JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii --
Air chiefs and senior enlisted leaders from the Indo-Pacific region gathered for the Pacific Air Chiefs Symposium 2021 (PACS-21) and the first-ever Senior Enlisted Leadership Summit at Headquarters Pacific Air Forces (PACAF), Aug. 31 to Sept 2.
U.S. Air Force Gen. Ken Wilsbach, PACAF commander, hosted the event, which was attended by U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. CQ Brown, Jr., and air chiefs from 14 other nations. This year’s theme, “Enduring cooperation toward regional stability,” focused on ensuring a mutual understanding of common issues and challenges, while enhancing capabilities, capacity and interoperability.
“It is vital we strengthen the bonds between like-minded allies and partners,” said Brown. “We are committed to working together for the collective good and want to figure out the best combined approach in consultation with our partners and allies. We can’t afford to not be ready for the next crisis.”
In his opening remarks, Wilsbach highlighted that what set PACS-21 apart from previous versions was that 2021 marked the first year the event included an SEL Summit, which incorporated dialogue on professional military education.
The SELs took a tour of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, the USS Missouri, and collaborated to develop a charter each signed that laid out goals to strengthen partnerships and focus on prosperity and security for all.
“We intend to accelerate the amount of engagements that we have as senior enlisted leaders across the Indo-Pacific and with our partners across the globe,” said Chief Master Sgt. David Wolfe, PACAF Command Chief. “We also came to a common understanding that we all feel the need for trigger integration of our officer and enlisted training systems so they understand the roles and responsibilities of each other, and that they’re not competing together to operate for the first time during a crisis.”
Wilsbach added that as PACAF disperses Airmen in locations throughout the Indo-Pacific during times of competition, conflict or dire need, noncommissioned officers and captains on the frontlines are expected to fill the roles of chief master sergeants and colonels.
“They need to have skills, you have to invest in them, and it takes a commitment,” Wilsbach continued. “That is the secret sauce. That is the strategic advantage of having an Air Force that can perform at a very high level. Your enlisted force is educated, they're trained and they're developed to lead the force.”
The event included a wide range of bilateral and multilateral meetings, a tabletop exercise and panel discussions.
“The importance of a tabletop exercise is the start of the conversation,” said Kenneth E. Kligge, PACS-21 lead tabletop exercise facilitator and the director of the Center for Applied Strategic Learning at the National Defense University. “It’s not the end of the conversation if we’ve done our task correctly. So my hope is that moving outside of PACS, we continue to have the dialogue about how we can continue to support each other, understand each other and operate better together.”
During the tabletop exercises, the air chiefs dispersed into teams. Each group was assigned two rounds of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HA/DR) scenarios that required each team to collaborate to ensure mission success.
“Every time there is a HA/DR, there is something unique about it and how you will respond. To speed up decision-making and response times, it’s advantageous to establish standard operating procedures,” Wilsbach said. “It’s only a matter of time, unfortunately, until we have another disaster in the region.”
The symposium also focused on a wide range of topics covering regional security, air domain awareness, multi-domain operations, interoperability and cyber security.
Wilsbach explained that PACAF and the other nations made progress on these initiatives since PACS-19, but an area that could be improved was building a more cohesive network architecture in the region.
“Let's exercise more; let's have other opportunities to deepen our relationship and deepen our capabilities together to move forward,” Wilsbach said. “A topic that keeps popping up, which is mutual to all of us, is a free and open Indo-Pacific. That's an absolute objective for all of our nations that we are responsible for as Airmen to work.”
The general also highlighted that modern competitors are becoming increasingly reliant on cyberspace to gain tactical and operational advantages.
“If your cyber is not secured, your advantage goes away,” Wilsbach said. “To command and control forces requires cyberspace, and communication requires cyberspace. So the security aspect of this is incredibly important.”
While in discussions, the air chiefs focused on topics of collaboration and interoperability among partner nations.
“We have a good connection between the air chiefs, and events like PACS make this possible,” Air Chief Marshal Rakesh Kumar Singh Bhadauria, Chief of the Air Staff, Indian Air Force. “It is very important to have a clear understanding of how the scenarios are changing in the Indo-Pacific, what the ground realities are, and what we need to do in order to ensure safe passage and the international rule of law.”
Wilsbach thanked the Air Chiefs for the sacrifices they made to travel to Hawaii despite COVID-19 quarantine restrictions in their respective countries.
“I know what a huge commitment it was for many of you that have to go back to a two-week quarantine,” Wilsbach said. “That says something to me that you’re committed to PACS and your fellow air chiefs, and that this was a valuable few days for you. I'm so incredibly grateful for your commitment and your friendship.”