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Indo-Pacific Component Commanders Stress Importance of Partners

All the military component commanders of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command stress the need for partnership in the immense region of the world.

A large group of service members pose for a photo in front of a ship.
Group Photo
Sailors assigned to the Independence-variant littoral combat ship USS Charleston pose for a photo with service members from nations participating in the Royal Australian Navy’s Exercise Kakadu 2022 in Darwin, Australia, Sept. 13, 2022. The exercise brought together about 3,000 personnel, 15 warships and more than 30 aircraft from 22 countries.
Photo By: Navy
VIRIN: 220913-N-YQ414-492M

Reporters traveling with Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III interviewed with the component commanders: Air Force Gen. Kenneth S. Wilsbach, the commander of Pacific Air Forces; Navy Adm. Samuel Paparo, commander of the Navy's Pacific Fleet, and Army Maj. Gen. Peter N. Benchoff, the chief of staff of U.S. Army Pacific.

They discussed the readiness of U.S. forces in the region to defend U.S. interests, and all emphasized the work soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Guardians do to build interoperability, understanding and procedures to work with allies, partners and friends.

The United States is a Pacific power with vital national interests spread throughout the region.

"Our objective is to, to help contribute to a free and open Indo-Pacific," Wilsbach said at his headquarters at Hickam Air Force Base. "We do that through mostly airpower, and we obviously have many airmen, and we have aircraft that can generate that air power. But one other way that we do this is through allies and partners."

A female service member shakes hands with a male service member.
Warm Welcome
Airmen assigned to U.S. Pacific Air Forces welcome Japan Air Self-Defense Force leadership to Hickam at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Sept. 25, 2022. The JASDF 403rd Tactical Airlift Squadron joined PACAF’s 535th Airlift Squadron, participating in a three-day exercise and familiarizing aircrews from both services with the Kawasaki C-2 and the C-17 Globemaster III.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sgt. Alan Ricker
VIRIN: 220925-F-JA727-0044M

China is the pacing threat in the region, but Russia also maintains significant forces in the Pacific. "Clearly, China wants to be the world's only superpower, and they actually believe that everybody else has to be a loser, and they can be the only winner," Wilsbach said. "It's clear that they want to impose their will on the world, especially their close neighbors. And that's, that's counter to our objective of [being] free and open."

Pacific Air Forces is at a very high readiness level across the region from Alaska and Hawaii to Guam, Japan, and Korea, the general said. The airmen train hard and they interact with allies and partners all the time. "We get interoperability with those allies and partners," he said.

He spoke about the recently concluded Pitch Black exercise hosted by Australia. As the name implies, it is an exercise that emphasizes operating in low light. "There were 17 countries flying," he said. "And often when you have that many countries flying in one exercise, you actually have to reduce the complexity of the exercise so that everybody can participate."

But that didn't happen; there was not reduction in complexity, he said. "It was about as complicated as a mission as we train to. Watching the mission unfold, I was extremely impressed with the professionalism and the airmanship that was displayed by all 17 countries."

Lights shine around an airborne helicopter at night.
Pitch Black
A Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey conducts aerial refueling with a KC-130J Super Hercules, not pictured, over Australia, Aug. 29, 2022, during Pitch Black, the Australian air force's largest and most complex large force exercise.
Photo By: Marine Corps Cpl. Evan Jones
VIRIN: 220829-M-AV179-3188C
A service member stands near an aircraft under a sunlit sky as seen in silhouette.
Pitch Black
A service member stands next to a Marine Corps KC-130J Super Hercules aircraft during Pitch Black, the Australian air force’s large force employment exercise, at Royal Australian Air Force Base Tindal, Australia, Aug. 24, 2022.
Photo By: Marine Corps Sgt. Jackson Ricker
VIRIN: 220824-M-BH827-1020M
The mission was safe, professional and executed with a high degree of skill and precision. "They achieved their objective for the overall objective for the mission," he said. "It was not an easy mission to do."

That same partnership happens with naval forces in the region. Paparo said he wants to see every U.S. Pacific Fleet operation partnered.

"Our connections from headquarters to headquarters, and our connection with embedded officers and staff, and in our connections with liaison officers — I don't think we've ever been more partnered than we are right now," the admiral said. "And, so, the lash ups from Korea, down to Australia and to the east to Tahiti, among all the partners, have really never been tighter."

U.S. Pacific Fleet has a significant effort to coordinate its bilateral and multilateral operations, and they are constant. The command is finishing up Noble Eagle, an exercise where two Canadian frigates, two Australian frigates, two Japanese destroyers and a U.S. destroyer operated dynamically throughout the South China Sea. The flotilla operated with common operating pictures and common command and control for 11 days.

"Our combined afloat readiness and training exercises with Singapore, with Malaysia, with Indonesia, with Bangladesh are examples" of partnered exercises, the admiral said. "In the areas where we must be bilateral, we are. In the ways that we can be multilateral, we are."

Six soldiers kneel on the ground and work with their equipment.
Final Checks
Soldiers do final checks while awaiting UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters as part of their combined air assault training during Cobra Gold in Thailand, Feb. 28, 2022. Cobra Gold is an international training exercise that supports readiness and emphasizes coordination on civic action, humanitarian assistance, and disaster relief.
Photo By: Army Sgt. Brendon Green-Daring
VIRIN: 220228-A-MF526-0009
Military vehicles traveling at night.
Convoy Ops
Soldiers conduct convoy operations in Thailand, Feb. 19, 2022, during Cobra Gold, an international training exercise.
Photo By: Katie Nelson
VIRIN: 220219-A-DO523-210C
Army forces in the Pacific also look to exercise and operate with allies and partners. Exercises with partners have grown in complexity and in members. Exercises like Cobra Gold in Thailand and Balikatan in the Philippines have grown "more multinational because our allies and partners out here see a change in the security requirements," Benchoff said.

Interoperability in ground forces is a problem, but the exercise program ensures the forces can communicate, can share information and intelligence, can operate effectively in operations from humanitarian relief to conflict, the general said.

The soldier-to-soldier aspect of these exercises is also important. "Us sleeping under a tree with an ally or a partner is instrumental to the joint force," he said. "These personal contacts go a long way to building interoperability."

Army forces work with other ground forces to help nations build capabilities. The Security Force Assistance Brigade works to keep soldiers forward to work with and train partner ground forces. This presence is invaluable, Benchoff said.

The challenges across the region require a unified approach, all three men said. China and Russia are competitors. North Korea is a rogue state that can surprise defense officials. The threat from extremist groups always exists.

The only constant is the need for allies, and Indo-Pacific Command is working on that.

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