Breaking Defense contributor James Kitfield sat down with ACC commander General Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle in his headquarters at Langley Air Force Base to discuss how the Air Force has maintained its ability to rapidly respond to global crises during a time of force contraction and tight budgets.
"The Air Force deployed for war 25 years ago for Operation Desert Storm, and we never came home from war. We’ve flown nearly non-stop in the Northern and Southern no-fly operations over Iraq, in the 1999 Serbian air campaign, in Operation Enduring and Iraqi Freedom, and in other operations. . . .
"In terms of operations against ISIS, I would argue that U.S. airpower did extraordinarily well in stopping the advance of its forces last year in Iraq. U.S. airpower was critical in helping the Kurds successfully defend Kobane [in Syria], by putting Close Air Support over their heads for months. In that fight we were able to put a bomb on the forehead of an ISIS fighter in a nanosecond, and that paid off. U.S. airpower was also instrumental in helping Iraqi forces recapture Tikrit. In the case of Ramadi and Anbar Province, that’s still a tough fight, but even U.S. Marines and Army forces had a tough time in Anbar. . . . I think [U.S. Central Command Commander] General Lloyd Austin has done an extraordinary job in stopping ISIS’s advance in Iraq and putting enough pressure on the group to give the Iraqi government time to take shape and develop. In the meantime, U.S. airpower will continue to wreck havoc on ISIS forces. . . .
"I have huge concerns. I don’t want to be melodramatic, but if we do not change sequestration and start financing the U.S. military adequately again, by the turn of this decade we will have to change the Air Force completely. We will cease to be a global air force. We will still be the best air force in the world, but we will have to shrink our capacity to the point that we will only be able to cover one region at a time. Remember on top of fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria and the Taliban in Afghanistan, we are presently conducting deterrence operations in the Pacific and on the Korean Peninsula, we are dealing with Russian actions in Ukraine, and tracking threats and crises in Libya, North Africa, Somalia, and the Horn of Africa in Yemen. Our capacity is stretched to its limits, and if sequestration continues we will no longer be that kind of global Air Force."