The Re-Shaping of Pacific Defense: The USAF and Building Out from Today’s Force Towards Tomorrow’s Capabilities


2013-11-26 By Robbin Laird and Ed Timperlake

We had a chance to sit down with General Hawk Carlisle, Commander, Pacific Air Forces, at the Air Force Association Pacific Forum, recently held in Los Angeles, California.  Earlier in the day, the General addressed the Forum and we were able to build upon that presentation to discuss the shaping of Pacific defense in the period ahead.

While we were attending the Forum, real world events were taking their place in making the challenges both real and significant: the PRC was declaring an expanded air defense zone, which covered Japanese territory.

The announced Peoples Republic of China’s  Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ)  goes out 200 miles  from the mainland. The practical meaning is that PLAAF Fighters are being asserted the right to scramble to identify all air traffic in the zone. It would be analogus to Cuba announcing and trying to enforce an ADIZ with their MIGs, remembering that U.S. territory is approximately 100 miles from Havana Cuba.

Since the U.S. recognizes Japan’s control over the islands inside the announced PRC ADIZ, it would be analogous to Cuba announcing and enforcing an ADIZ with their MIGs 100 miles from Havana Cuba.

Dealing with such real events along with challenges like Philippine relief are the bedrock from which the USAF is building out its strategy and shaping its approach towards the future force.

In our earlier interview with his Marine Corps counterpart, Lt. General “Guts” Robling, the significant of forward presence was highlighted and the need for the USMC to plug in its new capabilities in a world in flux.

The USMC is clearly moving – literally to Guam and to a rotational base in Australia – and shaping the force as it transitions is how the Marines are building their future force while dealing with today’s realities.

Robling highlighted the strategic direction of the USMC in Pacific defense as follows:

The key is persistent presence and a scalable force.  

We need to be engaged in the process of reforming our various Pacific partners as well.  We cannot nor should not do it all on our own. 

MV-22 Osprey Landing Aboard the USNS Robert E. Peary during the Bold Alligator exercise.  Shaping an ability to move systems around on platforms, and islands or on Allied bases will be a key to shaping a new Pacific strategy.Credit: USN
MV-22 Osprey Landing Aboard the USNS Robert E. Peary during the Bold Alligator exercise. Shaping an ability to move systems around on platforms, and islands or on Allied bases will be a key to shaping a new Pacific strategy.Credit: USN

A distributed force allows for the kind of security engagement we require to “fight tonight” or respond to further escalation if required. 

Distributed operations and disaggregation is a fact of life in the Pacific.  

There are 36 countries in this AOR and rarely do we send an ARG/MEU out where at some point in their patrol they are not required to disaggregate, do distributed operations for several countries, and then re-aggregate to form the entire force. 

This is important.  We have shown in both Exercise Bold Alligator and the work-up to Dawn Blitz that you can either break away one or two ships in your formation and increase the effects you can deliver to a coastline a thousand miles in each direction. 

In many cases we don’t even need an amphibious ship.  We can put a V-22 on a TAK-E that has 140 Marines aboard and extend the operating area an additional 500 miles in any direction they ship can operate. 

Notably, the Osprey has become a visible member of the USMC kit of capabilities and a key element for reshaping joint force capabilities.  While rolling out in a key role in the launch of relief efforts in the Philippines, the Chinese assertion of their right to operate in Japanese territory has provided yet another opportunity for the new asset to enter into to today’s challenges.

The USMC General who gained global notoriety in the Philippine relief effort underscored that tools used to mobilize support for the Philippines can be used to deal with the PRC assertions as well.

“The commanding general of the U.S. Marines in Okinawa, Lt. Gen. John Wissler, told Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima in a meeting Tuesday that MV-22 Osprey aircraft stationed at the Futenma air station could be dispatched to the disputed Senkaku Islands if needed.”

In other words, Commanders in the Pacific do not have the luxury of formulating strategies for the future without having to deal with the press of current challenges and crises.

This means that the challenge is to restructure and rework current capabilities towards the future as a means of more effectively responding to today’s challenges.

The interview with Hawk Carlisle provided a clear sense of how the General was looking at the twin challenge of re-shaping today’s force and preparing for tomorrows.

Because he is a senior USAF commander, he looks at the key role of the USAF as an enabler for the joint and coalition force and how the USAF can generate greater synergy across a deployed force whose strategic direction for the next decade is towards a more effective and more lethal distributed force.

The General emphasized the central role which working more effectively with allies was playing for the USAF in the Pacific.

“The Chief has underscored that as resources are constrained we need to become closer with our allies.  I would add that we need to do this as well for strategic reasons.  Our allies in the Pacific are always in the frontline.  This means that our task is to have credible forward presence for deterrence working in close coordination with those allies.”

