Commentary: PACAF projects power throughout the Pacific

  • Published
  • By Gen. Lori Robinson, Pacific Air Forces Commander

Airpower’s greatest strategic strength lies in its speed, range, flexibility, precision and lethality. Airmen exploit the third dimension, and no one else can ensure rapid power projection at a time and place of our nation’s choosing like the U.S. Air Force.

As tensions escalate across this vast region, due in large part to China’s continued militarization of the South China Sea, the need to demonstrate credible combat power while leveraging our network of like-minded partner nations has only increased. PACAF airpower plays a crucial role in ensuring our nation continues to exercise the freedom to fly and sail in the international airspace and waters of this region so we don’t risk losing it.

With the vast array of challenges that come with planning and executing air operations across 52 percent of the globe, it can be difficult to take stock of the impact PACAF Airmen are having in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. If you look, however, at the range of simultaneous operations we’ve conducted over the first two months of 2016, our contributions as U.S. Pacific Command’s air component become very clear.

On Jan. 6, our Airmen were called to action after North Korea conducted its fourth underground nuclear test in clear defiance of UN Security Council resolutions. A few short days later, in a demonstration of the steadfast commitment to the U.S.-Republic of Korea alliance, a B-52H Stratofortress from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, conducted a low-level flight with a Republic of Korea Air Force F-15K Slam Eagle and a U.S. F-16C Fighting Falcon Jan. 10 in the vicinity of Osan Air Base, South Korea. This extended deterrence mission highlighted our ability to mobilize strategic bombers throughout the region in support of our allies.

At the same time, more than 200 Airmen with the 112th Fighter Squadron from Toledo Air National Guard Base, Ohio, deployed to Andersen AFB as the 112th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron in support of the U.S. PACOM’s Theater Security Package mission. This routine deployment greatly strengthens our capability to project power throughout the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.

A few days later, PACAF airpower was on the move again; this time, 14 F-22A Raptors and approximately 200 personnel from Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson, Alaska and 12 F-16Cs and nearly 150 personnel from Eielson AFB, Alaska spent several days training at Yokota Air Base, Japan, before flying to Kadena Air Base, Japan, to participate in our winter training cycle.

Rotating these Alaskan forces through Japan provides invaluable combined training opportunities with the Japanese Air Self Defense Forces and demonstrates our flexible capability to mobilize the most advanced fighter in our fleet throughout the region. Additionally, maintaining credible combat power is about having the right capabilities in the region, including the F-22’s fifth-generation capabilities. It is our F-22s and the F-35 Lightning II we will bring to the region in the coming years that will help to maintain security and stability by giving us an edge over potential adversaries.

As we made our way into February, PACAF Airmen continued to demonstrate their presence and build partnerships throughout the region. On Feb. 9th, a B-52 arrived in Darwin, Australia, to conduct training with the Royal Australian Air Force, advancing interoperability between our allied Airmen.

Meanwhile, the U.S. along with the JASDF, RAAF, Philippine Air Force, ROKAF and the Royal New Zealand Air Force kicked off exercise Cope North 2016 at Andersen AFB, Guam, on Feb. 10. 

This exercise featured more than 900 U.S. Airmen and Sailors training alongside approximately 1,000 service members from partner nations. More than 100 aircraft participated in the exercise, which included both humanitarian assistance and disaster relief training and large-force employment training.

Concurrently, more than 150 joint personnel, eight U.S. airframes, and two PACAF demonstration teams showcased their capabilities at the Singapore International Airshow from Feb. 16-21. Included among them was the debut of the F-22 in Singapore, which not only highlighted U.S. Air Force fifth-generation capability to crowds of thousands, but demonstrated our enduring commitment to ensuring regional stability.

Of course, this was not the only location where F-22s operated that week. In response to continued North Korean provocations, a four-ship of F-22s from those rotating through Japan, joined ROKAF F-15s and U.S. F-16s in yet another formation of solidarity on Feb. 17, in the vicinity of Osan Air Base, South Korea, further demonstrating our ironclad commitment to regional stability.

Within mere days of this show of force, the Airmen providing our continuous bomber presence and flexible deterrence executed a B-52 mission flying through the South China Sea from Andersen AFB to conduct a fly-by during the final day of the Singapore International Airshow, afterwards conducting an exercise mission during Cope North. 

As all of these missions were underway, PACAF also oversaw airlift operations in support of Operation DEEP FREEZE, the Department of Defense’s support of the U.S. Antarctic Program and the National Science Foundation, which runs every year from September through March.

This list merely captures the wave tops of everything our PACAF Airmen have done in the last eight weeks. Behind the headlines are the tireless efforts of thousands of Total Force Airmen who, along with a network of like-minded allies and partners, work to ensure airpower is delivered whenever and wherever it is needed.

The past two months have demonstrated the regional demand for PACAF’s unique blend of speed, range, precision, and flexibility. We live and work in a dynamic and increasingly tense region that is absolutely vital to our national interests and to the interests of our allies and partners in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. The scale and scope of the challenges we face are tremendous, but I have full faith that our Airmen will continue to deliver and make it all look easy.