Seemingly Boundless Bombers Secure the Skies
U.S. Air Force Bomber Task Force effort is supplying more missions than before.
The U.S. Air Force’s shift away from continuously present bomber squadrons in the Indo-Pacific area of responsibility has actually resulted in more bomber flights, reports Pacific Air Forces Commander Gen. Kenneth Wilsbach, USAF. In April, the service ended Continuous Bomber Presence missions in the Indo-Pacific Theater, which it had conducted with squadrons deployed to Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, since March of 2004. Instead, the Air Force turned to the more agile, unpredictable Bomber Task Force model, and it is one that is working, the commander said.
“We've been doing the Bomber Task Force coming up on nine months, and it's been really, really successful,” said Gen. Wilsbach during a November 18 video call with reporters from the Defense Writers Group. “The reason why it's been successful is we're getting more missions flown. We've actually flown more of the bomber-type missions than we did in the Continuous Bomber Presence.”
Driven by the National Defense Strategy’s policy to address near-peer competition, Bomber Task Force squadrons supporting the Air Force Global Strike Command answer the call to “deliver lethal, ready, long-range strike options to geographic combatant commanders anytime, anywhere,” according to the Air Force.
For Gen. Wilsbach, the ability of the Bomber Task Force to conduct so-called “CONUS-to-CONUS” or “C-to-C” missions, with bomber aircraft leaving from and returning to the contiguous United States, has proven to be powerful.
“It is where the bomber crews take off out of the continental United States, and they fly all the way to either the East China Sea or sometimes we go all the way to the South China Sea and execute the mission,” he observed. “And the really cool thing about these is that it is not just one bomber or four bombers flying a straight line for 24 hours. There are training events occurring all throughout. We train with our allies and partners. We train with the joint forces. There are a number of events that occur.”
Adversaries of the United States are taking notice, Gen. Wilsbach continued. “Principally, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force [of China] as well as the Russian Air Force are paying attention, close attention to our mission. And our allies and partners are really appreciating it.”
“We have seen the Russians do some countering missions, especially in the Alaskan Area of Responsibility,” the commander said. “We did a fairly large mission a few months ago, and then a few days later, the Russians reciprocated with a pretty large mission into the Alaska Air Defense Identification Zone. So there there's a little bit of back and forth with flying missions inside of our air defense identification zone. And then, of course, the Chinese bombers are quite active in the South China Sea, particularly, almost every day, and then occasionally in the East China Sea.”
And while Russia is a serious threat, the PLA has surpassed Russia in ability, Gen. Wilsbach warned.
Moreover, the general is keeping a close eye on the development of hypersonic weapons, which are an enticing future solution for the immense IndoPacific Theater. “That’s something that is very interesting to me,” he emphasized. “These weapons travel at such a speed and they go such a great distance, and that is very difficult to defend against. That means that you can hold targets at risk with a minimum amount of time of flight of the weapon.”
He confirmed that he will “wait to see how the tests go,” as far as which type of the advanced weapons would best fit the needs of the Pacific. “My requirements are certainly in at Air Force Headquarters,” he shared. “I'll also go up through a specific command to the joint staff, though it is a little bit early to tell which one of the weapons can meet my requirements.”
Gen. Wilsbach also stressed that in addition to working with U.S. allies, partners and the joint services, he and the leaders of PACAF focus on taking care of their airmen, especially going into the holiday season.
“In the Pacific Theater, unless our airmen and their families happen to be from where they're serving, everybody is far away from their home,” he notes. “And they have a hard time, especially in the age of COVID, getting back to their homes. We are principally in Alaska, Hawaii and Guam and it's pretty hard. We've got a lot of airmen that haven't seen their families in a long time and so taking care of them, making sure that they're resilient and able to do the mission, has been really important to me.”