An audio file of this briefing is available here.
Moderator: Thank you. Good morning and good afternoon, everyone, from the U.S. Department of State’s Asia Pacific Media Hub in Manila. I’m Zia Syed, the Hub Director, and I’d like to welcome our participants dialing in from across the continent and the United States.
Today we are very pleased to be joined by [the Commander of] Pacific Air Forces, or PACAF, General Charles Q. Brown, Jr. General Brown will be joined on the call by the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force, General David L. Goldfein.
We will begin today’s call with opening remarks from General Brown, then we will turn to your questions. We’ll try to get to as many questions as we can during the time that we have, which is 30 minutes.
Please note that there are a high number of journalists on this particular call, so we would ask that you please limit yourself to just the one question so others are able to participate. Finally, as a reminder, today’s call is on the record. And with that, I will turn it over to General Brown. General Brown, please go ahead.
General Brown: All right. Thank you, Zia, and thank you to all of you for dialing in to participate in today’s call from across the globe.
This week, General Goldfein and I are hosting the Pacific Air Chiefs Symposium here at the PACAF headquarters, on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, in Hawaii. The Indo-Pacific remains the most consequential region in the world, and this is the primary theater for the United States Department of Defense, further validating the importance of events like these.
The premise of the symposium is a common belief among our allies and partners that collaboration is required to meet the regional challenges that have global effects. From cooperation to conflict, we are stronger together. Uniting our shared values, interests, and security, we stand together to preserve peace and stability in the region.
This marks the 11th Pacific Air Chiefs Symposium [“PACS 2019”], and by far the most heavily represented, indicating three things to me: a growing interest to find collective solutions to common problems within the Indo-Pacific; a mutual respect we have for each other as the nations we represent; and a commitment our nations have to maintaining peace and stability within the Indo-Pacific.
Our theme for PACS 2019 is A Collaborative Approach to Regional Security, and it summarizes the three points I just outlined. As such, much of our symposium is focused on forging a common starting point and mutual understanding of our varied regional perspectives.
This year is unique for several reasons. I’m humbled to co-host this event with General Goldfein, our 21st Chief of Staff. Of note, General Goldfein is the first sitting chief of staff of the Air Force to travel to Hawaii to participate in PACS. We’ve got an unprecedented number of air chiefs attending, representing more than one million airmen from around the world; representatives from 18 nations, including 15 of our air attaches, whose tireless daily efforts forge the partnerships within the region.
There’s been more than 50 bilateral engagements that are taking place throughout the week, which are indicative of our desire to increase collaboration. We also had three multinational meetings focused on specific topics of mutual interest related to regional security, and additional topics like F-35 interoperability.
We’ve had five multinational panels scheduled in our – we’re still working through tomorrow as well. Those are on regional security, domain awareness, multi-domain operations, interoperability, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
As you can imagine, we have a lot to cover in a relatively short period of time, not to mention the opportunities to share perspectives and socialize to promote friendship and partnership in some less formal settings.
In closing, the overarching goal of this symposium matches perfectly with the theme of the symposium: collaborative approach to regional security. Our desire is to identify new ideas, methods, or linkages that can improve our collaboration to cement the regional security of the Indo-Pacific region.
Also, I’d like to extend my sincere condolences to the victims and families from yesterday’s tragic incident here at the shipyard on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. We stand together in support of our joint teammates as they prioritize to care to our community and conduct a thorough investigation. And I’ll defer any specific questions regarding this particular incident to Navy Region Hawaii.
And with that, we’re ready to take your questions.
Moderator: Thank you, General. We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call. Our first question will go to Dzirhan Mahadzir from USNI News in Malaysia. Dzirhan, please go ahead.
Question: Yes, General Brown, can you tell us about where PACAF stands in multi-domain operations efforts with the U.S. Navy currently?
General Brown: Actually, we have pretty good dialogue with the U.S. Navy, and it’s not just with the U.S. Navy but also with PAC — the Pacific Fleet here on island with us. And so we have been working through not only how we do the operations, but how we communicate, how we work our tactics, techniques and procedures. And so we’ve made pretty good progress in that area, and I’d also say with the United States Navy and the United States Air Force, there’s great dialogue on multi-domain operations.
Moderator: Thank you, General. Next we’ll go to Ronito Calunsod from Kyodo News in the Philippines. Ronito, please go ahead.
