Gen. Hawk Carlisle2After a week of discussions with Pacific Air Forces staff, Robbin Laird sat down in Hawaii with Hawk Carlisle, their commander. The conversation took place just after the North Koreans had fired missiles into South Korean waters during an allied exercise for the defense of South Korea. Laird, a member of our Board of Contributors, is now in Australia, where he’s interviewing a range of senior Australian defense officials.

The US is shaping a deterrence in depth strategy in the Pacific to ensure that the US national command authority has options to deal with threats in the region and allies can have confidence in the viability of a vibrant US combat force across the Pacific.

The first strand is clearly better integration of air and missile defense systems throughout the Pacific, between US and allied systems. This is designed to shape a force that can deal with a wide range of missile threats.

The US Army’s role is particularly important in this. “The role of having active defense or an interceptor force is to buy time for [Lieutenant] General [Jan-Marc] Jouas (7th USAF Commander in the Pacific) or General [Hawk] Carlisle (the PACAF Commander) to more effectively determine how to use their airpower,” Brig. Gen. Daniel Karbler, 94th Army Air and Missile Defense Command, said in an earlier interview. “It also allows the National Command Authority to determine the most effective way ahead with an adversary willing to strike US or allied forces and territory with missiles.”

General Carlisle outlined how the theater command is pursuing the objectives Karbler outlined. “We are pursuing an approach that combines better integration of the sensors with the shooters with command and control.  Command and control are two words. The way ahead is clearly a distributed force integrated through command and control whereby one develops distributed mission tactical orders (with well understood playbooks) reflecting the commander’s directions, and then to have the ability to control the assets to ensure that the sensors and shooters accomplish their mission.”

The future fleet of allied and US F-35s should help bolster those efforts. “We need to get better at attack operations to take out the shooter. How do we do that better?” Carlisle asked rhetorically. “It is clear that an F-35 fleet coupled with the new long-range strike systems will play a key role in that function. We also need to shape game changers in terms of the missiles used to intercept missiles. The current generation is expensive and we need to drive down the cost point for interceptors. SM-6 is coming, which is an important asset, but DoD is working hard on ways to drive down the cost of future interceptors. And we are working the passive defense piece of the puzzle as well including hardening, concealment, dispersal of assets, rapid runway repair and support for a fluid force operating in a distributed manner.”

Here’s what some of our Pacific allies are doing as part of a more closely integrated missile defense capability. A recent US-Japanese joint exercise, which worked directly on the integrated piece for air and missile defense, is an obvious step forward.

And the South Koreans are obvious players as well with their Patriot and Aegis systems. Add the Australians who are buying Aegis and F-35; they will be players as well in the future.

The roll out of the sensor-shooter C2 approach for an integrated air and missile defense system also lays down a capability that a decade from now when the fleet of allied and American F-35s is operational can leverage as well.

I asked General Carlisle what impact a fleet of F-35s (allied and US) would have in a decade. “It will be significant. Instead of thinking of an AOR (Area of Responsibility), I can begin to think of an American and allied CAOC (Combined Air Operations Center). By sharing a common operating picture, we can become more effective tactically and strategically throughout the area of operations.”

A key initiative of General Carlisle’s is to find ways to disperse aircraft and to land aircraft on airfields from which they did not take off in the enormous distances of the Pacific theater. The Rapid Raptor concept where four F-22s are supported by a C-17 at an airfield different from where they took off is a clear indicator of the projected trend line.

General Carlisle has coined the term “places not bases” as to describe how he’s working with partners and allies throughout the region to provide logistical support and coordinated capabilities which allow the US and those partners to work together. A series of regular international exercises is clearly part of this effort, as they provide the opportunity to test and enhance logistical and support approaches, as well as to shape convergent con-ops where appropriate.

New equipment is coming into play in those exercises because the Pacific is an expanding defense aviation market, Carlisle said: “This AOR is the most rapidly growing military aviation market worldwide. Investments are being made and the willingness of our allies to work with us in rolling out a common fleet of F-35s is a key common investment which will significantly enhance our collective ability to provide for effective Pacific defense.”

In addition to F-35s, several allies are building “a more robust tanker fleet,” which Carlisle said, “is a hugely positive development.” He cautioned that to get the full benefit of more allied tankers would require working with those allies to shape effective concepts of operations so an allied fleet can work together.First_dual_F_35C_aerial_refueling

We then discussed the new air battle management system bought and developed by the Aussies, called the Wedgetail.

“I have been on the aircraft and it has just recently participated in Red Flag 2014  It is a very capable aircraft, but when it first showed up at an allied exercise in 2010 it had serious challenges with regard to interoperability. There have been huge strides with regard to its capable to be interoperable.”

