Paparo takes the helm at INDOPACOM

Paparo takes the helm at INDOPACOM

PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii—China is the only country with “both the will and… the capacity to dominate the Indo-Pacific,” and it “continues to engage in increasingly coercive behavior” in the Taiwan Straits, the South China Sea, and elsewhere, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Friday. 

But under the leadership of Adm. John Aquilino, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command “has risen to meet the moment,” Austin said. 

Aquilino passed command of INDOPACOM to Adm. Samuel Paparo here Friday during a VIP-packed ceremony on a pier overlooking the USS Arizona monument and the USS Missouri.  

During his tenure, Aquilino “pushed our joint force to think, act, and operate differently,” said Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. C.Q. Brown, who led Pacific Air Forces when Aquilino was in his prior job of Pacific Fleet commander. 

The change-of-command ceremony doubled as a retirement farewell for Aquilino, who, Brown said, had been the oldest serving graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and the oldest serving naval aviator. 

In his own remarks, Aquilino said the present is the “most dangerous time” he’s seen in his 40 years of service, but that the command is ready to meet the challenge. 

His voice breaking with emotion, Aquilino listed friends he had lost and said he would never forget the feeling of hearing over the radio that troops in contact needed air support, like he will never forget the looks on his daughters’ faces when he returned from a deployment. 

 But, he said, “I will sleep soundly—as a matter of fact, it will be the first time I’ve slept in three years—knowing that Pappy is at the controls.” 

Paparo’s time at Pacific Fleet was marked by, among other things, accelerating experiments with uncrewed systems. In 2022, he established the Navy’s first Unmanned Surface Vessel Division; a second is to stand up this month. More recently, he has advocated for a force of hundreds or thousands of small drones—a “hellscape”—that might help repel a Chinese invasion force from Taiwan.

His tenure, which began in May 2021, also saw a fuel spill from the Navy’s Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility that tainted local drinking water. Some five miles away from the ceremonial dias, a federal hearing continues for a class-action lawsuit brought by families who say the spill has caused long-term health problems. 

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