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Home : Media : Speeches / Testimony
NEWS | April 24, 2024

Adm. John C. Aquilino, Commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, Fireside Chat with Dr. Michael Fullilove, Lowy Institute Executive Director

U.S. Indo-Pacific Command

Admin Note 0:00

*Transmission begins during applause*

Dr. Michael Fullilove, Lowy Institute Executive Director 0:14

Welcome everybody, both those joining us in person here at our beautiful headquarters at 31 Bligh St. and those joining us online for this special Lowy Institute event with the commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command Adm. John C. Aquilino. I'm Michael Fullilove, the executive director of the Lowy Institute. Let me recognize our Deputy Chairman Steven Lowy, board member Glenn Stevens, a number of senior American and Australian officers. I'd also like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which the Institute stands, the Gadigal of the Eora Nation. I pay my respects to their Elders. Ladies and Gentlemen, after the second world war the U.S. military divided the world up into a series of combatant commands and the largest of these commands, and the most important from Australia's point of view, based at Camp H. M. Smith in Honolulu is U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, or INDOPACOM as it's known in the business. And we're privileged today to hear from INDOPACOM’s Commander Adm. Aquilino. As Commander of INDOPACOM, Adm. Aquilino is responsible for all U.S. military activities in this region, covering 36 countries from India to Kiribas, 14 time zones, and half of the world's population. He has some 375,000 service members under his command. He's Washington's point man in the region helping to manage not just key relationships with America's Allies and friends, but also its relations with China. His remit includes some of the world's flash points from the Taiwan Strait, to the South China Sea, to the DMZ. The admiral has a lot on his plate. And from now on Chris, whenever my job is feeling big to me I'm going to remind myself of the dimensions of your job. So, INDOPACOM is one of the most consequential command positions in the world, and it's a command position that historically has been important for Australia because of our Alliance relationship with the United States. Of course, we're an island nation surrounded by a vast moat formed by the Southern Pacific and Indian oceans. And given that geography we might have been an isolationist country, but in fact we have never sought to remain aloof from world affairs. We have always seen ourselves as a country with global interests and we've always maintained a significant connection with the leading naval power of the day, first the United Kingdom and then the United States. Our Alliance with the United States has only become more important in recent years with the resurrection of the Quad, and the establishment of AUKUS. So, for all these reasons admiral, it's a great privilege to have you here with us this evening. The third INDOPACOM Commander that I've been lucky enough to host at Bligh St. Ladies and Gentlemen, Adm. Aquilino graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis in 1984, and he earned his wings as a naval aviator in 1986. He's a graduate of the Navy Fighter Weapons school, which might be more familiar to you as Top Gun. He's been deployed on operations in Europe, Afghanistan, and Iraq, and served as Commander of Carrier Strike Group 2 aboard USS George H.W. Bush. He served in a number of important staff roles. In 2018, he was appointed Commander of the US Pacific Fleet, and in April 2021, he was appointed INDOPACOM Commander. He is also currently the U.S. Navy's Old Goat, which means he is the longest serving graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy on active duty. I don't know whether he would appreciate me mentioning that item on his CV, but I believe it's true. Adm. Aquilino, thank you for visiting the Lowy Institute. Please join me on stage.

Audience 4:10


Dr. Michael Fullilove, Lowy Institute Executive Director 4:18

Thank you. Please. So, we have almost an hour with the admiral. I'm going to pop some questions to him for about half an hour, or 40 minutes, and then I'm going to give you an opportunity to ask him some questions too. So, please get your questions ready. Admiral, before I get into the substantive questions, we'd like to learn a little bit about you. You're from Long Island in New York. Tell us a bit about your family background. What took you into the United States Navy?

Adm. John C. Aquilino, CDRUSINDOPACOM 4:48

Michael, thanks. If you don't mind though, I would also like to recognize the traditional owners of the land and their Elders here. It's always wonderful to be back in Australia to see friends and partners for at least my last decade of operations here. I'd like to thank Mr. Lowy and the board. Thank you for having me. This institute is incredible, and it serves both Australia well, as well as the partnership. So, thanks. Michael, thank you. So, again, I'm the son of a Italian family, 100%. My dad had a Ready Mix Concrete business, of which that's where I started as a worker and I worked with him my whole life. Drove my first concrete truck at seven years old, my first front-end loader at seven-and-a-half. So, I'm a blue collar guy, but I learned an incredible work ethic from my dad, and boy my mom. There's no doubt who drove the family. I can tell you. That said, my uncle was a Navy man. He graduated from Wilkes College in Pennsylvania, as did my father, and he was a destroyer captain. He retired as a Navy Captain, and he took me out on a ship one day and I think I was kind of sold. Now, that said ship driving was interesting but flying airplanes is what I always wanted to do. So, I’ve just been incredibly lucky during my time to have the support of a ton of friends, family, and mentors just to get me where I am today. This is not anything that happens by itself, and for all the things you described on the expansive nature of what INDOPACOM is responsible for, you know, the key aspect of what you said was the 375,000 Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, Guardians that work tirelessly every day to prevent conflict, to support our Allies and partners, and to deliver a free and open Indo-Pacific for all of the nations in the region. That's what we do every day.