There are two dynamics at work. The first was “the working relationship between the Australian Air Force (RAAF) and the USAF in focusing upon better integration of our various air battle management systems.”

The second is simply that the Wedgetail is a software upgradeable aircraft. The ability to evolve the capability of a software upgradeable aircraft (the F-35 is one as well) was highlighted in one of the RAAF interviews conducted by the Australian defense journalist Ian McPhedran in his book Air Force:

‘Someone asked me, ‘When will we get the full technical maturity out of Wedgetail?’ I answered ‘never’ because it will just continue to grow and the capability will be far greater in 30 years than what it is now.’

On top of that, translating Aussie working relationships with allies into software code is part of the process of enhancing capability over time. General Carlisle closed the interview by highlighting what he saw as a unique American Air Force opportunity within the evolving Pacific Defense.

“The USAF is the only service in the US with decades of experience with stealth aircraft, with regard to how they work, how they change the operational reality for pilots and how they are sustained. Within the region, we can help allies to avoid paths which will not be optimal for their emerging fifth generation fleet of aircraft,” he said.

Carlisle cited one example from the F-22.

“We have tested an F-22 with its sensors teeing up a T-LAM strike from a submarine against a moving target,” he said. “This is the future, whereby the weapons on target are not simply carried by the aircraft but the forward-based sensor can provide the moving target and, over time, those forward sensors can have the ability to direct that weapon to the target.”


  • Don Bacon

    The use of the faulty, expensive F-35 by the Air Force primarily as a battlefield sensor and , in this case linked with anti-missile missiles, mirrors a similar F-35 promotion in the Marine Corps.

    Art “Turbo” Tomasetti, the ‘father’ of the Marine’s F-35B:

    “The F-35 will have a significant impact on the Marine Air-Ground Task Force in bringing fifth generation capabilities and flexibility. It will be an important node in a networked battlespace by gathering and disseminating information, which can increase the overall situational awareness for Marines on the ground as well as for Marines and other friendly forces in the air.”

    So the faulty, expensive F-35 isn’t being envisioned as a “stealthy fifth generation strike fighter”, whatever that is, because it isn’t effective in any combat role, but rather as an ‘eye in the sky’ for “air battle management” by both Air Force and Marines. (Navy understandably doesn’t want the thing, it prefers Growlers and UCLASS.)

    But this F-35 flying sensor concept, after twelve years of development, hasn’t been demonstrated. The 2013 DOT&E Report:

    “Electronic warfare antenna performance of the first three production lots of aircraft was not meeting contract specification requirements. . .Progress in verifying the performance of the electronic warfare system will be affected until additional testing of the apertures in the aircraft is completed and any necessary retrofits accomplished on the mission systems test aircraft.”

    This requirement for sensors and air battle management demands a new look at the potential systems that would be best able to provide it in a cost-effective manner. It seems to this outside observer that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program which began in November 1996 with requirements from that era is no longer a contender, and General Carlisle’s understandable bureaucratic enthusiasm for the F-35 can’t be substantiated.

  • James Hedman

    This general is really something else. From his bureaucratic.corporate vocabulary to his obvious not so subtle baiting of the Chinese he really takes the cake. What makes him think that over a billion rapidly industrializing Chinese won’t have a bigger sphere of influence in the South China Sea? What makes him think that either the Patriot missile or Aegis are such brilliant systems. The obsolete Patriot has failed miserably against primitive SCUDS and other than a demonstrated ability to mistakenly shoot down civilian airliners the Aegis is still unproven in battle against the weapons of first rate opponents like China and Russia.

    I must say I do feel his obvious pain that the F-22 program was shut down. Think of how many we could have had if we had just instead stopped building those obsolete dinosaurs: the aircraft carriers. One missile with a tactical nuke getting through will be all it takes to mark the end of the era of the “brown shoe” US Navy.

    • Beazz

      A nuclear armed missile will take out any ship of any navy. And the first country to take out a US carrier with a nuke will in effect be signing their nations death warrant. China has only a handful of ICBMs capable of reaching the US and its very likely not even one would get through. The US on the other hand would rain down literally hundreds of nukes on China and Chinese civilization as we now know it would be over forever.
      Russia could destroy us but that would be suicide as we would do the same to them. And the Russians are not suicidal.

      So your theory of China takin out a US carrier with a nuke is pure nonsense.

      • James Hedman

        Actually it’s not so don’t kid yourself. We would not launch a full strike on China if all they did was take out some ships in the open ocean much less if it were against ships in the Straights of Taiwan. It would take a strategic nuclear strike on US territory to elicit that response.

