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AFCENT commander highlights importance of interoperability, collective defense at Air Chiefs Conference

By Lt. Col. Brus Vidal U.S. Air Forces Central Command

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Three themes serve as the underpinnings of successful deterrence against malign actors and the ability to conduct collective defense among coalition nations in the Middle East, said Lt. Gen. Joseph T. Guastella Jr., commander of U.S. Air Forces Central Command, in an address at the 2019 Dubai International Air Chiefs Conference here, Nov. 16, 2019.

The themes he stressed were interoperability, developing common standards and continuing to exercise and train together. Additionally, commitment to collective security from coalition partners, the trust and cooperation that comes from partnerships, and continuously seeking and developing innovative solutions are paramount to the coalition’s success, he said.

“Deterrence is the number one focus for our coalition,” Guastella said. “A multi-lateral, integrated air defense strategy delivers a robust deterrence posture,” he said, noting the value of multi-lateral vs. unilateral approaches. Unilateral approaches are costly, they limit communication across borders, and are constrained by individual capabilities and capacity, he said.

“This is not an easy task,” Guastella said, addressing senior leaders from coalition nations while alluding to challenges and obstacles that often get in the way of a multi-lateral approach to defense. “But worth pursuing if we want to make the region more secure.”

A key to a multi-lateral approach is interoperability between nations, he said.

Guastella cited a number of examples illustrating what he meant by interoperability, including the need to fuse, transfer, and/or decipher data across borders and systems quickly, emphasizing that the speed of communications and the ability to make decisions is more critical than ever.

Regarding common standards, he cited real-world examples used in counter-ISIS coalition operations, including daily execution of the coalition’s Air Tasking Order and delivery of Special Instructions and Rules of Engagement that ensure proper force integration and deconfliction of challenges like airspace access and flight safety so all coalition aircrews can confidently employ forces to support the mission.

His final point of emphasis was the need for coalition forces to train together.

One recent example of such training was the three-week, multi-lateral exercise Falcon Shield. Participants included the UAE, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan, the United Kingdom, France, and the United States. He said that Falcon Shield is the premier integrated air and missile defense exercise in the Middle East, testing the coalition’s ability to work together to leverage air and ground capabilities to quickly eliminate threats.

Guastella closed by reiterating the importance of the coalition.

“The true value of a coalition is the robust capacity brought by fighting with a common goal and maximizing our unique strengths,” he said. “As commanders of our respective forces, we have an invaluable mission to accomplish in this region. I ask you to join me in promoting continued collaboration and exemplifying unified leadership within our nations.”

The general also emphasized that AFCENT and the United States Air Force remain committed to collective defense in the region.

“Our force posture may change, but our commitment to you will not,” he said. “We are unified in our cooperation and shared commitment to deter bad actors, and that vow will not change.”