Dr. Michael Fullilove, Lowy Institute Executive Director 7:04

Alright, before we get to that. I want to ask you, you earned your wings as a pilot I think in the same year that Top Gun came out, which must have been quite a moment like graduating from Oxford when Brideshead Revisited is published. What… you said you always wanted to be a pilot, you didn't want to drive ships, what did you love about being a naval aviator?

Adm. John C. Aquilino, CDRUSINDOPACOM 7:26

Well, it's almost indescribable until you do it. So, the incredible freedom, the power, the camaraderie, the people, every single thing about it was enticing and I just always categorize it this way. You know, these are 600 KN people in a 600 KN world, and operating at that pace and speed is what's needed to be successful and survive in this day and age.

Dr. Michael Fullilove, Lowy Institute Executive Director 8:03

Alright, you mentioned the most important thing you do is to command, and to look after, and to serve alongside all these amazing service members, but tell us a bit more about just the dimensions of your job because it's such an interesting job you… you're commanding the military but you're playing almost a political role. You're traveling around the region. You're moving constantly. Tell us about a day in the life of the INDOPACOM Commander.

Adm. John C. Aquilino, CDRUSINDOPACOM 8:32

Well, again a day in the life of an INDOPACOM Commander. Hell, I don't know if I've had one day the same out of three years, but I can tell you the broad sets of things that we execute in the headquarters every day. First and foremost, it's to be able to operate freely in accordance with international law throughout the region, to demonstrate what right looks like, and to ensure we can enable prosperity for all nations and to operate safely to deliver those objectives of deterrence. And the secretary gave me two missions, as it… well, he gave me a lot of missions. I usually focus on the main two. Number one is to prevent conflict in this region, and number two is if I fail at mission one to be prepared to fight and win, and those are not separate missions. The ability to be able to be prepared to fight and win is the strength that delivers the deterrence needed to prevent the conflict. So, number one is to make sure we're executing that role. Number two is to integrate and synchronize with our Allies and partners because we are stronger together. Alright, despite 375,000 people, or whatever the number is, the strength of what happens in this region is all of our alliances, our friendships, and our partnerships with the entire region. Whether that be militarily or economically, those capabilities dwarf any competitor. And each and every day, any potential adversary needs to see that this globalized world, and the linkage of the like-minded nations, is a problem that they will have should there be actions, unilaterally, to take action detrimental to the rest of the nations, and the United States, and the region. So, I spend a lot of time either on the phone, on email, or in the airplane out to visit my partners. We are on texts together, right? This is… number one, I'm an analog guy in a digital world, but I know how to send texts and all of the Chiefs of Defense are on my speed dial, and [I’m on theirs]. So, the coordination, the collaboration, the conversations, the linkages are critically important, and not always about the war fighting aspect. This region is prone to disasters. You know, last week alone I sent three notes to my partners and said, “hey, how you doing? You need any help?” Whether it be the earthquake that occurred south of Okinawa and Northeast of Taiwan. Whether it be, you know, similar type actions. There were fires in the Philippines during our last exercise that we helped support. Mission one there is to, hey, if somebody needs help shoot me a note and we're coming. We're here to save lives. We're here to help you protect your citizens, and so, that's in the job jar. Third, managing and synchronizing with the Secretary, who's my boss, and ensuring that I'm aligned and carrying out his direction in order to meet the United States’ National Defense Strategy. So, those are kind of the, what I would say are the three big bins and all of them happen every day. Sometimes multiple times.

Dr. Michael Fullilove, Lowy Institute Executive Director 12:12

Alright, let's talk about… you mentioned the special sauce for the United States in the region, in a way, is your partnerships and your alliances. Let me take you through some of those alliances, because we have certainly observed that in the last few years that Washington has consolidated its alliances with a number of Allies in the region. Whether it’s AUKUS, or bringing Japan and South Korea together. We know that Prime Minister Kishida is probably about to arrive in Washington for an important bilateral visit. So, tell us a bit about Japan. There's been significant expansion of the self-defense force in recent years. How important is that, and what sort of announcements do you expect from Washington in terms of the bilateral relationship between U.S. and Japan.

Adm. John C. Aquilino, CDRUSINDOPACOM 13:09

Well, I'm going to leave the announcements to President Biden as a part of that state visit for what he might decide to coordinate and synchronize with Prime Minister Kishida, but to your original point though, while it's clearly in the United States’ National Defense Strategy to be able to strengthen and pull together Allies and partners, it’s also critically important for all the nations in the region, and I I'll give you this example. I talked about getting together with the Chiefs of Defense, and we do that every year, once a year in person, and then we get together two or three times a year virtually so that we can stay connected, we can understand what problems each other are facing, and we can figure out where we can be helpful for each other. But as a part of that, we always identify at least three things that we're going to agree as a set Chiefs of Defense and leadership in the area, that we're going to go after to make this place better, this region better. And one of the first ones actually came from Gen. Campbell, and it is the only one that has maintained the number one position for three years, and that is that we will continue to work together more mini- and multilaterally to be able to maintain peace, stability, and to be able to operate safely throughout the region. That's a commitment from all of the nations’ leaderships because it's the number one most important thing. So, based on the fact that it is important to all we have expanded, as you articulated Michael, a lot of the engagements and interactions. I'll just give you some examples. Talisman Sabre, previously, was a bilateral United States/Australian high-end exercise that we did every other year. Well, I think there's 12 or 14 nations competing, or now participating not competing, but participating. Balikatan with the Philippines, previously bilateral with the United States and the Philippines now multilateral operating at the high end. Cobra Gold with Thailand, the same. Trilaterally with the Republic of Korea, Japan, and the United States, we operate and we exercise persistently. You mentioned AUKUS. The Quad nations get together. While the Quad is not a military agreement, it is an economic diplomatic agreement, but the Quad nations operate together in Malabar and other events around the globe. So, this theme has been recognized by all of the nations as it applies to the importance in delivering the stability and peace in the region. So, it just makes sense and I believe it's been effective, and I think it will continue to grow. We have RIMPAC coming up this year, Super Garuda Shield with Indonesia, again the examples are just continuous, but it is a strength for all of the like-minded nations to be able to come together.

