by By Maj. Mike Meridith
Air Combat Command Public Affairs
2/13/2015 - ORLANDO, Fla. (AFNS) -- Four
senior Air Force leaders discussed key issues facing the nation's
Combat Air Forces at the Air Warfare Symposium here, Feb.12.
During the hour-long discussion, leaders touched on budget concerns,
ongoing operations against the Islamic State of Iraq in the Levant
terrorist group, the future of fifth-generation fighters like the F-22
Raptor and F-35A Lightning II, and various emerging cyber threats.
Gen. Hawk Carlisle, Air Combat Command commander, joined Gen. Frank
Gorenc, the commander of U.S Air Forces Europe-Air Forces Africa; Gen.
Lori Robinson, the commander of Pacific Air Forces; and Lt. Gen. Stephen
Wilson, the commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, on a CAF
panel at the Air Force Association's annual Air Warfare Symposium.
The impact of sequestration
With the Budget Control Act still the "law of the land," leaders were
unanimous in their concerns about its potential future impact on the Air
Force based on what they saw during the 2013 sequestration.
"An important thing we learned about operating in a sequestered
environment was the effect of not flying airplanes," Gorenc said. "If
you have a squadron sit down for a month, it takes an exponential effort
to get it back to readiness. The corrosive effect of having squadrons
not flying can't be understated ... it does long term damage to our Air
Carlisle reinforced the point, noting that although the Air Force is
better prepared than in 2013 in terms of planning, operating at
BCA-level budgets would have a significant impact on the CAF's
"We have to produce the very best Air Force we can, given the resources
the American people give us," he said. "If we live through BCA-level
budgets into the next decade, we will not be able to do what we do
Robinson added that beyond lost capabilities, the cost of sequestration extended to international relationships.
"We did pay a price in partnerships when we had to cancel exercises and
TDYs," she said. "It is a concern for the long-term commitment, trust
and confidence of our partners and allies."
Collectively, the leaders pointed out that at least one positive impact
of sequestration was that it highlighted Air Force capabilities to the
American public, serving as a reminder of the importance of the
service's mission. The point was made especially clear by Wilson as he
discussed America's nuclear enterprise.
"Most people don't think much about the ICBM leg of the [nuclear] triad.
Our missiles are foundational to our national security because they
prevent an out-of-the-blue attack on the U.S.," he said, reaffirming the
Air Force's commitment to ensure a credible strategic deterrence for
the nation which became all the more important when planes were not
Operation Inherent Resolve
Combat operations against ISIL took center stage during the panel
discussion with audience members questioning the effectiveness of air
power in Operation Inherent Resolve. Carlisle expressed some frustration
with the perception by some that air power was "not working", noting
that substantial impacts had been made against ISIL
"Air power is actually very effective," he said. "We have changed the
way they [ISIL] operate. Their ability to mass, communicate, and control
their forces has been degraded significantly."
The general also noted that while there is still talk of "an influx of
[ISIL] fighters," they can't be as effective if their command and
control is interrupted.
In praising the effectiveness of airpower in OIR, Carlisle highlighted
the important role the F-22 has played, noting the fitfth-generation
fighter has "exceeded expectations". In particular, he noted how the
aircraft's capabilities enhance the effectiveness of other aircraft
operating with it.
"When you have F-22s in a strike package, every aircraft in the package does better," he said.
Discussion of the F-22 also raised questions about the future of the Air
Force's other fifth-generation aircraft, the F-35. Carlisle addressed
concerns about whether the aircraft would reach its initial operating
capability, projected between August and December 2015.
While Carlisle noted issues with maintenance manning were compelling, he
believed the Air Force would reach IOC as projected. However, he added
that IOC was "merely the beginning" of important issues the service
would need to face moving forward.
"The Air Force is not getting any bigger," he said. "We have to figure
out how to retire aircraft as we bring the F-35s online. Maintenance is
just one part of the equation."
The officers also addressed the growing threat of cyber-attacks and the
need for the U.S. to grow its own capabilities to address them.
"One of the things I think that is interesting is the integration of
cyber and kinetic effects. We're good at predicting the result of
kinetic actions, not as good with cyber," Gorenc said. "The problem is
the ability to predict creates so many branches and sequels it exceeds
the capacity of the AOC [Air Operations Center] to do the work,
particularly in a high-speed conflict."
Robinson echoed those concerns adding that she also worried about the
problem of degraded communications versus merely the loss of them.
"We'll either have comms or we won't. But I am worried about degradation
and how we can detect it."
The leaders drew their discussion to a close by noting that while the
CAF faces a challenging future, the future is still bright as its
success is ultimately secured by its greatest asset: the men and women
who daily carry out their missions in defense of the country.