DARWIN, Australia -- Air Force Gen. CQ Brown, Jr., Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) commander, met with U.S. and Australian senior leaders here Aug. 9-13 as part of his first trip to the Indo-Pacific region as the commander.
Brown visited Australia to demonstrate the United States’ shared commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific region, as well as seek opportunities to enhance interoperability and capacity with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).
“Our relationship with Australia is deeply rooted in shared principles and shared values, and stems from working together day in and day out across the full spectrum of operations and across military and government agencies,” Brown said. “Whether from my time in the Middle East or close to home here in the Pacific, I am confident in our abilities to work together, to build upon the cooperation that has existed for 100 years.”
Though this was his first trip to the country as commander, Brown established key relationships with Australians throughout his time at U.S. Central Command. As such, it’s a relationship that offers interoperability that Brown defines as “varsity level,” given not only a history of shared values and capabilities, but one that’s battle tested.
This year marks 100 years of “mateship,” recognizing the anniversary of the first time the two nations fought side by side in combat. On July 4, 1918, American troops fought under the direct command of one of Australia’s “most revered” military leaders, Gen. Sir John Monash. Since that day, Australian and American military members have served alongside one another in every major conflict.
“I’ve known and served many of our key Australian counterparts for a number of years,” Brown said. And while the Australian Defence Force (ADF), and RAAF are smaller in number compared to their U.S. counterparts, he considers their capability key to why the alliance is considered the “anchor” for peace and stability in the region. “Seventy years of peace and prosperity has benefited all nations, and Australia has been a key part of that success.”
Over his five-day visit, Brown met with Minister of Defense Greg Moriarty, Gen. Angus Campbell, chief of the ADF, Vice Admiral David Johnston, vice chief of the ADF, Air Marshal Mel Hupfeld, chief of Joint Operations, Air Marshal Leo Davies, the RAAF chief, as well as key leadership at RAAF Bases Williamtown, Tindal and Darwin. The general also met with Michael Patrick Francis Gunner, chief minister for the Northern Territory, as well as U.S. Embassy officials, to include Chargé d’Affaires James Carouso, and U.S. Airmen serving and deployed to the region.
Throughout the visit, discussions focused on integration of high-end capabilities like the F-35A Lightning II and E-7A Wedgetail, integration of advanced warfighting concepts like PACAF’s agile combat employment, the status of U.S. Force Posture Initiatives and Enhanced Air Cooperation (EAC), and the unique training opportunities provided by the Bradshaw Field Training Area and Delamere Air Weapons Range, the largest training airspace areas in the world, and currently home to Exercise Pitch Black 18.
“The airspace here is about three times the airspace of Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, one of our larger airspaces in the United States,” Brown said. “From my personal experience as a command pilot, to have the vast airspace here in Australia allows our pilots and the pilots of our regional partners to test and strengthen their warfighting capabilities.”
At RAAF Base Williamtown, Brown received an orientation of the F-35 complex that will be home to the air force’s first squadron of F-35s. Two RAAF F-35s first flew at the Avalon Air Show in 2017 and will arrive for permanent basing in December of this year. RAAF pilots, maintainers and aircraft are currently training at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, completing their 1000th sorties in June.
“Our allies and partners are on the front lines of 5th Generation integration in the Indo-Pacific,” Brown said, making reference to Australia, Japan, Korea, and the U.S. who will all have F-35s operating in the region. Last year, PACAF hosted Australia, Japan and Korea, as well as U.S. joint partners at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, for an inaugural F-35 symposium to discuss the employment and integration of 5th Generation capabilities into the region. PACAF expects to host a similar symposium in the coming year.
The general also visited with the RAAF Surveillance Response Group for an in-depth discussion on intelligence sharing and space capabilities, followed by an immersion and orientation flight with 2 Squadron, who operates the E-7A Wedgetail advanced air battle management platform.
The E-7A was recently deployed to Joint Base Pearl-Harbor Hickam, Hawaii, this April as part of Sentry Aloha 18-2, the third in a series of Enhanced Air Cooperation initiatives. The first EAC event, held in February at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, tested an improved combined aeromedical evacuation capability. The second, held at RAAF Base Darwin in April, integrated the B-52H Stratofortress, Australian F/A-18 Hornets and PC-9 trainer aircraft, and Australian Army for a close air support training exercise.
Marine Rotational Force-Darwin, or MRF-D, and EAC are the two initiatives under the U.S. Force Posture Initiative, announced in 2011 to expand the U.S.-Australia defense relationship and support common interests in promoting regional security and stability.
“These initiatives create the foundation for an enhanced presence of U.S. military personnel in Australia to promote interoperability, build upon our already strong alliance, and reaffirm our commitment to the Indo-Pacific region,” Brown said. “Australia and the U.S. are not only gaining new opportunities for combined training and improved interoperability between our forces, they also provide new opportunities for engagement with regional partners and position both nations to better respond to crises in the region.”
The general’s visit also took him to Bungendore to visit the Australian Joint Operations Command (JOC), the operational level headquarters responsible for the command and control of ADF operations worldwide. The command is also home to the Air Operations Center (AOC) that integrates daily with the 613th AOC at Joint Base Pearl-Harbor Hickam, Hawaii.
While at the JOC, U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Mike Winkler, PACAF Strategic Plans, Requirements and Programs director, lead a discussion on PACAF’s Strategy and Agile Combat Employment (ACE) concept of operations with key members of the joint staff.
In addition to strengthening our allies and attracting new partners, the PACAF strategy calls us to ‘rethink our thinking,’ Winkler said, leading to the evolution of the ACE concept.
To date, the RAAF have partnered with PACAF on several occasions to explore ACE concepts, seeking new ways to deploy and maneuver assets during a crisis or conflict in order to operate in contested environments. PACAF will host the RAAF and other multinational partners in Hawaii this September for a summit focused on ACE concepts.
Brown’s final stop in Canberra offered the honor of participating in a “Last Post” ceremony at the Australian War Memorial. The August 11 event paid tribute to World War II Army Private Robert Young. Held every day of the year, the memorial shares the story behind one of the names on the Roll of Honor, which features members of the Australian armed forces who have died during or as a result of war service, or for Post-1945 conflicts, warlike service, non-warlike service and certain peacetime operations.
“I was deeply honored to join Private Young’s family in paying tribute to his service and sacrifice to his nation, but also our alliance,” Brown said, “…serving as a reminder of how important it is that we continue to work with like-minded nations to maintain peace and prosperity in the region.”
At RAAF Base Tindal and Darwin, Brown not only got a first-hand look at the sites of key U.S. Force Posture Initiatives, but he also received an overview of Exercise Pitch Black 18.
Started in 1990, Pitch Black is the RAAF’s largest biennial multinational large force employment exercise to date. In its third week, this year’s iteration brought together 16 nations, 140 aircraft and 4,000 personnel operating out of both Tindal and Darwin. Approximately 150 of those personnel include U.S. Airmen who call the 8th Fighter Wing at Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea, their home.
“Airmen, no matter what country you’re from, all think alike to an extent,” Brown said. “Through this exercise, we can learn more not only about each other’s Air Force, but about each other and how and where we operate, improving future combined operations.”
An added benefit to bringing so many nations together for Pitch Black, the general and his staff were able to meet with several key counterparts during their time in Darwin, to include India, Thailand and Malaysia, furthering opportunities for continued cooperation and engagement among regional partners.