Dr. Michael Fullilove, Lowy Institute Executive Director 16:21

Alright. So, on Japan, how would you characterize Japan's strategic posture changes in the SDF in recent years? How important are they?

Adm. John C. Aquilino, CDRUSINDOPACOM 16:31

Well, I think Japan is only one example of what you've seen in the region as it applies to the strengthening of military capability. I would love to think that's because of my charming personality, but I'm a realist and it's not, right? This is about the threat. So, the threats that exist in this region for INDOPACOM and the rest of the nations, as identified in my National Defense Strategy, certainly is the PRC, goes without saying, but also 1,700 miles of Russian coastline and based on the Russians’ illegal illegitimate invasion of Ukraine, that's a problem in this theater as well. Third is the DPRK, and the increased UN Security Council resolution violations in the forms of long-range missile activity. The movement forward of their nuclear capability. All those things are concerning for the region. And if that's not enough, violent extremism is still around and it's in this theater. The Philippines, in the southern Philippines, they have a real problem that my partner is going after there as well. So, with that lineup four of the five threats identified in the United States’ National Security Strategy are in this theater, and when you talk about what's happened over the last year with regard to the synchronization of some of those nations, right? The no-limits relationship between the PRC and Russia, that's a problem we haven't had before. Russian and DPRK cooperation, sharing weapons and breaking sanctions and supporting that economy, that's a problem and not because they're supporting the economy but because the financial support to the DPRK is going to increase missile development and weapons development, not to feed the people in the DPRK. So, those sets of cooperation and the linkages are really a new world and a concern for me.

Dr. Michael Fullilove, Lowy Institute Executive Director 18:41

Alright, what about… talk to us a bit about the Philippines if you will. I want to come back to China and Russia, but I just want to stay on the Allies for a bit. We hosted, as you know, we hosted President Marcos in Melbourne last month, and he made the point that the Philippines was on the front line of international efforts to preserve, defend, and uphold the rules-based international order that you mentioned. What have been your impressions about how the Philippines approach to the questions of sovereignty have changed under President Marcos?

Adm. John C. Aquilino, CDRUSINDOPACOM 19:15

I think what I see here is a real… first, the leadership of President Marcos as it applied to the challenges and the dangers that are being placed on his force by the PRC, I commend the actions he's taken, as well as my counterparts and the entire National Security apparatus in the Philippines. Right, number one, exposing the bad behavior that is a unilateral action by a strong nation to impress their will and goals on another nation in the region. If you were to think about that, it sounds a little like Russia and Ukraine. So, it is incredibly… I'm very, very concerned about the direction it's going. The last two resupplies, there were six Coast Guardsmen on the Philippine resupply vessels that were injured…

Dr. Michael Fullilove, Lowy Institute Executive Director 20:15

We’re talking about resupplying Sierra Madre on the Second Thomas Shoal.

Adm. John C. Aquilino, CDRUSINDOPACOM 20:17


Dr. Michael Fullilove, Lowy Institute Executive Director 20:18


Adm. John C. Aquilino, CDRUSINDOPACOM 20:20

The illegal claim of everything inside of the self-proclaimed nine- or ten- dash line as Chinese Sovereign territorial Waters has no basis in international law, and it is been decreed by the 2016 tribunal that it in fact the Chinese have no legal claim. So, all of the nations in the region have the right to operate and gain the resources that are allowed to them inside of their exclusive economic zone. The Philippines are no different, and these actions are dangerous, illegal, and they are destabilizing the region.

Dr. Michael Fullilove, Lowy Institute Executive Director 21:06

Is Second Thomas Shoal the most dangerous flashpoint in your area of command?

Adm. John C. Aquilino, CDRUSINDOPACOM 21:11

Yeah, I'm very concerned about what's happening at Second Thomas Shoal, and because, I mean, that's self-explanatory. We have actions, physical actions, from the PRC as you've seen on the video of two Coast Guard ships and a, what they call a fishing vessel but is actually a part of the military militia controlled by the CCP, to prevent the resupply of those forces on the Sierra Madre, and like I said six Sailors hurt. So, what's next and how far are they willing to go in that area. And you know, that's the one that's most exposed and seen, but those actions are similar around the rest of the region. The Japanese have a problem with Chinese aggressive behavior in the vicinity of the Senkaku Islands. Malaysia has issues at Luconia Shoals. Indonesia has issues at Natuna Island and the Vietnamese have a broad set of concerns, and, you know, lastly, we see the same behavior on the Indian border. So, this is not isolated. This is about the PRC trying to gain territorial space unilaterally through force.

