JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii --
Pacific Air Forces and Washington Air National Guard Airmen sit face-to-face with their counterparts from the Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF), except the venue is a little different from the last time Airman-to-Airman Talks (A2AT) were held Aug. 28 at Camp Murray, Washington – this time it’s a virtual meeting.
Pacific Air Forces first began the A2AT program in 2012 and currently participates in bilateral air force talks with 13 nations. The talks provide an avenue to develop interoperability, foster military-to-military relations and improve bilateral cooperation.
Due to the Coronavirus, the annual talks took place virtually for the first time, June 15 through 18; however, that didn’t stop the important discussions from being held.
“Welcome to the seventh Airman-to-Airman Talks,” said RTAF Air Marshal Tanasak Metananta, deputy chief of the Air Staff. “The meeting this year is special because we have to make it through video conference for the first time due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Today we will continue talks on such topics as air domain awareness, cyber security and plans for the next five years.”
As the seventh iteration of A2AT, the delegations discussed a number of topics, ranging from aerospace medicine, and logistics to air domain awareness, information security and cyber defense.
“These bilateral efforts and commitments not only deepen our relationship, but also secure a stronger future,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. David Burgy, Air National Guard assistant to the commander, Pacific Air Forces. “I’m confident that our air forces will work closely together to achieve our shared goals. Let’s showcase our deep commitment for a secure future of a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
Thailand is the United States’ oldest ally in Asia, going on 202 years since the two countries made initial contact between the King of Siam and the president of the United States, resulting in more than two centuries of friendship between the two nations.
The two air forces continue to build on that long-term relationship through exercises like Red Flag Alaska, Cope Tiger and Cobra Gold, which are annual exercises that focus on a myriad of different events and operations such as tactical airlift capabilities, humanitarian assistance and regional cooperation, and collaboration at all levels. Though Cope Tiger was postponed due to COVID-19, there are talks of resuming the exercise ahead.
“Our cooperation combines resources that deliver air, space, and cyberspace capabilities; encourages peaceful development; responds to contingencies; and deters aggression in the Indo-Pacific region,” Burgy said. “By strengthening our robust network of allies and partners, based on shared principles, we will continue to support a safe, secure, and prosperous region in accordance with international rules and norms.”
The four-day A2AT generated many discussions and gave the two nations the ability to review the effectiveness of their exercise and engagement programs.
“Despite everything going on in our world, the fact that we are having this virtual Airman-to-Airman Talks highlights the importance of the relationship between the Kingdom of Thailand and the United States,” said Brig. Gen. Gent Welsh, Washington Air National Guard commander. “We are looking forward to the resumption of our mutually beneficial training schedule later this year when safe and feasible.”
The Washington Air National Guard is the State Partner to the Kingdom of Thailand, through the State Partnership Program, or SPP. The SPP links a unique component of the Department of Defense - a state's National Guard - with the armed forces or equivalent of a partner country in a cooperative, mutually beneficial relationship.
“The State Partnership Program relationship between the Washington Air National Guard and the Royal Thai air force has never been stronger,” Welsh said. “I look forward to the day when a Washington Air National Guard KC-135 tankers not only refuel Royal Thai air force fighters, but transport RTAF Airmen to Washington State for exercises and bring our Airmen to Thailand for training. My hope is that we continue to develop generations of Airmen in both Washington State and Thailand that work and grow old together, mutually working on areas of interest between our two nations for many, many years to come.”
Through the SPP, the National Guard conducts military-to-military engagements in support of defense security goals but also leverages whole-of-society relationships and capabilities to facilitate broader interagency and corollary engagements spanning military, government, economic and social spheres.
Even with COVID-19 restrictions, the U.S. and Royal Thai air forces have continued to work together to foster relationships and community through whatever means necessary.
“COVID-19 remains a global challenge that no nation can face alone. Our strong network of alliances and partnerships is critical to combating this virus,” Burgy said. “In the center of this pandemic, we need to find ways to stay connected and work together as demonstrated by the virtual execution of this seventh Airman-to-Airman Talks.”
The next A2AT between the two countries is scheduled to take place July 2021.