        Tactical nuclear weapons are just that, tactical. It is inevitable that they will eventually be used.

        • Beazz

          Don’t kid yourself James. If nukes of any variety are used against US assets you can expect a full blown nuclear response against anyone but Russia. And even without nukes, I would not want to be on the receiving end of the nation responsible for the deaths of thousands of American sailors and destruction of tens of billions of dollars of American equipment. I think you SERIOUSLY underestimate the amount of firepower that would be brought to bare on those responsible.

          • James Hedman

            I disagree. We would retaliate (probably by submarine) with tactical nukes against some of China’s military bases but there would be no wholesale attacks on her cities and no launching of ICBMs.

          • Beazz

            And after we just nuke a few Chinese military bases what do you think the Chinese are going to do? Just sit there and say ok? I think they would attempt to nuke US territory and when they do it is game over for China. You can read about them in history books from then on.

          • vegass04 .

            Although this is one year old comment I have to jump in. I absolutely agree with you. Imagine what kind of patriotic moment would sinking a U.S. carrier be? It would galvanize USA and president would have carte Blanche for doing what he wants. And I read some “experts” saying that one good placed tactical nuke would sink the carrier. Yes and?? A couple of well placed nukes would flatten Shanghai. Does that mean people should stop living in Shanghai?? Are cities antiquated?? There is a good article written by some Russian think tank that predicts China would have to loose 40% of it’s Navy to sink one US carrier. Google it up, it is great.

      • Don Bacon

        China, rather than investing primarily in offensive weapons, although it has some excellent ones, focuses on defensive weapons — area denial. That includes anti-ballistic missile defense.

        • Beazz

          Well Don we see things quiet differently. I don’t see where those excellent offensive weapons of the Chinese are. Virtually everything they have is stolen technology. What that means is they do not understand the whys and hows of why thing work and when something goes wrong, as things always do, they have no understanding of how to correct it. Even so, I don’t see anything they got that is even remotely excellent as you put it.

          As for A2/AD, they not the only ones can play that game. And I have not saw one piece of credible evidence that evem remotely indicates they could shoot down an ICBM. The US however has several layers of missile defense that has performed as advertised in multiple tests. Something else you seem to forget is that China only has a handful of ICBMs in comparison to the US. The US also has hundreds of SLBMs, of which the Chinese have zero. You know that problem of stolen tech thing. Their nukes can’t leave port without a disaster happening. Then of course there’s those bombers that the US has a couple hundred of and again, China has zero!

          So Don, if it came to a nuclear exchange China would be a nice chapter in the history books and we would still be here most likely untouched.

          • Don Bacon

            I have not saw one piece of credible evidence that even remotely indicates [China] could shoot down an ICBM.

            I have.
            2010 Chinese anti-ballistic missile test
            The People’s Republic of China carried out a land-based high-altitude anti-ballistic missile test on 11 January 2010.

          • Beazz

            Wow Don. A Wiki article is it huh? NO ONE accepts Wiki as a credible source for ANYTHING. But even if we take it at face value as true, so what. They conducted ONE test a few years ago and now you somehow translate that into they can now shoot down our missiles that would number in the hundreds? The US actually has ABM systems in service that work but even we know if Russia were to launch a full blown nuclear strike against us it would be futile to even think about destroying all they have. China would be in the exact same position if the US launched a full blown attack against them. But if China screwed up and attacked us we have the capability to stop their small number of missiles.
            And it wouldn’t surprise me if half their missiles blew up over their own country since the Chinese still for the most part produce JUNK!!

            And Don if need be I am confident the USN could effectively cut China off from the rest of the world with their AD in the form of subs. We could stop every ship from coming to or
            leaving China which would send their export economy
            tumbling down. Hell, just the loss of exports to the US

            alone would tank their economy since a full 20% of their exports come here. China is not holding all the cards Don and are no where close to being able to take on the USN or the USAF.

  • Tim

    Here’s what to do:

    1. To retain combat units, eliminate the useless 94th Command in distant Hawaii to shed headquarters overhead.

    2. Permanently station a Patriot or THAAD battalion at Anderson AFB on Guam. A much better location for one of those crammed into Fort Sill and Fort Bliss.

    3. Remove USAF aircraft from the biggest target in the Pacific, Osan airbase in Korea, details

    4. Pull non-fighter aircraft out of the other big target, Kadena airbase on Okinawa.

    This would require real change, something shocking to senior military officers. They’ll be happy to talk the talk but then choose to walk the beaches in Hawaii instead.


    Those “moving targets” the general is talking about are on the Chinese mainland. Who thinks that politically the U.S. — the President — would launch attacks on the Chinese mainland? And if not, why would we need these deep response systems?