“We’ve been flying in and around the South China Sea (which Vietnam calls the East Sea) for about past 15 years, and I would probably tell you we’ve done some as recently as this week,” said General Charles Q. Brown, Jr., PACAF commander, said over the telephone following the conclusion of the 2019 Pacific Air Chiefs Symposium at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii on Friday.
Brown’s statement came in response to a question on why the U.S. Air Force does not conduct freedom of flight operations in the South China Sea at a frequency similar to that of the U.S. Navy’s freedom of navigation operations, which have been conducted very frequently in 2019.
The general asserted that even though they don’t get as much press coverage as the Navy’s freedom of navigation operations, the Air Force’s activities in the South China Sea are still carried out regularly.
“It’s something we do on a regular basis with, whether it’s our bombers, whether it’s 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.”
Following Brown’s response, General David Goldfein, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force, also talked about the visit he and Brown paid to Hanoi last August. It was the first visit by a U.S. air chief to Vietnam since the end of the Vietnam War.
During the visit, the two American officers met with Lieutenant General Le Huy Vinh, Commander of Vietnam’s Air Force, and all three recognized 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,” Goldfein said.
Brown and Goldfein were joint hosts of the 2019 Pacific Air Chiefs Symposium, which was held from Tuesday to Friday. The event was attended by representatives from the air forces of Australia, Bangladesh, Brunei, Canada, France, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mongolia, New Zealand, the Philippines, South Korea, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, the U.S. and Vietnam.
At the symposium, Brown affirmed that the U.S. Air Force’s aim was to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific region, promote mutual understanding of common issues and challenges, and enhance capabilities and interactions with partners and allies.
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