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US, Malaysia conduct virtual Airman-to-Airman talks

By Staff Sgt. Hailey Haux | Pacific Air Forces Public Affairs | Sept. 18, 2020

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JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii – Pacific Air Forces and Washington Air National Guard Airmen met with their Royal Malaysian air force counterparts in virtual Airman-to-Airman talks (A2AT) Sept. 14.

The videoconference session was the third iteration of A2AT between the two nations. Pacific Air Forces first began the A2AT program in 2012 and participates in bilateral air force talks with 13 nations.

The talks strengthen interoperability, military-to-military relations and bilateral cooperation. The U.S. and partner nation air forces conduct these engagements to plan bilateral activities and establish partner goals.

"These bilateral efforts and commitments not only deepen our relationships but also secure a stronger future for both of our air forces and indeed our countries," said U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. David B. Burgy, Air National Guard assistant to the commander, Pacific Air Forces. "Our staffs will present our (fiscal year 2021) operations, activities and investments with a clear path toward our shared goals of interoperability, complex exercises and engagements and bilateral strategic outlook, and I look forward to hearing about them. Let us showcase our deep commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific."

During the virtual meeting, there were three working groups: all domain awareness, exercises and engagements, and professionalization.

The aim of the working groups is to focus on the RMAF's more immediate requirements.

"This program is significantly vital for the Royal Malaysian air force, and I sincerely hope that the current climate, health and geopolitical situations in this region will not hinder our efforts for strengthening our relationship and military cooperation between our forces," said RMAF Maj. Gen. Mohd Shahada bin Ismail, assistant chief of staff for the operation and strategy department at RMAF Headquarters, Kuala Lumpur.

Before diving into specific areas of interest, the discussions were led with an overarching strategy brief to challenge the participants to 'rethink how we think' about the Indo-Pacific and provide insight into the future of the theater and how bilateral relations play an important role.

The two air forces have participated in a number of joint engagements and exercises since the early 1980s, the most recent being Exercise Cope Taufan 18 and the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition 2019.

Cope Tuafan is the largest RMAF-PACAF exercise and includes fighter, tanker and airlift aircraft, and other support equipment and personnel to conduct air-to-air and air-to-ground missions.

"Despite everything going on in our world, the fact that we are having this virtual Airman-to-Airman talks highlights the importance of the relationship between Malaysia and the United States," said Brig. Gen. Gent Welsh, Washington Air National Guard commander. "We greatly look forward to the resumption of our mutually beneficial training schedule later this year and early next year when safe and feasible."

The state of Washington is the state partner to Malaysia, through the National Guard State Partnership Program. One key aspect of the SPP links a unique component of the Department of Defense – a state's National Guard – with the armed forces or equivalent of a partner country in a cooperative, mutually beneficial relationship.

"The State Partnership Program relationship between the Washington Air National Guard and the Royal Malaysian air force has never been stronger," Welsh said. "I look forward to the day soon when Washington Air National Guard KC-135 tankers not only refuel Royal Malaysian air force fighters but transport Malaysian Airmen to Washington State for exercises and bring our Airmen to Malaysia for training. My hope is that we continue to develop generations of Airmen in both Washington State and Malaysia that work and grow old together, mutually working on areas of interest between our two nations for many, many years to come."

Through the SPP, the National Guard conducts military-to-military engagements in support of defense security goals but also leverages whole-of-society relationships and capabilities to facilitate broader interagency and corollary engagements spanning military, government, economic and social spheres.

"We have come to the end of our Airman-to-Airman talks virtual conference," Shahada said. "I believe it has been a very fruitful and productive session for us. Let us move forward hand-in-hand in achieving our common objectives."

The next several years, the two air forces have plans to participate in Cope North 21 in Guam, the Pacific Airlift Rally 21 in Indonesia, Pacific Angel.

"Our shared goal is for a free and open Indo-Pacific," Burgy said. "Our cooperation combines resources that deliver air, space, and cyberspace capabilities; encourages peaceful development; responds to contingencies; and deters aggression throughout the region. By strengthening our robust network with like-minded allies and partners, based on shared principles, we will continue to support a safe, secure, and prosperous region in accordance with international rules and norms."

The next A2AT between the two nations is scheduled in September 2021 in Washington state.