Question: Yes, good morning. This is Ronron Calunsod of Kyodo News. Sir, I’d like to know how did the South China Sea issue play out in the conference? What concerns were raised about it and what’s the latest situation reported by your partners from around this area? What’s the latest situation in the South China Sea now? Thank you.
General Brown: Yes, so it was a topic at – as part of the conversation today, and I think the key part I would highlight is there are competing claims within the South China Sea. There’s different perspectives about the South China Sea. What we look at is the freedom to – of navigation, the freedom to fly, sail, and operate within the South China Sea, and the importance the South China Sea has to the economy — not only of the region — but I’d also say the impact that it has globally as well. And we all have an interest in how we preserve that security, and also looking at how we look at illegal activity as well. So it’s an important topic and I think it’s central to aspects of the security within the region.
Moderator: Thank you, General. Next we’ll have Seth Robson from Stars and Stripes in Japan. Seth, please go ahead.
Question: Hi there. This is a question for either of you. I read something recently about some more Air Force infrastructure in northern Australia, and I’m just wondering what the future holds in terms of – in terms of utilizing that area for the U.S. Air Force. And also, while I’ve got you on the line, do you see any new Air Force equipment coming to Japan in the near future? Thanks very much.
General Brown: Well, I’ll go and take the Australian and see if you want to – maybe take the Japan piece.
So on Australia, we have an Enhanced Air Cooperation with the Royal Australian Air Force, and part of that dialogue, it’s building out [inaudible] space and fuel farms and those kinds of things that support the exercises that we do with Australia, as Australia does with other partners. For example, like [Exercise] Pitch Black. And so that’s an aspect of the Enhanced Air Cooperation and some of the capability that we’re building out that’s mutually used for both of our air forces, there in Australia.
General Goldfein: And this is General Goldfein. Just two weapons systems that come to mind: first, continuation of fielding the F-35 there, which is just game-changing technology; and then also CV-22 as well. And one of the things the commander of the Koku Jieitai continues to tell me is the number of intercepts they’re doing has actually – they’ve intercepted more aircraft this year than they have in several years combined. So we stand shoulder to shoulder with them as the challenge in the region continues.
Moderator: Thank you, Generals. Next we’ll go to Hang Duy Linh from Tuoi Tre Newspaper in Vietnam. Hang, can you please go ahead?
Question: Yes, thank you. Good morning, General. My question is very short. The U.S. Navy has its own operation called FONOP and runs it very often in 2019. However, the U.S. Air Force doesn’t have the same operation. So why doesn’t the U.S. Air Force conduct freedom of overfly operations in South China Sea at a frequency like the Navy? As I know, the last time the United States fly aircraft over the South China Sea, in March 2019 – is it because of China has deployed air defense missiles in the region? And by the way, is there any plan to fly U.S. military aircraft over the South China Sea in near future? Thank you.
General Brown: Well, let me – we’ve been flying in and around the South China Sea for really about the past 15 years, and I would probably tell you we’ve done some as recently as this week. It doesn’t probably get as much press as what you hear about with the freedom of navigation and the maritime environment, but we do hear about it because we do get [inaudible] calls from the PRC. And so it’s something we do on a regular basis with, whether it’s our bombers, whether it’s our – the Navy’s P-3/P-8s, our U-2s, RQ-4. So we have quite a bit of activity, air activity, within the South China Sea.
General Goldfein: And this is General Goldfein. I’ll just share with you that General Brown and I had the opportunity to visit Vietnam this year. It was the first visit of a U.S. air chief since the end of the war, and what was interesting about the dialogue that we had there with our counterpart, the Vietnamese air chief, was we determined that my father flew F-4s over the top of General Brown’s father, who was an advisor on the ground, and as we continued the conversation, we determined that all of our fathers had fought each other, and here we were all these years later talking about cooperation in the region. So it’s a fascinating part of our journey together.
Moderator: Thank you. Next, if we could please go to Libo Liu, with Voice of America in D.C. Please go ahead, Libo.
Question: Yes, thank you. There has been talk about a gap in U.S. Air Force capabilities because of the distance of the theater from the U.S. mainland in a China scenario. So, in what ways can the allies and partners help bridge the gap? Thank you.
General Brown: Well, part of the gap is really what we’re having here at PACS. It’s how we actually work together on areas of mutual interest, mutual capabilities, interoperability. Understanding the dynamics within the region through our domain awareness is one of the key ways that allows us to work through some of this.
And then the other part is our exercise program, and building the partnerships and relationships, because relationships really do matter, and that actually helps us to [bring] down the gap. No matter the distance between point A or point B, it’s the trust we build between our partners that helps us to provide the security and stability within the region.