Dr. Michael Fullilove, Lowy Institute Executive Director 22:41

Alright, let me ask you to character… to talk a bit more, as a military commander, about China's strategic posture in the region at the moment, because politically of course the relationship between Australia and China after a very difficult period has warmed up and that period of, sort of, attempted economic coercion has come to an end. We've had visits by the Foreign Minister, the Chinese Premier is due to come later this year. It's been reported, I think, that the PLA Air Force has toned down some of its risky and coercive interceptions. I don't know if you agree with that since last year, but of course it was earlier this year that a Chinese warship endangered Australian divers onboard HMAS Toowoomba. So, you are painting a picture of consistency, in a way, in Chinese behavior. Is that true? How would you characterize it? Is it aggressive? Is it forward leaning? How would you describe it?

Adm. John C. Aquilino, CDRUSINDOPACOM 23:48

Yeah. It certainly has been aggressive, and you've named many of the examples. I do see a bit of optimism. So, since President Biden spoke with President Xi, we, other than Toowoomba which happened, I think, the day after, but not one dangerous intercept or concerning maritime interaction since that point. That is an incredibly positive, you know, movement in the relationship. And number one, we have to keep that. I am concerned about increased aggressive action and the potential for an accident. That would put everything in a different place than we are today. So, I'm encouraged by that, but I'm concerned that that is a tool in the toolkit of the PRC for when they are unhappy, and when they are not achieving their strategic objectives. You know, the stabilization of the relationship, I think as you articulated, we have both seen it. That is desirable for all the nations in the region, for that to be stabilized, but let's not lose sight on to why. To be able to re-energize the Chinese economy is the number one priority, and for them to take that on and to focus there, the stabilization of the military sphere is a requirement. So, I'm concerned that it's temporary. I am hopeful that it will continue, but I do believe it is a tool that will be used again at the time and place of their choosing.

Dr. Michael Fullilove, Lowy Institute Executive Director 25:42

Alright, let me ask you about the Korean Peninsula. You've got, I think, about 20,000 personnel deployed in R.O.K. We saw recently that Kim Jong Un say that unification is no longer possible, and that the south is the primary enemy of the North. What does that tell us about the Kim family regime’s long-term intentions towards South Korea?

Adm. John C. Aquilino, CDRUSINDOPACOM 26:11

I'm not sure. So, the United States maintains a minimum of 28,500 forces to be able to manage and to support the Republic of Korea and to deliver on our commitment towards peace and stability for the Republic of Korea, and be prepared if there were actions. You know, as I look at what Kim Jong Un is interested in, number one, he's interested in staying in power. The number one priority. We've seen a lot of rhetoric over the years. We've seen that rhetoric in a variety of different ways. Gen. Paul LaCamera is the Unified Commander at U.S. Forces Korea, and he manages this with his Republic of Korea counterparts every day. The strength of the United States forces on Korea, the Republic of Korea military forces, the synchronization, the ability to be ready to fight tonight if needed, that's a pretty powerful deterrent. And again, I do believe Kim Jong Un is rational and he understands he can't win against that force, and that's the deterrence that makes sense.

Dr. Michael Fullilove, Lowy Institute Executive Director 27:23

What about Taiwan which has, sort of, been overshadowed a bit by Second Thomas Shoal recently? There's often discussion about a PLA Navy blockade of the island in the event of a conflict. Does the Chinese Navy have the capacity to do that? Would that be considered an act of war by the United States?

Adm. John C. Aquilino, CDRUSINDOPACOM 27:45

Michael, that's going to be a policy discussion and I'm not a policy maker. What I will say is I am concerned about the actions that I've seen. It's critically important to note that the United States’ policy, as it applies to Taiwan, has not changed. That has been told to President Xi by President Biden. It's been told by Secretary of Defense Austin to his counterpart, previously. It's been told by me in every public event that I have done. Alright, the United States’ policy has not changed. Now, it's worth highlighting what the United States’ policy is, and the United States believes in a peaceful resolution of this issue to the satisfaction of people on both sides of the straits, free of coercion. And what I'm watching at this point is increased coercion, which is why I'm concerned. The United States does not seek an independent Taiwan. We are not executing any provocations. So, again, I say it every place I go so that there should be no room for interpretation any other way. And like I said, the Secretary has tasked me to operate in this region, to deliver deterrent effects to prevent conflict, not to provoke it.

Dr. Michael Fullilove, Lowy Institute Executive Director 29:08

Alright, you mentioned Russia earlier when you were talking about threats that you have to consider in the INDOPACOM area. I remember at the time of Russia's brutal invasion of Ukraine a couple of years ago, that a lot of Asia analysts were worried that a forceful American response would turn America's head away from the Indo-Pacific. I must say I took the other view which is to say that all these theaters are connected and that it would be very bad for stability in Asia if Russia were to be able to successfully invade and defeat Ukraine. What was your view at the time, and do you think that the incredible effort that Washington has put into supporting and supplying Ukraine, has that affected the level of attention that you've got in Washington as INDOPACOM Commander?

