Air chiefs and leadership from the Indo-Pacific region gathered for the 2019 Pacific Air Chiefs Symposium at Headquarters Pacific Air Forces Dec. 3-6, jointly hosted by U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein and Gen. C.Q. Brown Jr., PACAF commander.
Under the theme “A Collaborative Approach to Regional Security,” Brown opened the event highlighting the importance of a mutual understanding of common issues and challenges; and enhancing capabilities, capacity and interoperability.
“The premise of the symposium is a common belief among our allies and partners that collaboration is required to meet the regional challenges that have global effects,” he said. “From cooperation to conflict, we are stronger together. Uniting our shared values, interests and security. We stand together to preserve peace and stability in the region.”
This year’s event marked the 11th Pacific Air Chiefs Symposium, and by far the most heavily represented, indicating several things according to Brown, “…a growing interest to find collective solutions to common problems; a mutual respect we have for each other; and the commitment our nations have to maintaining peace and stability within the Indo-Pacific.”
For many, the symposium served as a reunion of friends who have engaged together regularly over the course of a year and, for others, a new beginning as they were meeting for the first time.
Nations represented included Australia, Bangladesh, Brunei, Canada, France, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mongolia, New Zealand, the Philippines, South Korea, the Republic of Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam. Attendance also included 15 U.S. air attachés from across the region, whom Brown credited for their daily efforts to forge relationships throughout the region.
The dean for PACS19, Philippine air force commanding general Lt. Gen. Rozzano Dosado Briguez provided a presentation at the beginning of the symposium to initiate discussions among the attending air chiefs.
“I believe that having this symposium and other forums is to build trust, to build confidence, to build friendships … so that when we … go to some missions together, it (will) be easy,” Briguez said, “because of the personal ties, the professional ties and the ties that bound our organizations together is there already.”
Goldfein echoed the importance of regular engagements like PACS in cultivating and sustaining trust, stating, “No matter the distance between point A or point B, it’s the trust we build between our partners that helps us to provide the security and stability within the region.”
In addition to hosting an unprecedented number of air chiefs, representing one million airmen around the globe, the four-day symposium featured more than 50 bilateral engagements and three multilateral dialogues, five multinational panel discussions and several social engagements.
“If you look at the key topics around humanitarian assistance/disaster relief, domain awareness, multi-domain operations and regional security – these things affect all of us,” said Air Vice Marshal Andrew Clark, Royal New Zealand air force chief. “So the more brains, the more senior brains, discussing those things the better.”
The symposium was structured for collaboration through formal discussions and panels that focused on regional security, domain awareness, multi-domain operations, interoperability and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) blended with social activities to provide relationship building opportunities.
“Whatever we face, I have a friend who can support me,” said Brig. Gen. Enkhbayar Ochir, Mongolian air force commander. “I’m confident that no matter the situation we can cooperate.”
During the panel dialogues, air chiefs discussed tangible means to move forward on cooperation and engagement, focusing on turning risks into opportunities to enhance relationships and interoperability.
“If you know who it is that you are speaking with at the other end of the phone call, it makes it a lot easier for us to talk about doing things together, whether it is for HADR for example or for certain deployments,” said Maj. Gen. Kelvin Boon Leong Khong, Republic of Singapore air force chief.
For Kellie Seybolt, U.S. Air Force deputy undersecretary for international affairs, PACS offered a unique opportunity to help formulate how broader U.S. military efforts can work in support of shared challenges and interests.
“The real magic happens when we can work together to develop capabilities,” she said. “All of these pieces help build meaningful, comprehensive partnerships … connecting it all together hopefully improves security for us and our partners, as we seek a free and open Indo- Pacific.”
The first Pacific Air Chiefs Conference was hosted in 1989, with six countries attending – Australia, Brunei, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore. Additional iterations took place every other year from 1992 to 1996, in 2006, then again every other year from 2009 to 2017. In 2014, the name was officially changed to “Pacific Air Chiefs Symposium,” or PACS.
This year’s title remained unchanged, however, Goldfein cast a vision during his opening remarks for this year to be more than just a number, but something truly special.
“There’s a difference between an event and an experience,” Goldfein said in closing. “An experience is something where we all gather together, we have a good discussion and we look at each other and go, ‘that was really special’… This… was an experience.”