General Goldfein: And Libo, this is General Goldfein. I’d just respectfully push back a little bit on the concept of a gap only because that word means different things to different people. I’ll just share with you that if you look back over the last number of years, as we’ve come down, we’re an Air Force that’s 300,000 less airmen and about 3,000 less aircraft than we were even back to 1991, and yet, if you look at our footprint and our posture in the Pacific, we haven’t changed. We’ve come down significantly in Europe. We’ve changed significantly in the United States. Our footprint in the Pacific has been very steady over time.
And so I would just say I don’t quite agree with the word “gap.” I think what you can see from the Air Force is a continued commitment to this as the number one priority in our National Defense Strategy.
Moderator: Thank you, General. Next we will go to Kozue Hamamoto from NHK in Japan. Hamamoto-san, please go ahead.
Question: Hi, thank you very much for doing this. Can you please share with us the latest situation in North Korea and any of the topics that were talked about in the conference? Thank you.
General Brown: Well, I think you’ve seen in the – what’s happened since May, and there’s been an increasing number of short-range ballistic missiles. There’s increasing rhetoric. There’s a self-imposed moratorium of long-range ballistic missiles by Kim Jong-un. And so those are the things we’re paying attention to, particularly as we get closer to the end of the year. And so the dialogue that we have within our headquarters, with INDOPACOM and also with our partners, with the Koku Jieitai in particular and the Air Defense Command, and with our partners in the Republic of Korea, is to ensure we have a level of situational awareness of what’s going on so we can help provide information to our political leadership to make decisions on how they move forward and how we support the backdrop with security measures to support the diplomatic negotiations and discussions that are ongoing.
Moderator: Thank you, sir. Next we’ll go to Kent Miller, who’s with the Air Force Times in Washington. Kent, please go ahead.
Question: Hi, General Brown, General Goldfein. I have two quick questions, if I may. John Rood, the Under Secretary for Defense Policy, testified this week that the department is integrating its defense strategy with Japan’s national defense program guidelines, and that there’s a dialogue to reevaluate the goals, missions, and capabilities. And I was wondering if you could speak to that at all.
And I would also like to know where things stand currently with the exercises in Korea. And the U.S. has said that it’s not willing to cancel those exercises, but perhaps to remain flexible on them. So I was wondering if you could speak to those two issues.
General Goldfein: Kent, General Goldfein here. I’ll speak to the first one and General Brown will speak to the second one. No, I actually really don’t have anything on the recent announcements by Under Secretary Rood, but it doesn’t surprise me that we would – with all the countries that we are partnered or allied with, our National Defense Strategy focuses on building capacity, capability, interoperability with allies and partners as our strategic advantage and our asymmetric advantage. So it wouldn’t surprise me at all that we’re looking at Japan’s national defense strategy, Korea’s national defense strategy, all of our allies and partners. So that wouldn’t surprise me a bit that we’re doing that. And then I’ll turn it over to General Brown for the second.
General Brown: Yes, on the exercises, there was a recent postponement, and that’s all, as I mentioned in the earlier response, in support of our diplomatic efforts. And so we work very closely, the Department of Defense, with the Department of State on the approach that – in support of their negotiations, and in this case they asked us to postpone, and that’s what General Abrams — and the direction we have to do that for right now.
Moderator: Thank you. Next, if we could go to Adlinna Abdul Alim from Asian Defence Journal in Malaysia. Adlinna, please go ahead.
Question: Hi. [Inaudible] has been – haven’t been introduced for years now. So [inaudible] may I know why [inaudible] plans that have been agreed upon by all to ensure the real and open [inaudible] —
Moderator: Adlinna, I’m afraid it’s very difficult to hear you. Can you try one more time? And if you’re on speaker, if you can turn it off.
Question: My question is [inaudible] symposium, your counterpart has been telling you [inaudible] for years. So are these people [inaudible]? What has – because [inaudible] consensus had been reached among [inaudible] free and open airspace for the region.
And secondly, my question is on the F-35. Where do you – when do you [inaudible] —
Moderator: I’m afraid – I’m afraid we are not able to hear. There’s too much feedback coming. Is that – General, did you also have the same difficulty?
General Brown: We are having the same difficulty.
Moderator: Then I’m sorry, Adlinna. I’m sorry but I’m afraid we’re going to have to go to the next questioner because we could not understand that. If we could next go to JC Gotinga from Rappler in Manila. Please go ahead, JC.