Adm. John C. Aquilino, CDRUSINDOPACOM 30:06

Yeah, Michael. So, the answer is no. That said, I am not seeking attention in Washington. Let's just be clear. That said, I'm here to do the job that the Secretary has tasked. So, when the invasion occurred, right, the immediate actions was for me to get in touch with Gen. Cavoli and say, “what do you need, what do you need me to do over here, and let's make sure that we're synchronized, such that my actions over here, number one, don't escalate and cause you a problem, and then number two, if you have actions you need me to take at the time and place of your choosing, that we are postured and ready to do that.” So, that's what happened in the immediate aftermath. Those coordination and synchronizations still happen today. On top of that, I'm with you. This is a globalized world whether we like it or not, and it's almost unbreakable as we've looked at the global economic supply chains and everything else. We're not, right, there's no more isolationists, but what you have seen is the importance of this region being articulated both in the Middle East, in the EU, and in Africa with my other counterparts. Two-thirds of the global economy flows through the water space over here. Two-thirds of the people are here. So, that integration and inter-relationships are critical. The EU and the UK understand it. I went to Europe and spoke at a conference two years ago to make that exact point when Minister Wallace asked me to come and speak for the exact reason you described. Gen. Cavoli was in Japan and Korea three weeks ago to be able to ensure he was talking to the leadership there as it applies to his responsibility as Strategic Allied Commander Europe. So, we are having those conversations. We are telling the story of the synchronization that has to be linked between leaders in the United States military, and I'd argue that the rest of the United States forms of national power are also doing that. You know, I was in the Philippines with Secretary Raimondo a few weeks ago, but before that she was in Europe. So, all forms of national power, synchronized to include the joint force, aligned with our Allies and partners, to prevent conflict. Right, that's Secretary Austin's definition of integrated deterrence. And through the military arm, those are the actions that we've been trying to deliver.

Dr. Michael Fullilove, Lowy Institute Executive Director 32:49

What about synchronization, to use your term, between the PRC and Russia. So, over the weekend it was widely reported that Secretary Blinken had briefed U.S. Allies in Europe that China was stepping up its support for Moscow in its war with Ukraine, including by providing geospatial intelligence for Russian forces. What… are you seeing that that no-limits partnership is becoming closer and closer?

Adm. John C. Aquilino, CDRUSINDOPACOM 33:18

Yeah. First, when those two leaders speak, we should listen because they normally tell us what they're thinking about. Specifically, President Xi said this is a relationship that the world hasn't seen in 100 years. I took note of that, everybody else should. The actions you're describing, Michael, are becoming increased, I believe, to deliver a message to all. Right? So, authoritarian nations coming together to deliver their message and their view of what the international world order should look like, how the rules should be written, that is the most concerning thing as they come together. In the military space, they're operating more together both in the maritime and the airspace, they are certainly supporting each other as has been articulated. So, those are concerning and, again, I'd argue going in the wrong direction.

Dr. Michael Fullilove, Lowy Institute Executive Director 34:20

Alright, let me come a little closer to our shores to the Southwest Pacific. In April 2022, China and Solomon Islands signed a security agreement, but then shortly after the inking of that agreement Beijing was rebuffed in its attempt to get the whole region to sign an overarching regional security agreement. How would you characterize China's efforts to further its interests with the Pacific Island countries, and how would it change the strategic calculus for the United States and for Australia if China were to construct a military base in one of those countries?

Adm. John C. Aquilino, CDRUSINDOPACOM 35:01

So, the strategy that I see them using is based on three pillars, right? So, the Global Security Initiative, the Global Civilization Initiative, and the Global Development Initiative. Those are the pillars that they've laid out. Now, none of them have any depth or real specificity to them. They articulated through the lens of win-win cooperation, and the peaceful actions throughout the region, right? That's the rhetoric and the narrative. That's not the actions we see. So, that's their approach through what has previously been referred to as Belt and Road, and through what I think will, kind of, morph into this Global Development / Civilization initiative. What we've seen is economic coercion, and the Pacific Islands are a prime target. I want to thank Gen. Campbell and Air Marshal Short from New Zealand, my counterparts here. Gen. Campbell's leadership, specifically in the Pacific Islands, has been incredible and he has been a counsel and a guidance for me as we work to the delivery of support from our nations, and it's worth highlighting. Solomon Island specifically, that the Australians have provided billions of dollars in development to the Solomon Islands. The commitment and the history goes back a long way, but Gen. Campbell's leadership in the area has worked to synchronize our efforts to be able to provide capabilities and assistant to the Solomon Islands. We have an initiative to provide and upgrade the Federal Fishing Association so that they can understand maritime domain awareness. We have worked to present some national security impacts based on expected actions, or results, of climate change. Whether it be rising sea level, increased severity of storms, drought, all those things are potentially existential to the Pacific Islands, and we work together to ensure we can help and support those islands maintain their sovereignty, maintain their livelihood, and to maintain their linkage and ability to have a voice in the rules-based order. So, all that gets to the point that an increased military presence in that region is a direct threat to Australia as it applies to homeland defense, and it doesn't put the United States in a good position either.

