The fighters are accompanied by two C-130J means of transport of the 374th Airlift Wing, Yokota Air Base in Japan. C-130s, as well as other support aircraft, are crucial for what’s next.
The fighters will be spread across four airfields under the Exercise Pacific Iron 21 rubric. Three–Andersen, A.B. Won Pat International Airport, Northwest Field are in Guam. One, Tinian International Airport, is 120 miles north.
According to Air Force releases, the plan is to have fighters practice flying sorties and deploying to austere airports. In recent years, the flying branch has become more concerned that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force could launch scores of missiles at large U.S. bases like Andersen in the early hours in a regional conflict.
The new concept of “agile combat employment” would see the Air Force scatter its planes over dozens of small airstrips throughout the Western Pacific in an attempt to complicate China’s bombardment. Some of these airstrips are remnants from World War II, like Northwest Field in Guam.
The Air Force explained that ACE used agile operations to generate resilient airpower in a contested climate. It is designed to organize and train airmen to be more agile and strategic in deterrence, more resilient in capability, and more agile in operation execution.
Air Force has practiced this dispersal strategy for many years, but not with many fighters or stealth fighters.
Like all low-observable warplanes, the F-22 requires frequent maintenance. This can be not easy to do on an airstrip that does not have permanent facilities.
It is pretty telling that the C-130s are part of the force mix for Pacific Iron 21. It is one thing to place a few F-22s on a disused runway and put up tents for crews and maintainers. It is quite another to provide fuel, food, and ammunition for the planes and teams.
The Air Force must maintain a steady pace of resupply missions to keep its austere bases ready for wartime.
Many of the Air Force’s outlying bases have identified as possible use in a crisis are located hundreds of miles away from potential combat zones over the Philippines Sea and China Seas.
A lot of aerial tankers would be needed to support the fighters—the U.S. Transportation Command last month tweeted that air refueling was critical for agile combat employment as it extends an aircraft’s range, duration of the flight and is essential to combat job.
These tankers are too large to operate from the most challenging airstrips safely. The Air Force may be able to spread its fighters to protect them against Chinese rockets. However, it could have trouble doing the same with its transport and tanker planes.
America’s heavy-bombers also depend on large air bases. Last week, Andersen received at least three B-52s of the 5th Bomb Wing from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota. KC-135 tanks usually accompany these Guam bomber rotations.
It is a huge challenge to manage “distributed” operations. It should be impressive to see all the F-15s and F-22s scattered around Guam.
It would be impressive to see the Air Force supporting these scattered fighters so the Chinese cannot deal with a few rockets.