Hawai'i in line for new Army brigade
By William Cole
Advertiser Military Affairs Writer
Hawai'i may see sweeping changes in how the Army does business here over the next several years, as members of the state's congressional delegation push to have new aircraft deployed and additional training sites developed in the Islands.
The changes center on the possibility that Schofield Barracks might be selected as one of up to eight "Interim Brigade Combat Teams." Such a selection would bring a new sense of relevance and priority to the 25th Infantry Division (Light) as the Army chief of staff Gen. Eric Shinseki, who is from Kaua'i seeks to transform the Army into a lighter, faster fighting force.
Fort Lewis in Washington state was chosen for the first two interim brigades including the 25th Division's 1st Lancer Brigade stationed there. And while Maj. Thomas Collins, an Army spokesman in Washington, D.C., said no decisions have been made on additional brigades, Hawai'i and Alaska have been named as probable sites for the next two.
U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye, D-Hawai'i, noted that two factors the availability of air transport and land for training are likely to influence whether Hawai'i is chosen as an interim brigade site.
To this end, Inouye said money is being sought to bring C-17 Globemaster IIIs, the Air Force's newest and most flexible cargo aircraft, to Hickam Air Force Base. Each C-17 can carry four Interim Armored Vehicles eight-wheeled troop carriers around which the Army has built a rapid deployment concept it expects to use until 2008 to 2010, when an "objective" force with futuristic weaponry will take its place. The aircraft would become part of the Air National Guard station at Hickam, which already serves as a refueling stop for C-17s shuttling troops and equipment to Asia.
At the same time, additional Army training land is being sought at Parker Ranch on the Big Island. According to 25th Division spokeswoman Capt. Stacy Bathric, the Army is purchasing 1,000 acres of land that it formerly leased from Parker Ranch. The land is about three miles from the live-fire "impact area" of the 108,890-acre Pohakuloa Training Area.
"I think bringing together C-17s and training areas that would about guarantee Hawai'i would be one of the places (for an interim brigade) ... ," Inouye said.
If an interim brigade were based in Hawai'i, Inouye said the 300 Interim Armored Vehicles that would accompany it could be distributed at Schofield as well as Pohakuloa.
However, Inouye also noted that Hawai'i faces a key stumbling block. According to the senator, opposition to a return to live-fire training in the Makua Valley "is weighing heavily on the Army's mind."
Although the Army has announced its intention to return to live-fire training in Makua as early as next month, a lawsuit stands in the way of those plans.
"(Makua) is integral to the maintenance of forces in Hawai'i, whether it is interim or present forces," Inouye said. "Without Makua, I think you could absolutely say to yourself: 'Goodbye, interim (brigade).'"
The changes in how the Army operates in Hawai'i come amid efforts to overhaul the mission and function of the military forces themselves. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is expected to unveil a vision for a reorganized military this year. While the details have not been developed fully, U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie of Hawai'i, the senior ranking Democrat on the House military installations and facilities subcommittee, noted that the full impact of Rumsfeld's plan and fierce competition for money expected to accompany it, with programs such as missile defense on the table should be felt in the 2003 defense budget.
Abercrombie, however, expects the Army to decide where to base its other interim brigades much sooner than that.
"If you are going to demonstrate what you want to do tactically and otherwise, you've got to get moving," Abercrombie said.
Unlike Rumsfeld's broader vision, Shinseki's plan for interim brigades is seen as an intermediate step. The idea is to develop a quicker-responding Army, with the ability to put combat forces on the ground anywhere in the world within 96 hours. These forces would consist of 10,000 to 14,000 troops who would be ready to fight within 120 hours and be able to get five divisions in place within 30 days.
At the forefront of that transformation is the Interim Armored Vehicle, a 19-ton carrier that can hold nine soldiers. With eight oversized tires instead of tank treads, it can travel as fast as 60 mph. While not seen as a replacement for tanks, the vehicle is regarded as a way to improve upon the mobility, lethality and survivability of light forces.
"We'll use the IAV primarily as a battlefield chariot, if you will, to add speed and a good deal of ballistic protection," said Lt. Col. Michael J. Negard, transformation public affairs officer at Fort Lewis.
A $4 billion contract has been awarded for these new lightweight armored vehicles, which are expected to be fielded in 2003. A total of 2,131 of the vehicles are expected to equip the interim brigades.
Inouye said that basing an interim brigade at Schofield would not increase troop numbers significantly. However, with Rumsfeld's defense strategy expected to have a focus on Asia and the Pacific, Inouye believes an interim brigade would be a good fit for Hawai'i.
So what are Hawai'i's chances? While Army officials say all options are being considered, some signs point to Hawai'i as favorable for selection.
For instance, Maj. Gen James Dubik, who oversaw the creation of the Army's first two medium-weight brigades at Fort Lewis in 1999, has commanded the 25th Division in Hawai'i since Nov. 3. In addition, two other brigades, the 2nd Warrior and 3rd Bronco, are among division components at Schofield.