In the aftermath of back-to-back wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Pacific Air
Forces—the air component of U.S. military units covering the Pacific and
Indian Oceans—is restoring aircraft and crews, and reexamining its basic
The aircraft and crews will be ready for new action sometime this month, the
PACAF commander, Air Force Gen. William J. Begert, told a January gathering
of defense writers in Washington, D.C.
“After the war was over, we got the airplanes back relatively quickly,”
he said. “They have been in the process of reconstitution ever since.
I would say that, by March or so, we’ll be reconstituted and ready for
a normal, AEF (Air Expeditionary Force) rotation of our flying forces.”
The command’s support elements—such as civil engineers and communications—“really
have not had much of a breather,” Begert said. “They’re working
hard. They went right into additional 120 to 179-day rotations, and they haven’t
slowed down too much.”
On the flying side, Begert said, “readiness is okay, but we have aging
airplanes. That’s probably my biggest readiness issue.”
For example, he noted, the F-15 fighters at Kadena Air Force Base, in Japan,
flew in Iraq. “These airplanes were built in the 1979 timeframe ... We
have structural issues with them.
“Of the 48 airplanes at Kadena, we replaced five wings last year due
to structural failure,” Begert said. “We replaced vertical tail
assemblies. Cockpit pressurization has been a problem, with canopy seals. It’s
just one thing after another with aging airplanes, and they can’t quite
predict what will happen next.”
Kadena’s 15-aircraft squadron of KC-135 Stratotankers has similar problems,
he said. “The operational tempo is very, very high with these airplanes.
We don’t have enough of them. They’re also very old, aging airframes,
43 years old.”
Last year, the command had planned to fly them 6,400 hours, “and we flew
about 7,400 hours,” Begert said. “This year, we’re on a path
to overfly even more ... There’s a lot of business out there.”
PACAF command has C-130 transports based at Yakota, Japan; Elmendorf, Alaska,
and Hickam, Hawaii. Begert said. Their op tempo has stayed “pretty busy,”
he said. “Once again, it’s an aging airframe issue. The 130s at
Yakota are 38 years old. Because they’re the older 130s, they’re
relatively short range for the size of the command’s area of responsiblity.
(related box, p. 32)
In less than two years, Begert said, the C-130s at Hickam will begin to be
replaced by C-17s. The first C-17s will be an eight-airplane outfit operated
by Hawaii Air National Guard and active-duty crews, he said. Then, C-17s will
replace the active-duty C-130s at Elmendorf.
“That will give us an enhanced capability for theater tactical airlift
that we’ve never had before in PACAF,” Begert said.
In another effort to improve PACAF’s ability to respond to reach across
the area, U.S. defense officials are considering major changes in where the
command’s forces structure are deployed, Begert said. Adm. Thomas Fargo—head
of the U.S. Pacific Command—“has briefed [Defense] Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld a number of times on a way ahead in the Pacific that gives us the kinds
of basing and access that we need to lash up with our allies and friends in
Those recommendations “all have been kept very close-hold ... because
we want to have a chance to brief our allies and friends before we roll out
any major changes,” Begert said.
One location already getting increased resources, Begert said, is the Pacific
island of Guam, which has been a U.S. territory since the Spanish-American War
of 1898. “Guam’s got a lot going for it,” he said.
Only 32 miles long and 10 miles across at its widest point, Guam is strategically
located, south of Japan and just east of the Philippines. It is less than 1,500
miles from Korea and closer than that to the Taiwan strait, Begert said. Southeast
Asia is not far away, he added.
A decade ago, when the Philippine Senate rejected an extension of a military
base agreement, the United States lost key bases in that country, including
the naval facilities at Subic Bay and Clark Air Force Base. Many citizens of
Japan and South Korea, where U.S. forces have been deployed since World War
II, would like to see them withdrawn from there, as well.
The residents of Guam, on the other hand, would like to see more U.S. forces
stationed there, U.S. Rep. Madeleine Z. Bordallo, D-Guam, told a 2003 congressional
hearing. “Just as the military depends on Guam as a vital way-station,
the people of Guam look to the military as good neighbors upon whom their economic
development depends,” she said.
Guam’s Andersen Air Force Base, originally built during World War II,
has been kept up to date, Begert explained.
“Although there are no airplanes permanently stationed there right now,
we’ve invested very heavily in Guam over the past 10 years or so. The
basic structure of the base—the runways, taxiways, fuel system, capacity
to absorb airplanes—is really very, very good.”
Improvements continue to be made. In 2002, Nova Group Inc., of Napa, Calif.,
received a $33.5 million contract to replace petroleum oil and lubricants hydrant
fueling system at Andersen. In 2003, Black Construction Corporation, GMF, of
Guam, won a $32.3 million job to design and build a hangar to shelter a wide
variety of aircraft, including the fragile B-2, from typhoons—the hurricane-strength
storms that periodically sweep through the region.
When the Air Force deployed bombers for Afghanistan, “Guam went from
having no airplanes on the ground to literally 75 on the tarmac almost overnight—and
never missed a beat,” Begert said. The same thing happened last spring,
during Operation Iraqi Freedom, he said.
