Williamsburg Talks join international air forces

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Leaders from four international air forces gathered Jan. 18 through 21 in Williamsburg, Va., to discuss issues and share ideas regarding their respective services and discovered they all faced similar challenges.

Hosted by Gen. T. Michael Moseley, the Air Force chief of staff, the four-day event known as the Williamsburg Talks was the first time air chiefs from the United States, Canada, Great Britain and Australia have joined for such a conference since World War II.

"We held these talks to strengthen the bonds that already exist between these four air forces," General Moseley said, "while at the same time, discussing new ways to counter the challenges we all face today and will face in the future. We don't want to be just 'interoperable' but fully 'integrated' air forces."

The event was held in Williamsburg for its historic significance to America's beginnings as one of the first colonial settlements.

"It was also a chance to get outside of Washington, D.C., and the demands of that environment," General Moseley said. "Everyone was able to focus on the discussions without distractions, and talk openly about how to improve our partnership through the exchange of ideas."

The conference began with each air chief giving an overview of the challenges facing his air force and his plan to meet those challenges.

"The conference provided a unique opportunity to discuss the challenges faced by our respective air forces and proved invaluable in highlighting how much we all have in common," said Air Chief Marshall Sir Glenn Torpy, chief of the air staff for the Royal Air Force of Great Britain. "There was an extraordinary meeting of minds and we made a collective commitment to future discussions aimed at improving our overall operational capability and the desire for truly integrated air operations."

"Not surprisingly, there were a host of common issues, stated Lt. Gen. Steve Lucas, Canadian chief of the air staff. "It was useful to hear that the four nations are approaching these issues in a similar fashion and are completely dedicated to assisting each other in their resolution and in the achievement of our common goals."

"Just as importantly, we discussed the already strong partnerships we share and the best ways to expand them," General Moseley said.

These partnerships, such as exchange programs, exercises and the on-going coalition operations in both operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, also include many acquisition programs such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, C-130J Hercules and C-17 Globemaster III, all of which currently are or will be operated by multiple nations.

In addition to the air chiefs' discussions, Ambassador Marcella Wahba, currently serving as the Air Force's top political advisor, gave a comprehensive survey of the Middle East and the political, historical, and cultural trends that are relevant to ongoing operations in the region.

"Ambassador Wahba gave a fascinating talk on the different countries, people and leaders in Southwest Asia," General Moseley said. "This prompted a great discussion on what we, as Airmen, could do to build better relationships with the air forces of the region."

Providing a unique perspective on the war on terrorism was Dr. Lani Kass, a professor at National Defense University and head of the Air Force Cyber Task Force. Her briefing focused on what Airmen need to do in order to prosecute and learn from current operations and how to ensure we are organized, trained and equipped for the next fight.

"Dr. Kass has actual experience on why Air Forces succeed or fail, based on her time in the Israeli air force," General Moseley said. "Using that as a basis, she led a riveting discussion that really hammered home that we cannot afford to let our basic skills and capabilities erode over time based on fixation with the present conflict."

Finally, Ross Perot Jr. discussed the world business environment from the perspective of an entrepreneur with global interests. Mr. Perot, a former Air Force fighter pilot, spoke to the role that security, provided by our countries and our Air Forces, plays in the global economy.

"These four-way talks were both groundbreaking and very productive," said Air Marshal Geoff Shepherd, chief of the Royal Australian Air Force. "Despite the different sizes of our respective air forces, the issues that face all of us are similar in concept and impact. As close partners, it is vital that we learn from each other's experiences and align our procedures so that we have true interoperability in order that we can achieve the best effect possible on operations."

"Everyone there understood that having a strong and successful air force is absolutely necessary in today's interdependent world, but that the skills required are perishable," General Moseley said. "It's one thing to be proud of our Airmen and equipment, but if we don't invest in them, especially through a thorough recapitalization plan that provides modern, reliable equipment, then it's very easy to lose our prominence, to lose that edge that makes us great. We had a very good discussion, part of which centered on looking at how other air forces failed and dissecting and learning from other's mistakes."

He said the event helped strengthen the partnership between all the countries, and that the Williamsburg Talks will become a regular event.

General Lucas said that "this session of meetings with three of our most important allies provided an excellent opportunity to enhance the superb relationship we all share and to discuss current Air Force operations, challenges and future programs."

"For Australia, the opportunity to participate in these talks was much appreciated and underscores the fundamental nature of our alliance relationships," Air Marshal Shepherd said.

"U.S. Air Force members should understand that the community of Airmen is much greater than just the United States," General Moseley said. "The personal and professional bonds between us as Airmen and between our air forces are now stronger than they've ever been, and they will only strengthen with the new opportunities we have identified. The more seamless the relationships in our coalition, the more efficiently and effectively we will operate across all domains. With the progress we made in the Williamsburg Talks, we are one step closer to achieving that ideal. "

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