Question: Hi Zia. Thanks. Good morning, General. I’m JC Gotinga from Rappler in Manila. My question is: What do you expect from China in 2020? Would you anticipate an escalation in terms of the breadth or the reach of China’s naval presence, not just perhaps in the South China Sea but even towards Oceania and the Pacific Ocean? And with regard to that, what does the U.S. plan to do in terms of a pushback?
General Goldfein: This is General Goldfein. I’ll talk quickly and then turn it over to General Brown. Right now, I think our policy has been fairly clear relative to what the President has been saying on China. Secretary Esper recently came through, was very clear in his comments on China. So I wouldn’t want to repeat, but those – those comments are available for review.
Our job at the end of the day is to arm our diplomats to be able to negotiate to a better place, because we provided them credible military options that not only we know we can execute, but just as important, any potential adversary knows that we can credibly execute. And so we’re the options guys. Our job is to make sure they have what they need to be able to negotiate to a better peace. And with that, I’ll turn it over to General Brown.
General Brown: Actually, JC, I don’t know that our operations and the activities that we do here in the – from PACAF, with our partners, are really changing much into 2020. If they do change at all, I would say it’s just the increased level of interoperability, and I think that’s one of the key parts we’ve been talking about here at the Pacific Air Chiefs Symposium. And so, how do we deepen the relationship? How do we deepen our interoperability? But the tempo for how we operate, I think, will continue about the same, but I will tell you maybe the quality of the training that we have, the quality of relationships is an area that I think you’ll probably see an improvement on in 2020. That’s one of my goals and I think that’s the goals of all the air chiefs that are here together as part of PACS.
Moderator: Thank you. Next we’ll go to Dong Hyun Kim, who’s with Voice of America Korean Services. Mr. Kim?
Question: Thank you, sir. I have a question. Recently, we witnessed frequent reconnaissance assets such as the RC-135U or the E-8C flying around the Korean Peninsula. Could you explain such background on the flight patterns, and could this imply some future aggressive activities by the DPRK? Thank you.
General Brown: I’m not sure where you’re getting…We’re pretty much flying the same way that we’ve been flying for the past year or so, so there’s no real change. But our job is to provide some situational awareness and domain awareness to not only our military leadership, but also to our political leadership so they have an understanding of the dynamics of what’s going on within the region, whether it be around the peninsula or any other part of the region. So, our tempo really hasn’t changed in the course of the past year.
General Goldfein: And General Goldfein here. I’ll just say that we continue to operate both in the air and at sea, in international waters and international airspace. We fly and we sail where we need to fly and sail, and we keep that open for others as well in the global commons. And we will continue to assert ourselves to ensure that freedom of navigation is a luxury that all can benefit from as they have for the past 70 years.
Moderator: Thank you. Next we’ll go to Brian Everstine from Air Force Magazine [in Los Angeles]. Brian, please go ahead.
Question: Thank you so much for doing this. I was hoping to quickly follow up on Kent’s question earlier from the – about the exercises in Korea. General Brown, about this time last year we sat down at the Pentagon and talked about this, and you had said that readiness is about a high-water mark before the summit in Singapore, and I was – that’s been about a year and a half now. And how has this suspension impacted readiness at all – if at all, since then? And can you talk a little bit about how maybe you’ve changed the flying schedule and exercises at Osan and Kunsan to compensate or — changed Red Flag-Alaska, for example, to be able to get at this readiness in other ways?
General Brown: I’d probably have to defer to General Abrams because they really – they run the exercises program for USFK. But the way I would probably describe it to you in very simple terms is that there’s an aspect at the operational level where you’re doing a command and control aspect, all the way down to the tactical level with the basic flying operation. And so, our flying operations continue at the tactical level, but we may miss out on some of the operational level-type aspects.
And so the – I still believe the readiness is on track and I was just in Korea last month and had an opportunity to – actually two months ago, in October – to speak with General Abrams. And so, I think, by and large, our readiness is still high and it’s something we pay attention to, and I also believe as we get here towards the end of the year and the increase in rhetoric, it’s something we are actually really paying close attention to, not only for this month but into 2020 as well.
Moderator: Thank you, sir. We’re just – we’re close to out of time, so we only have time for one or two more, if next we could go to Manuel Mogati from News5 Digital in Manila. Manuel, please go ahead.