That deployment “went very smoothly,” Begert said. “We’ve
got a lot of munitions stored at Guam ... The bomber guys got some great training
while they were there. There’s a good range there.”
The United States is considering stationing a number of assets at Guam, he
said. “Rotational bombers, for example, would be very practical ... [Air
Force Chief of Staff] Gen. [John] Jumper’s talked openly about possibilities
for the future—perhaps a fighter wing, tankers, Global Hawk, bombers.
All are very attractive kinds of options.”
From Guam, U.S. aircraft can reach a number of potential adversaries, Begert
said. One of them, North Korea, “presents a very difficult challenge on
the air defense side,” he explained. “They’ve had a long time
to set up their structure, to harden their facilities ...
“The surface-to-air threats are becoming more and more sophisticated,
and we’re finding ourselves, in some cases, behind the power curve. It’s
one reason why we need the F/A-22 so much, because it’s what gets you
in and gets to knock down the door, so the rest of the forces can flow in.”
PACAF aircraft got a taste of sophisticated air defense in Baghdad, Begert
said. “My F-16s from Misawa [Air Force Base, Japan] were the first ones
there, and it was pretty exciting,” he said.
U.S. forces had been taking down Iraqi air defenses for sometime before the
war began, Begert said. The Iraqis “had pretty much drawn every thing
back to the Baghdad area, and that was probably more exciting than we would
One weapon used against Iraq that would help against North Korea, Begert said,
is the Joint Direct Attack Munition. “My opinion is, the more airplanes
we can get dropping JDAMs, the better I’ll like it,” he said. Right
now, he said, “I don’t have enough JDAM stock to make me very comfortable.
“If you take a look, for example at the North Korean threat, north of
the DMZ [Demilitarized Zone], and all of the artillery they have pointed at
Seoul, JDAMs become a very attractive weapon—an all-weather capability
that’s very precise.”
A potential threat that has changed significantly in the past three years is
the Chinese air force, Begert noted. “The Chinese are investing very,
very heavily both in the sophistication of their surface-to-air missile threat
and their ability to project power.
“Whether Taiwan is keeping up is a good question, and I’m not prepared
to give you a direct comparison between the two, based on investments,”
Begert said, but he added: “I would describe the Taiwan air force as very
capable, very professional, and they are making improvements in joint war fighting,
in how they exercise.”
Congress has limited the amount of aid that the United States can provide to
Taiwan, Begert said, “and we follow that religiously.” Nevertheless,
“we have worked quietly with the Taiwan air force,” even providing
contractor support, he noted.
PACAF also is working to improve relations with its counterparts in other nations
within its AOR, Begert said. “The new relationship that we’ve had
with India has kind of happened on my watch,” he said. “I’ve
been to India twice ... We’ve had airlift exercises in India.”
The Indians participated in U.S. exercises in Alaska. “Next month, we’re
going to take F-15s to Gwalior, which is their fighter weapon school, similar
to our Nellis [Air Force Base, Nev.], and do some fighter exercises with them,”
Begert said. Last year, he said, he had the opportunity to fly in the Russian-designed
SU-30 MKI fighter, which is being built in India.
The increased interaction between U.S. and Indian military services helps U.S.
efforts to reduce tensions between India and its neighbor, Pakistan, Begert
said. Both countries are nuclear powers, and the two are traditional enemies.
PACAF and other Pacific Command components are working on India, and the U.S.
Central Command, whose AOR includes Pakistan, is concentrating on that country,
“Stability in South Asia is very important, given the size of the militaries
of the two countries, the nexus of cultures and the influence they have on the
region,” Begert said.
Another important country in the region, he point out, is Malaysia. “It’s
a democracy, an Islamic country, and relationships at the diplomatic level have
not always been great. But at the military level, they’ve continued to
be pretty good. We’re trying to deepen that relationship and make sure
it stays on the right track.”
PACAF sent some F-16s in the fall of 2003 to exercise with the Malaysians,
and Begert himself attended the Lingawi Air Show in Malaysia, he said.
PACAF also is working with Indonesia, Begert said. “We have some restrictions
as to what we can do or not do with the Indonesians, but ... we’re trying
to do what we can ...
“I’m headed there in March. It will be my first trip there. I had
been scheduled to go a couple of times, and either world events or, in one case,
the bombing in Jakarta postponed my trip. So I’m looking forward to it
...All three countries in that region [Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore] have
been very proactive and very helpful in the global war on terrorism.”
As he travels around Asia, Begert said, “it’s clear to me that
countries like our presence in the region. They don’t see us as threatening.
Quite the opposite, they see us as stabilizing.
“They recognize that a lot of the prosperity and stability that Asia
has enjoyed over the past decade has been at least partly due to the presence
of U.S. forces.”
As a result, many countries in the region are willing to participate in the
evolving “lily pad” strategy, Bigert said. “We have asked
for access at some places, where they very quickly say, ‘yes, but don’t
“So we’re able to go in, and move in force structure for a particular
operation. Then, we move out, and there’s very little fanfare or anything
else. We have had very good success in Asia, over the past couple of years,
in getting access to the bases that we need.”
Back To Top