Dr. Michael Fullilove, Lowy Institute Executive Director 37:49

Alright, let's come to Australia. I want to ask you a few questions about AUKUS and then I'm going to go to the audience and give them an opportunity to ask you some questions. What do you say to those critics in Australia of AUKUS who say that the United States may not live up to its side of the bargain? That given that submarine production is already running behind schedule, for example, we may not be able to acquire the Virginia-class boats on time.

Adm. John C. Aquilino, CDRUSINDOPACOM 38:18

Yeah, I wouldn't even have that conversation with anyone. The United States commitment is ironclad, to the Australian and UK agreement that we've made. It is. The actions that, or let me just tell you what's been going on since the agreement has occurred. Alright, we have Australian Sailors that have graduated from nuke school and are now sitting in the prototype learning to get their final qualifications to run a nuclear reactor. Those numbers of bodies in those schools are increasing at an exponential rate. Australians have been in U.S. shipyards to understand how to do nuclear maintenance and synchronize efforts as it applies to submarine maintenance. We have training systems getting ready to come over. We have deployed Virginia-class submarines to Australia. We have Australian service members and maintainers in Guam looking and learning on how we do operations forward. We're going to send both a submarine out as a pilot deployment from Stirling with the tender, such that we will sync the operational aspect and the maintenance aspect to build our expertise and identify what's needed as you build out infrastructure. So, in two years we have delivered a ton and we will continue till we deliver a boat in ’32. The commitment is ironclad, and it is needed. Right, very bold and brave decision by the leadership. It is a generation capability that's, number one, it's needed because of the threat. So, I certainly admire the leadership for making the call, and our commitment will deliver it.

Dr. Michael Fullilove, Lowy Institute Executive Director 40:16

How do you envisage these boats operating in the future? You might have seen that Deputy Secretary Campbell, over the weekend, said the AUKUS boats could be used in cross-strait circumstances, for example, which was a reference to Taiwan contingencies. Do you agree with that?

Adm. John C. Aquilino, CDRUSINDOPACOM 40:33

Well, I think that will be Australia's call and how they decide to utilize their operational units when and if the time comes. That said, we coordinate in almost every day out here. We are interoperable beyond any other nations. So, those are policy decisions on what they decide to do, but that capability certainly has the ability to operate anywhere they want, to deliver any mission that Australia would choose.

Dr. Michael Fullilove, Lowy Institute Executive Director 41:04

Let me ask you about JAUKUS. There's a lot of speculation that Japan might join AUKUS, and this morning the three Defense Ministers released a statement saying they're considering cooperation with Japan on Pillar II projects. What would that mean?

Adm. John C. Aquilino, CDRUSINDOPACOM 41:20

Well, I think it gets to the multilateral discussion that we started with, Michael. The importance of having the broad set of likeminded nations, being able to share high-end technologies, to deliver war fighting capability, those things deliver deterrence. The synchronization of Japan, Australia and the United States was evident in the most recent Keen Edge exercise that we did. Previously a bilateral U.S./Japan exercise. My counterpart, and the government of Japan, invited Australia to participate, and it was an incredible event. It pulled together those three nations in a way that we haven't seen in a long time. So, the trend is going in the right direction. We'll see if the policy team decides that they will pull in Japan. That won't be my decision, but I'm certainly supportive of the capabilities shared with Australia, and Japan, and the United Kingdom. There are capabilities that we need to deliver the defense required, as a part of the mutual defense treaties, right? Integrated air and missile defense, or networked missile defense comes to mind. There are space capabilities that I think contribute to that that would be effective. There are cyber capabilities. So, the list of those capabilities would be beneficial for Japan if that's so chosen.

Dr. Michael Fullilove, Lowy Institute Executive Director 42:56

There's a bit of AUKUS envy, I think, around at the moment. You might have seen that Justin Trudeau, the Canadian Prime Minister, said he'd been speaking to counterparts about Canadian participation in AUKUS, and he was musing about whether perhaps Canada needed nuclear powered boats to patrol the Canadian Arctic. So, I mean we might have CAUKUS coming down the pike. Is that realistic though, do you think? Could you imagine Canada investing in, and acquiring, and operating a fleet of nuclear power submarines?

Adm. John C. Aquilino, CDRUSINDOPACOM 43:28

Yeah, I think that's a better question for Canada. What I would say is, you know, as the threat keeps delivering more concern to the rest of the nations, I think every nation out there is looking at what are those capabilities they need to, number one, defend their nation, and then number two, how to best do it tied to Allies and partners. So, again, you have to save that for…

Dr. Michael Fullilove, Lowy Institute Executive Director 43:53

No comment on CAUKUS?

Adm. John C. Aquilino, CDRUSINDOPACOM 43:54

You’ve got to save that for Gen. Wayne Eyre and for the Canadian leadership. As well as the policy makers in the United States.

Dr. Michael Fullilove, Lowy Institute Executive Director 44:01

Okay. I'm going to… please put up your hand if you'd like to put a question to the admiral. I'm going to sneak one in that we've received online from someone you probably know. Dimitri *indiscernible* from *indiscernible* and Dimitri asks, “What about Second Thomas Shoal, what more can the U.S. do to increase deterrence in that area?”

