In a major move, the US has renamed its Pacific Command (USPACOM), based in Hawaii, as Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM). Secretary of Defense James Mattis presided over this ceremony, which concurrently saw the change of command from Adm Harry Harris to Adm Phil Davidson. “In recognition of the increasing connectivity between the Indian and Pacific oceans, today we rename the U.S. Pacific Command to U.S. Indo-Pacific Command,” said Mattis.[i]
However, the US seems to have missed the wood for the trees as the Indian Ocean spreads way beyond the assigned borders of the erstwhile PACOM. Reuters was quick to paint it as a nod to India.[ii] Nothing could be further from reality. The Indian interests spread from the Gulf of Hormuz till the Straits of Malacca, Sunda, and Lombok, encompassing the Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal, and the India Ocean, an area much beyond the USINDOPACOM.
A look at the areas of responsibilities (AORs) of the US Combatant Commands below gives a clearer picture:-
India’s ‘core interests’ in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) is divided between three Combatant Commands of the US; USAFRICACOM, USCENTCOM, and the USINDOPACOM. Thus it places India in an unenviable situation of resolving which commands to coordinate with and how in the IOR.
It could have been better if the Americans had kept the coordination of Indo-Pacific Region (IPR) at the highest level since the AORs of three Combatant Commands overlap the area. Alternatively, the AOR of USAFRICACOM could have been readjusted with its naval domain only towards the Atlantic,and expanded the USINDOPACOM AOR till the Eastern Seaboard of Africa (refer map below).
This would have reduced the complications, as India would then be needed to coordinate with only two Combatant Commands which was workable now that a Naval Military Attaché from India is planned to be stationed at the US Naval Forces Command (NAVCENT) in Bahrain.[iii]
Since this may not be forthcoming any time soon from the US, India should look at forming a Joint Command and Control Centre under the aegis of HQ IDS / Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee to coordinate India’s outreach to the various US Combatant Commands in the IPR. It could also coordinate efforts by other like-minded allies in the IPR, thereby leading to a more focussed approach. Such a step would better serve India’s ‘core interests’ in the region.
[i]U.S. Indo-Pacific Command Holds Change of Command Ceremony, U.S. Pacific Command, May 30, 2018, http://www.pacom.mil/Media/News/News-Article-View/Article/1535776/us-indo-pacific-command-holds-change-of-command-ceremony/
[ii]In symbolic nod to India, U.S. Pacific Command changes name, Idrees Ali, World News ,MAY 31, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-defense-india/in-symbolic-nod-to-india-us-pacific-command-changes-name-idUSKCN1IV2Q2
[iii]Soon, India defence attaché at US navy Bahrain command, Shishir Gupta, Hindustan Times, 21 Mar 2018, https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/soon-india-defence-attache-at-us-navy-bahrain-command/story-iTGPB5sLbOlod11MlprWjI.html
@The author is a Distinguished Fellow at the United Service Institution of India, New Delhi.