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Building Partnerships: Phase 0 in the Pacific

Engineering assistance missions are essential to America’s long-term international relations and especially timely with the military’s strategic Rebalance to the Pacific.
By Col. Mark Bednar, F.SAME, USAF

Using prefabricated bridge elements helped the Massachusetts Department of Transportation replace 14 bridges in one construction season and minimize the impact to drivers.
Airmen from the 647th CES, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, join with Airmen from the 355th Aviation Engineering Wing, Basa, Philippines, to help renovate Cacutud Elementary School in Malabacat, Philippines during Pacific Unity 12-6. U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO COURTESY OF 647TH CES

Engineers of the Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) have dedicated significant effort in recent years toward building partnerships and strengthening relationships with several nations in the Pacific Area of Responsibility (AOR). While joint planning includes six critical phases— including Phase I-Deter; Phase III-Seize Initiative; Phase III-Dominate; Phase IV-Stabilize; and Phase V-Enable Civil Authority—it is Phase 0-Shape, that has the capacity to sustain true positive impacts long after the mission is past.

Ideally, Phase 0 begins after Operation Plan Approval, and continues up to Operations Order Activation and through Operations Order Execution. As is noted in Joint Publication 3-0, Joint Operations: “Shape phase missions, task, and actions are those that are designed to dissuade or deter adversaries and assure friends, as well as set conditions for the contingency plan and are generally conducted through security cooperation activities.”


When possible, Phase 0 activities should be executed on a consistent and continuous basis. A combination of bilateral and multilateral activities that illustrate a longterm commitment in the region and with allies and partners is important. Bringing together different types of activities over time such as joint construction projects and Subject Matter Expert Exchanges (SMEEs) can lead to bigger and better progress, including access during peacetime and contingency periods and better understanding of the region.

It is essential these activities are a twoway street to ensure that interoperability is enhanced. The Asia-Pacific region presents countless opportunities for engineers to engage our allies and partners. PACAF civil engineers have been very active the past few years throughout Asia-Pacific, an AOR that provides a litany of challenges due to its size and complexity. The region includes 36 nations, covers half the world’s surface and supports more than half the world’s population. It contains two of the world’s three largest economies and two of the most populous nations. It includes the world’s largest democracy, the largest Muslim majority-nation, the smallest republic in the world and covers fifteen time zones.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Christopher Cosgrove, USN, with NMCB 133, works alongside a Vietnamese contractor to make improvements on the Thach Dong medical clinic in Ha Tinh Province, Vietnam, during Engineering Civic Action Program Pacific Unity 2011. U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO BY MASTER SGT. JOHN HERRICK

Operating in this diverse and complex environment offers many near- and longterm security concerns, which make Phase 0 engagements imperative. One of the many challenges, however, is working through the myriad opportunities provided throughout this complicated environment and focusing on those that are most critical, which is particularly important in this environment of limited resources and personnel.


In FY2012, PACAF engineers executed five Engineering Civic Action Programs, numerous SMEEs, an Exercise-Related Construction Program and participated in a Joint Coalition Exercise.

In 2013 and beyond, the plan is to expand these programs in order to support the Rebalance to the Pacific. The cornerstone of this rebalance will be to modernize and strengthen the five Pacific Treaty Alliances. The partnership building, information exchanges, understanding of the region and friendships made during these activities are extremely valuable. Sustaining a thorough Phase 0 program is not just important for diplomatic, nation-building reasons, it supports good hands-on training for our engineers who are facing fewer deployments to the U.S. Central Command AOR. Phase 0 activities provide an environment that may have some similarities, but also many differences regarding environmental, cultural, social, geographic and political issues that are crucial to understand during a contingency. Obtaining these experiences first hand will help our forces to hit the ground running.

The 2012 SMEEs involved 16 nations and occurred in different locations throughout Asia-Pacific and the U.S. mainland. These SMEEs primarily have focused on a handful of engineeringrelated disciplines: humanitarian assistance and disaster response; emergency management; command and control; airfield damage repair; master planning; and construction safety.

A ribbon cutting ceremony was held June 2012 at the Xuan Lam Medical Clinic in Nghe An Province, Vietnam, which was renovated during Operation Pacific Angel-Vietnam 12. U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO BY SENIOR AIRMAN LAUREN MAIN

Phase 0 opportunities are vast across Pacific Command, as well as throughout the rest of the world. Engineering activities in particular are ideally suited for Phase 0 operations. Engineers, through infrastructure construction projects and subject matter exchanges, are able to raise the quality of life for thousands of people in a short period of time while simultaneously improving relationships at the tactical, operational and strategic level. In 2011, U.S. Air Force engineers and U.S. Navy Seabees deployed to Vietnam, for a Pacific Unity Engineering Civic Action Program. Three different clinics were renovated during the mission; water storage capacity was improved; electricity and lighting upgraded; and sanitation and other areas were improved. Each clinic now serves approximately 4,000 people in the local community. The construction effort took just 30 days—but the friendships, partnering and skill exchanges will endure long after.


Planning Phase 0 operations can be complicated. Many entities are involved, including international affairs staff and U.S. Department of State personnel along with various layers of military and government agencies within the host nation.

Additionally, some unique funding combinations may be required to send our troops forward. Most activities require at least two sources of funding. For example, funding a SMEE requires operations and maintenance (O&M) funds to pay for U.S. participants’ travel and per diem, while Asia Pacific Regional Initiative (APRI) funds can be utilized to fund foreign partner expenses. Funding an Engineering Civic Action Program also requires a mixture of funds, including O&M for the travel, per diem and life support of U.S. participants. Costs for construction materials meanwhile typically are funded by Overseas Humanitarian Disaster Assistance and Civic Aid (OHDACA) or APRI funds. In the Pacific, both OHDACA and APRI funds are acquired through a competitive application process through the owning Combatant Command. The ERC Program also is worked via the owning Combatant Command. The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) manages this unspecified minor military construction program. ERC projects must support a JCS exercise; individual projects typically range from about $50,000 to $200,000.These projects are limited to countries that host JCS-sponsored exercises and are prioritized at the combatant command level and compete for very limited funds.


Phase 0 operations have short- and long-term implications and benefits. Engineering activities are a part of a whole government approach and should be synchronized with specific goals in mind.

Engaging with partners and allies builds trust, helps with interoperability and shows commitment to those partners. Historically, we have not always done this very well; but it is important to improve and shape the environment the best we can. Without persistent Phase 0 engagements the degradation of relationships between allies and partners can occur quickly. It is a costly lesson we have learned, and one we aim not to repeat.

Col. Mark Bednar, F.SAME, USAF, is Chief, Readiness Division, HQ PACAF, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii; 808-449-0439, or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..