Question: Hi, good morning. Thank you very much, Generals. Secretary Esper was in Manila last month and met with his counterpart, and I’m not sure if you are ready to share with us the specifics of a new Air Force exercise happening in [inaudible]. And there are four U.S. Air Force bases in the Philippines, part of EDCA. How are these bases going to figure in the Pacific strategy? Thank you.
General Goldfein: General Goldfein here. I don’t think we have any more information probably than you have on Secretary Esper’s discussion. So we’ll take that one and if we can get you more information, we’ll get it to you. And I’ll turn it over to General Brown on the basing.
General Brown: So really it’s not – it’s not about basing. It’s really the EDCA, the [Enhanced] Defense Cooperation Agreement, is really a mutually beneficial agreement so we can actually look at how we build out the various airfields to support humanitarian assistance and disaster response. So there’s really no military presence or U.S. military presence or expanding presence. It’s really how we equip those airfields to be able to support the Philippines and, in particular the Philippine Air Force, and I think that’s a key part, and that’s a key part in the conversations I’ve had with Lieutenant General Briguez, the Philippine Air Force chief, Chief of Air Force.
Moderator: Thank you, General. Let’s try for one last, very short question. We’ll give it one more shot with Adlinna Abdul Alim who’s called one more time. Adlinna, can you please go ahead?
Question: Hello, hi. Sorry about that. Okay, my question is about the symposium you have had for the past three days, and I know [inaudible] the consensus been reached of [inaudible] including yourself and your counterparts, because [inaudible] around for a few [inaudible]. So what will you do about that?
And about the F-35, when will – when will we see the F-35 playing a role in exercises in the Southeast Asian [inaudible]?
General Goldfein: Adlinna, this is General Goldfein. I think we got the second one, which was – it’s a little hard to hear still. I think the second one was when would we see an F-35 in exercises. I’ll turn that to General Brown. The one thing I’ll tell you about the F-35 is it’s important to note that we’re not talking about just U.S. F-35s. This is F-35s Korea, F-35s Japan, and perhaps one of the most important aspects of the F-35 is we built that – this weapons system to be a quarterback for the joint team. And the best quote I’ve heard is actually from my counterpart in Israel who says, “I’m not integrating the F-35 into the Israeli Air Force, I’m integrating the Israeli Air Force into the F-35.” It’s that much of a game-changer. So that’s the second question. I’m not sure we still have the first one.
General Brown: Yes, let me just add onto the exercises with the F-35s in the region. So with Japan, Korea, and Australia, have F-35s or are receiving F-35s, and then the United States Marine Corps has F-35s in the region. F-35s did participate in the Balikatan exercise back in the first part of the year, and then as each of the nations start to increase their numbers of F-35s, they’ll have more opportunities to participate in exercises. Matter of fact, we had a meeting this week with all the F-35 nations to talk about that specific point, about our interoperability with F-35s and potential for future exercises and how we’ll start using the F-35s in exercises going forward.
Moderator: Thank you very much. And I apologize if we did not get to your question. There were quite a few questioners on today’s call. We’ll wrap up the call there. Generals, would you like to say any final remarks?
General Brown: It’s a real pleasure for me to be able to host PACS. It’s General Brown. We’re really happy that Lieutenant General Briguez, who is our dean for PACS and for – he presented a very thoughtful presentation today, and also having General Goldfein here with us at PACS, I think it’s really added a lot of value to the dialogue. A lot of good discussion and it’s really important I think for all of our air forces and each of our nations for the security in the region. I’ll turn it over to General Goldfein for any closing comments.
General Goldfein: Thanks. I’ll just finish by saying one of the ways we demonstrate commitment to a region is the quality of the officers we place here in charge, and it’s been a real pleasure to be here with General Brown. I don’t think as an Air Force, speaking as the Chief, we have an officer who has more depth and experience in combat operations in Central Command, in the Middle East, in Europe, and here in the Pacific, and so we’re really blessed to have him on point, and it’s been a blessing to be here as part of this conference.
Moderator: Thank you. That concludes today’s call. I want to thank Pacific Air Forces Commander General Brown and Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force General Goldfein, and I also thank all of our callers for participating. I apologize again if we weren’t able to get to your question due to the number of questioners that we had on the line today.
Please stay on this call for information regarding access to an audio recording of the call. Also, please be aware that a transcript of the call will be posted to our social media platforms and sent out to all of you within a day. If you have any questions or any follow-up about today’s call, you may contact the Asia Pacific Media Hub at AsiaPacMedia@state.gov. Thank you very much.