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NEWS | July 21, 2014

RIMPAC Air Commander: "Relationships are Key to Interoperability'

By Maj. Ben Sakrisson 15th Wing Public Affairs

In any large-scale contingency, interoperability among participating multinational forces is essential.

The world’s largest maritime exercise, Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2014, comprises 22 nations operating around the Hawaiian Islands and southern California to foster and sustain cooperative relationships that are critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security on the world’s oceans.

“When people talk interoperability, they often think immediately about the technical interoperability, but personally I think the technical interoperability is actually the easy part,” said Air Commodore Chris Westwood of the Royal Australian Air Force. “It’s the human side of interoperability which is the most important.”

The human element is especially apparent in RIMPAC’s command structure. Westwood, as the combined forces air component commander (CFACC), is the first Australian in the exercise’s history to command all of the participating aerial assets. Likewise, Rear Adm. Simon Cullen is RIMPAC’s first Australian deputy commander.

“Perhaps the key is the enduring relationships that are formed as you exercise together. A great example of that is the relationship between Australia and the U.S.,” Westwood said.

“The fact that Australia has a CFACC for RIMPAC ’14 is a great indicator of how close that relationship is,how trusted it is, and how it has evolved, particularly in the command-and-control of the air component.”

Both Australia and Canada have participated in all 24 iterations of RIMPAC since it began in 1971.

“The[currentstateof]interoperability has come out of many years of working together. I think it has put us in a pretty good position to get this right,” Westwood said. “The main benefit of working with key partners and allies is the continual improvement in interoperability. It’s about technology, it’s about doctrine, but most of all, it is about relationships.”

Other key leaders of the multinational force include Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Rear Adm. Yasuki Nakahata as vice commander of the combined task force, Royal Canadian Navy Rear Adm. Gilles Couturier as combined forces maritime component commander, Chilean Navy Capt. Luis Sanchez as deputy commander of the maritime component, and Royal Canadian Air Force Col. Dave Lowthian as air component deputy commander.

“Every exercise that we do integrates new players and nations from around the Pacific Rim and helps us do the job when we need to do it,” Westwood said. “That’s the basic reason that we run these complex exercises.”

Through the course of RIMPAC, participants are working to build upon past successes and bring new partners, such as China and Brunei, into the fold.

“One of the primary goals of the exercise is to work on integration and to exercise integration at sea and in the air,” said Westwood. “We’d like to think that we will be integrated from the start, but no doubt we will be learning integration lessons as we progress.”

About 4,000 of the approximately 25,000 total RIMPAC participants are involved in the aviation component. More than 200 multinational aircraft will take part in flying operations including about 100 fighters, a substantial maritime patrol force, a sizeable helicopter force and numerous command-and-control airplanes. In total, exercise participants from 22 countries expect to fly roughly 4,000 sorties over a two-week period.

“The air component is a significant contributing factor to the RIMPAC activity, and there are significant learning opportunities for all of us in the air component and I wish to bring those forward. I want to put them on show,” said Westwood, “We have some tremendous capabilities.”

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