In the coming years, the US Air Force’s Pacific strategy will rely on agility, technology, and a network of allies to provide deterrence against regional rivals.
The PACAF (Pacific Air Forces) Strategy 2023 document outlines the military challenge posed by authoritarian regimes such as the Chinese Communist Party, Russian Federation, and North Korea.
“The United States, aligned with our allies and partners, must deter and mitigate these threats for our collective security, prosperity, and freedoms,” says the paper.
“PACAF will utilise the distinct advantages of airpower to lead this unified effort, taking swift and decisive action to defend a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
Beijing has created an anti-access/area-denial capability designed to keep US forces far from China’s shores in a military contingency, such as an attack on Taiwan. A key tenet of Chinese doctrine is attacking American air bases in locations such Guam and Taiwan with crippling barrages of cruise and ballistic missiles.
As such, the USAF has developed an agile combat employment strategy that greatly expands basing options and complicates targeting for Chinese planners.
“To counter the increasing missile threat to United States and Allied operating locations, PACAF is adopting capabilities to generate and sustain airpower from distributed locations in contested and degraded environments,” says the paper.
“We are diversifying our defenses to include additional camouflage concealment, and deception, infrastructure hardening, and active defense capabilities. PACAF is also advancing non-kinetic defensive solutions such as electronic warfare, high-powered microwaves, and laser technologies. Finally, we are accelerating constructing aircraft shelters and other airfield infrastructure to increase resilience.”
In terms of aircraft, the paper observes that USAF is in the process of building the world’s “largest fifth-generation fighter fleet”, as it also prepares to introduce the developmental Northrop Grumman B-21 bomber.
Aircraft will increasingly be armed with “innovative weapons”; as new capabilities mature, PACAF will explore how they can be implemented in operations.
A key focus area is providing “lethal and integrated fires” in a contested maritime environment.
The document also highlights the important role played by allies. It notes that reciprocal air-to-air refuelling and maintenance agreements are in place with partners such Australia, Japan, Singapore, and South Korea. Japan has also entered reciprocal access agreements with Australia and the UK.
The USAF will also continue sending bombers such as the Boeing B-1 and B-52 to train with allies in the region.
“Our bombers primarily provide a credible military deterrent and critical support for domain awareness and air defence training. We will prioritize flying and landing in new locations, exercising multi-axis approaches, and integrating with existing and new partners.”