Adm. John C. Aquilino, CDRUSINDOPACOM 44:27

I think what you just witnessed through a multilateral lens is what we think right looks like. So, if you are unaware, we executed a combined patrol of the Australians, the Philippines, the Japanese, and the United States in the region to demonstrate the ability to operate safely and effectively in the region in accordance with the international rules that exist. So, the rule of law is important. I think those types of events and things are exactly what we need to do to demonstrate that strength amongst the like-minded Allies and partners, and that we will continue to operate anywhere international law allows.

Dr. Michael Fullilove, Lowy Institute Executive Director 45:18

Alright, yes. This Gentleman had his hand up first. If you could just wait for microphone. If you could tell us your name, and if you could ask a short question to the admiral, please.

Audience 45:31

Thank you, admiral. Tim Cole, Navy retired. The question of military bases in, Chinese military bases in Solomon Islands and other Islands, could they be rather Coast Guard, China Coast Guard bases so that China Coast Guard, which is the largest in the world, could deploy their Coast Guard ships to the region, the close in region, and operate in a quasi-constabulary situation rather than grey PLA hulls.

Adm. John C. Aquilino, CDRUSINDOPACOM 46:06

Yeah, that's exactly the model we see, right? The articulation of the PRC is that everything inside the nine-dash line is Chinese Sovereign territory and they are using their Coast Guard to enforce what they believe is their coast. So, they're absolutely linked. That said, there's no separation between whether it be the military militia in the form of fishing vessels, the Chinese Coast Guard, or their grey hulls. They are all commanded and controlled by the military.

Dr. Michael Fullilove, Lowy Institute Executive Director 46:38

Alright, who else would like to ask a question? Yes, Madam?

Audience 46:46

Hello, admiral. Thank you for taking the question. I am *indiscernible* from Japanese media Nikkei. My question is on the Darwin Port. The Australian government last year found it was not necessary to cancel the lease of a port by a Chinese-owned company while the U.S. military is planning to build U.S. Air Force mission planning and operation center. Would you have any concerns about the current contract agreement, arrangement? Thank you.

Dr. Michael Fullilove, Lowy Institute Executive Director 47:19

This is a great opportunity to make news in Australia.

Adm. John C. Aquilino, CDRUSINDOPACOM 47:24

Well, number one, I don't have any concerns because anything that has to happen will have the government of Australia's approval. The United States doesn't do anything in Australia without the coordination of the government of Australia approval. So, the sovereignty of Australia is of critical importance to the United States and it's our commitment. The United States only comes to Australia when Australia approves. That said, there are many places that we come to whether it be a port call in Stirling by a nuclear powered submarine, whether it be a B-2 Bomber, and I stood on the ground at Amberley about a year-and-a-half ago when we did a B-2 detachment to Australia. It's important that United States and Australia can operate together from Australia should we have to execute our responsibilities under our Mutual Defense Treaty, but not one detachment, or one U.S. service member comes to Australia without the Australian leadership approval. Sovereignty of the nations in the region is the critical component of why the international rules matter. All nations get a choice, and I always say large or small nations. We don't care. Every nation gets an equal voice and we certainly work towards the peaceful resolution of any, you know, disagreements. But don't lose sight of the fact that what we believe in is freedom for our people, sovereignty of our nations, and the ability to have an equal voice as we work through disagreements.

Dr. Michael Fullilove, Lowy Institute Executive Director 49:12

Alright, yes. Michael *indiscernible*.

Audience 49:20

Thank you. Michael *indiscernible*. Has the changed leadership in Indonesia changed any of the strategic atmospheric?

Adm. John C. Aquilino, CDRUSINDOPACOM 49:33

Well, I sent President-elect Prabowo a congratulatory note last week. He's certainly not in the seat yet, so I think the answer to your question is it remains to be seen. I think there are a lot of common values that the like-minded nations in the region have with Indonesia, and I think there's opportunity there for us to work more closely together. Two years ago, we initiated Garuda Shield as a multinational, multi-domain, multi-service exercise. And I flew there, at the time it was with Gen. Andika. That exercise has continued and grown. So, again this goes to the Chief's agreement with more multilateral set of actions, because we're stronger when we're together. So, I think the potential certainly exists. We'll see what happens. We do have common values.

Dr. Michael Fullilove, Lowy Institute Executive Director 50:37

Another big Asian democracy that is increasingly important in the region is India, and although it remains… it's not a U.S. Ally of course, it remains a non-aligned country, it's come back into the Quad. What are your observations of India as a strategic actor under Prime Minister Modi?

Adm. John C. Aquilino, CDRUSINDOPACOM 50:56

Yeah, I think what India has seen is they have a country on their border that is providing some concerns for them, as it applies to the ability to maintain their sovereignty on the Line of Actual Control. I think you read last year, or last week, in the media that the Chinese have renamed 30 areas across the Indian border. To the point before, this is an approach that we've seen. We're going to rename and claim it, and then at some point in the future will dictate it as history. Revisionist history but history nonetheless, and they'll erase the history of where the Line of Actual Control really is. So, I think India has similar concerns as it applies to nations in the region, and they are continuing to work more with the Allies and partners. I mentioned Malabar before. That exercise is also been increased, and we'll continue to work together. I think we have to take a long view. I think we need to ensure we understand that we're actually working towards the same goal which is a peaceful, stable, and a free and open Indo-Pacific, and by working together we can deliver that.