Both in his presentation to the Forum as well as during the interview, the General highlighted the importance of practical steps in enhanced allied collaboration.  He highlighted in the public presentation the growing role which collaboration among Pacific allies themselves and the importance of that for the trajectory for U.S. policy as well.

A key element of cross domain synergy is F-22s and then F-35s cuing up the strike fleet whereby Aegis becomes a wing man for the airborne sensor and strike fleet. The photo is of a Tomahawk launch in the Pacific from the USS Sterett in 2010. Credit Photo: USN
A key element of cross domain synergy is F-22s and then F-35s cuing up the strike fleet whereby Aegis becomes a wing man for the airborne sensor and strike fleet. The photo is of a Tomahawk launch in the Pacific from the USS Sterett in 2010. Credit Photo: USN

In the interview, he noted that the U.S.-Japanese relationship was undergoing a fundamental transformation as major challenges emerged in the Pacific which the Japanese have clearly identified as central and which they believe requires a more effective working relationship with the United States.

An example of an evolving response is the reshaping of U.S.-Japanese capabilities to provide for more effective defense coordination.

“We have moved our air defense headquarters to Yokota air base and we are doing much closer coordination on air and missile defense with the Japanese.”

The General highlighted that the USAF was stepping up its collaborative efforts and capabilities with key air forces in the region, including with Australia, Singapore, South Korea and Japan.

And he emphasized that the USAF was working to enhance cross-collaborative capabilities among those allies as well.

He also underscored that allied innovations were being adopted by the USAF as well.

“Singapore is doing very innovative things with their F-15s, notably in evolving the capabilities of the aircraft to contribute to maritime defense and security.  We are looking very carefully at their innovations and can leverage their approach and thinking as well.  This will certainly grow as we introduce the fleet of F-35s in the Pacific where cross national collaboration is built in.”

A key way ahead for the General was forging various paths towards cross-domain synergy among the joint and coalition forces.

He cited several examples.

First, the US Army has significant missile defense capabilities, which can be better integrated with the USAF in expanding defensive and offensive performance.  During the presentation to the Forum, he highlighted the example of a rapid deployment of an army missile defense battery for the defense of a key USAF airfield and saw this kind of capability as central for now and a building block for the future.

Second, the ability of advanced aircraft, in this case the F-22, to provide through its sensors forward targeting for submarine based T-LAMS was both a more effective use of the current force and a building block for the emergence of the F-35 fleet in the Pacific.

Third, the USAF is learning from the USMC about ways to become more expeditionary.  A key example he cited in the presentation to the Forum and one, which we pursued later in the interview, is what he called the Rapid Raptor deployment.

Here the idea is to take a package of 4 Raptors and deploy them with a C-17 and to rotate across the Pacific to go to the point of need for implementing missions.  This provided both a tool for enhanced survival but an enhanced capability to apply the force associated with a 5th generation aircraft as well.

His focus was upon leveraging the USAF assets and the joint force in ways that would make that force more expeditionary and more effective in providing for cross-domain synergy.  He noted that the combination of a large deck carrier with the USAF with the ARG-MEU air assets when conjoined within a distributed strike package provides significantly greater capability than when each is simply considered in and of itself.

He sees this re-shaping approach which is going on now as central to shaping the distributed operations approach which will emerge with the F-35 fleet over the decade ahead.

“The F-35 is the finest sensor enabled aircraft ever built.  The F-35 is orders of magnitude better than the F-22 (which is the greatest air to air fighter ever built) as an electronic warfare enabled sensor rich aircraft.

We already are working synergy between F-22s and 4th generation aircraft to provide greater fidelity of the information shaping air combat operations. 

the F-35 and F-22 are seen flying together at Eglin AFB.  These photos were shot on September 9, 2012 and are credited to Major Karen Roganov, Team Eglin PA, 33rd FW and Sgt. Jeremy Lock.
The F-35 and F-22 are seen flying together at Eglin AFB. These photos were shot on September 9, 2012 and are credited to Major Karen Roganov, Team Eglin PA, 33rd FW and Sgt. Jeremy Lock.

With the F-22 and F-35 combination and the folding in of on-orbit information and surveillance systems, we will be able to generate more synergy across the fleet.”

The other advantage mentioned by the General with regard to the F-35 was its commonality across the services.  “

We are already working on greater synergy among the air power services; with the F-35 and deploying common assets in a dispersed fleet, the efforts we are making now for today’s conditions will only lead to more effective capabilities for tomorrow’s crises as well.”

The General sees the addition of the new long range strike aircraft as informed by the decade ahead in shaping the new approach.

