“Like the symposium that brought many of us together in person just a few months ago, this gathering is grounded in the shared belief that collaboration is required to meet the global challenges,” he said, reflecting on the Pacific Air Chief Symposium held here Dec. 2-6, 2019. “From cooperation to conflict and, now, through COVID-19, we remain stronger together.”
Discussion focused on sharing lessons learned regarding COVID-19 response, desires for resuming engagement and exercises in a post-COVID world, and a commitment to continued cooperation across the Indo-Pacific region.
“The world is going to be different, how we operate, how we train and how we can connect are going to be different, but opportunities to engage virtually like this and throughout our organizations will be critical in ensuring peace and security in the region,” Brown said.
From sharing words of solidarity, encouragement and support, a resounding theme that emerged was cooperation and communication, both internally and externally, have been critical to any measure of success.
Brown shared PACAF’s focus, aligned under Secretary of Defense Mark Esper‘s themes of protecting our people, maintaining readiness and assisting the whole of government response, which mirrored much of what others shared during the two-hour session.
“Like many others, we also have paid great attention to the resiliency of our force and our population given the changes in ways we socially connect with each other,” Brown said.
The group also addressed a number of opportunities they have or are pursuing cooperation on, from supply chain support, sharing protocols on transport of patients, to testing and tracing applications.
Additionally, many participants shared they felt some level of preparation due to lessons learned from previous pandemics in the region, while others echoed the importance of their military’s ability to assist in response efforts.
“This virtual meeting of 19 Air Force leaders really highlighted the importance and agility of air power in support of whole-of-government efforts to combat COVID-19. It was an extremely timely event for allied and partner sharing and solidarity,” said Brian Woo, PACAF foreign policy advisor.
As travel restrictions remain in effect around the globe, the group agreed to explore more virtual training and engagement opportunities and innovative processes for near and potentially long-term solutions.
“There’s a number of things we can continue to do as we go forward,” Brown said. “Addressing things like virtual subject-matter-expert exchanges, or continuing the practice of physically distancing aircrews, while enhancing opportunities to train and integrate in the air.
Participants represented air forces from Australia, Bangladesh, Brunei, Canada, Chile, France, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nepal, New Zealand, the Philippines, South Korea, the Republic of Singapore, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, and the United States. Due to a scheduling conflict, Brown spoke with the Indian Air Force chief of staff the day prior, and was able to share his inputs with all participants during the VTC.
During their comments, many of the participating leaders also reflected on their visit to Hawaii for PACS, or more recent engagements like the Singapore Air Show in February, where many were still able to meet in person for bilateral, multilateral, or large-group settings before travel restrictions were put in place.
“At the time, PACS 2019 was considered the most heavily represented event we have hosted to date,” Brown said. “And here we are today, with an equally impressive number attending this virtual gathering. I’m inspired by the continued engagement across this growing network of friends, partners and allies, further validating the interest to find collective solutions to common problems and the commitment we have for each other and the region.”