Dr. Michael Fullilove, Lowy Institute Executive Director 52:25

We're almost out of time. Does anyone else want to sneak a question in? Yes. I'll go to this Gentleman here.

Audience 52:36

Thank you. Michael *indiscernible*. Firstly, yeah, thanks so much for your time. It's been incredibly interesting. I think probably everyone's thinking the same. You talked about your two missions that Secretary Austin has set you. So, firstly, to prevent conflict in the region and, secondly, if that goes wrong to be ready to fight and win in the region. What's your take on America's willingness to fight a conflict far from home? And, you know, you've seen recently the likes of Speaker Johnson holding up support for the likes of Ukraine. Is America ready for a conflict, and also how do you navigate potential changing administrations in the way that you prepare for mission two if it should arise?

Adm. John C. Aquilino, CDRUSINDOPACOM 53:10

Yeah. So, you know, we've been changing administrations for 200… whatever the number of years is. As are all nations in the region have changed leadership. I think what we can count on is, number one, we'll go ahead and execute whatever the election delivers. That said, from the United States in the military, we swear an oath to a constitution, not to an individual, and we follow the legal orders of those in charge. If somebody is doubting the United States will to fight if tasked, that's a bad call. Alright, that would be a drastic miscalculation.

Dr. Michael Fullilove, Lowy Institute Executive Director 54:05

That's a very strong statement, I'm just letting that settle. We’ve got a couple of minutes, I want to ask, we just heard from that Gentleman, he mentioned again Ukraine. Can I ask you a question as a naval officer, what lessons do you think we should take from how Ukraine has been successful even though it hardly has a Navy to speak of in terms of taking out major Russian naval assets? What should the U.S. Navy, other navies take from the new technologies, drones and so on, does it change the game?

Adm. John C. Aquilino, CDRUSINDOPACOM 54:42

Yeah, I don't think it changes the game. I think what we're seeing is innovative ways to deliver effects when needed. You know, I don't think anything that I've seen there has surprised me. I don't think anything really has surprised Gen. Cavoli either. I think what we ought to learn, however, is it could happen anywhere, right? Two years ago, I'll bet you most in the audience would have said there is no way Russia will invade Ukraine. So, irrational decisions are made when we all expect everyone to act rationally. We ought to be aware of that. Alright, I'm deathly aware of it. Which is why I haven't slept in three years. That's foundational. Number two, we should expect changes in innovation. The responsibilities, however, for commanders haven't changed. So, number one is to protect your force, number two, to deliver effects to achieve your objectives, and we have to be able to do all of those. In this region, we have to be prepared to do them together. Hence the interoperability, the exercising and the practice, and we have to have confidence that we don't have any spin-up time. Right, this is about ships coming together instantaneously and being able to deliver combat effectiveness without a month of work up and training, and that's the target Gen. Campbell and I continue to work towards with Australia and the United States. Which is high-end training in everything we do. It's not about showing up and being able to talk on the radio, it's about delivering high-end warfighting effects anytime, anywhere, instantaneously.

Dr. Michael Fullilove, Lowy Institute Executive Director 56:48

Admiral, I'm a bit alarmed to hear that you haven't slept for three years, but I'm relieved that in a month or so you're going to be able to catch up on your sleep when Adm. Samuel Paparo takes over as INDOPACOM Commander. What will you do next? Is there any chance of you pulling a Maverick and going back to Top Gun school to train the next generation of naval aviators?

Adm. John C. Aquilino, CDRUSINDOPACOM 57:13

I don't think that's in the cards. I am going to go back, however, in two weeks and I'm going to speak to the graduating class. Whether or not they let me get in an airplane for a last flight remains to be seen. We're trying to make that happen, but I will tell you I got a call from the doc who voiced some concerns, but anyway we'll see what happens there. I'm incredibly proud of what the entire joint force does. Right? So, the Top Gun is the Navy's Fighter Weapon School, the Air Force has theirs at Nellis Air Force Base. You know, the Army goes through the training centers to be able to learn, and train, and operate at the high end. The Marine Corps and the Navy coordinate as a part of the ARG MEUs training cycles, and then all of the Allies and partners go to each other's schools and places to share and to become, you know, to have a deep understanding of how we get better together. So, Top Gun's one example, but it is broad across the joint force, it is linked with our Allies and partners, and those training events happen all the time. So, I'm just incredibly proud of what the United States can generate in the form of military power, how and what we can do when we talk about the synchronization of that military power through all domains. Under sea, on the sea, above the sea, in space and cyberspace, and then the fact that we can do all of that with our Allies and partners. That's why we're unbeatable.

Dr. Michael Fullilove, Lowy Institute Executive Director 58:54

Well, Ladies and Gentlemen we're out of time. I think you'll agree it's been a rare treat to hear from Adm. Aquilino this evening. Thank you, admiral. We wish you all the best, Chris, in whatever happens in a month's time. We certainly hope the doc signs off on you going up in the air, but we hope you get back on the deck. Thank you for coming to Bligh St. Thank you for taking our questions. We wish you fair winds and following seas.

Adm. John C. Aquilino, CDRUSINDOPACOM 59:18

Thank you, Michael. Thanks everybody.

Audience 59:20


Admin Note 59:25

*End of transmission*


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