“The new bomber is really a family of long range strike systems.  Taking the approach towards synergy, and accepting your proposition that no platform fights alone, the next generation bomber really is about making the entire force more lethal and more effective, not simply adding a new platform.”

He underscored that with the addition of the F-35 to the F-22s already deployed in the Pacific, the kind of transformation he envisaged as the new bomber gets folded in during the decade after next will accelerate.

“ When you bring Raptor and F-35 into the mix you make every one of the platforms better in terms of its performance for the joint force.

And referring back to your concept of S Cubed, when you put those two together with long range strike the synergy unleashed by S Cubed will be significantly enhanced as well.”

Editor’s Note: In a report on General Carlisle’s presentation at the Forum, reworking US and allied engagement strategy was seen as a central task.

In order to accomplish its security cooperation mission more effectively, the general outlined the way forward.

Rather than pursuing an expansion of bases in the Pacific, the command will pursue expanded engagement.

Enhancing and maintaining allied and friendly capabilities for self-defense, U.S. troops will keep a rotational presence throughout the Pacific — keeping area deployments cost-effective while maintaining presence and improving relationships with partner nations during peacetime and contingency operations.

And in another report, the Rapid Raptor approach was expanded upon as well.

According to Marc V. Schanz regarding the Rapid Raptor package:

Sept. 27, 2013—F-22 officers with the 3rd Wing at JB Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, have devised a concept that allows for dispatching a contingent of F-22s with a smaller logistics package to any forward location and having the fighters combat-ready at the new location—all within 24 hours of deploying. 

The wing has tested this new rapid deployment package multiple times, and featured it in exercises, Pacific Air Forces Commander Gen. Hawk Carlisle told the Daily Report in recent interviews. Members of Elmendorf’s 525th Fighter Squadron briefed Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh on the concept during Welsh’s visit to the base in August. 

The concept is paying dividends as it expands the aperture of potential F-22 operations and the jet’s usefulness as a strategic asset, said Carlisle and 3rd WG officials. The concept addresses one of the Air Force’s biggest challenges: getting the most capability out of its existing force structure, particularly its F-22 force, its sole operational fifth generation fighters. 

The concept is built around a tailored four-ship deployment of F-22s paired with a single C-17 that carries supporting materials, munitions, and maintainers. The model is scalable and involves a smaller logistics footprint than the traditional F-22 deployments as part of theater security packages to fixed installations such as Andersen AFB, Guam, or Kadena AB, Japan. 

“If you have the right capability on a C-17 . . . and you have the F-22s, you can move them together, quickly,” said Carlisle. 

He said potential adversaries know that the Air Force normally launches and recovers from fixes bases. They “become fairly easily targetable if you want to do something to them” he said. 

The agility of the new deployment package denies a potential adversary the ability to locate the F-22s for an extended period. 

“He may know [the Raptors] are there, but by the time he wants to do anything about it, you won’t be there anymore,” said Carlisle.

The Video above shows Hawaii based F-22 squadrons launching a record number of sorties.

04/09/2013: F-22’s flown by the Hawaii Air National Guard’s 199th Fighter Squadron and the active duty Air Force’s 19th Fighter Squadron take off during an early morning 14-ship sortie rotation.

The squadrons launched and recovered a record number of sorties which is the most executed by these squadrons on a single day since the conversion to the F-22s.

The sortie ‘surge’ took place as the units were being readied to declare Full Operational Capability, April 7.

Credit:154th Wing Public Affairs: 4/6/13

And below, PACAF has provided an overview of the USAF Pacific.

The following photos highlight General Carlisle and some of his activities.

[slidepress gallery=’pacaf-commander-focuses-on-the-pacific-at-the-afa-forum’]

Photos Credit: USAF

  • The first photo shows General Carlisle addressing the Air Force Association Pacific Forum.
  • In photo two, General Carlisle is seen departing from the closing ceremony for Cope Tiger 13 at Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, March 22, 2013. More than 300 U.S. service members are participating in CT13, which offers an unparalleled opportunity to conduct a wide spectrum of large force  employment air operations and strengthen military-to-military ties with two key partner nations, Thailand and Singapore.
  • In photo three, General Carlisle shakes hands with Staff Sgt. Owen Keao, 154th Maintenance Squadron, during a visit to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Dec. 17, 2012. During his visit, Carlisle toured several areas on base and met with Airmen from the 15th Wing, 647th Air Base Group, and Hawaii Air National Guard.
  • In photo four, General Carlisle, explains the capabilities of the KC-135 Stratotanker to a contingent of officials from the Japanese Ministry of Defense July 2  at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.

For our new book on shaping a 21st century Pacific strategy see the following:

A version of this article has appeared on Breaking Defense as well.