s much more about select capabilities than it is about being big and flashy,” he said.
Using new training ranges to draw in allies worried about China is a key part of the entire strategy. “The US relies on allies for access” to the South China Sea and areas where China is making controversial and illegal sovereignty claims, Kliman said, which argues for “putting significant resources into the State Department, USAID, and other non-military agencies.”
One of Capitol Hill’s biggest proponents for more resources being shifted to the Indo-Pacific is Rep. Mike Gallagher, who has lamented the lack of a European Deterrence Initiative-style program for the region. In a statement, he said “it is long past time to align dollars with the National Defense Strategy and give Indo-Pacom the tools it needs to implement deterrence by denial.”
While lawmakers wait for Davidson’s 1253 report, the admiral pointed out recently that a fund already exists to do much of what he’s talking about — but neither Congress nor the Pentagon has seen fit to put money behind it. Back in 2017, Congress created the Indo-Pacific Stability Initiative within the National Defense Authorization Act, but it has sat unfilled each year.
At the Halifax Security Forum in November, Davidson told me that he could use that funding for a slew of programs. “It’s no secret that the kind of capability sets we’re looking for in the region,” he said. “Integrated air and missile defense, F-35 fighters, long-range precision fires, networks that make all that work together.”
Davidson kicked off his san Diego speech with a pointed analogy reaching back to the Cold War. He said he sees the current moment in the Pacific as akin to where Europe and NATO were in the 1970s and 80s, when Pentagon policy makers came up with the AirLand Battle construct. That concept advocated attacking simultaneously across a variety of targets using tightly integrated communications and weapons systems from land and air. It was designed to allow NATO to seize the initiative and keep it over more numerous Soviet forces.
Davidson said any “new warfighting concept must deliver a similar sense of assurance to our allies and partners today that AirLand Battle provided to NATO member states in Europe in the 70s and 80s.”
It’s unclear how the new plan will be received in the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill, as both are looking down the barrel of massive annual deficits poised to explode with up to $3 trillion in government spending being considered to prop up the economy most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Pentagon leaders have said for months they expect their budgets to be flat in the coming years. Those predictions, in the end, may very well prove to have been too optimistic once the bills for the current economic fallout come due. (PAUL MCLEARY).
Adm. Phil Davidson