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ISR role in Pacific grows

May. 6, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Global Hawk's first flight
The RQ-4 Global Hawk prepares to taxi down the flight line for its first flight in 2010 at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. This month, two RQ-4 Global Hawk surveillance drones will finish their transfer from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, to Misawa Air Base, Japan. (Senior Airman Nichelle Anderson/Air Force)
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The Air Force is increasing its intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations in the Pacific as the military shifts its focus to that region, but the current fleet and capability is not enough, the top Air Force general in the region said Monday.

New RQ-4 Global Hawk positions and the first year-round deployment of the E-8C Joint Stars in the Pacific highlight the service’s push in the area, but budget issues have meant the service doesn’t get enough surveillance coverage, said Gen. Hawk Carlisle, commander of Pacific Air Forces.

“If [U.S. Pacific Command] had one more dollar to spend, they’d go out and buy ISR,” Carlisle said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. “If we get relief anywhere, they’ll go out and buy ISR because that’s the thing they think they have the least of.”

This month, two RQ-4 Global Hawk surveillance drones will finish their transfer from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, to Misawa Air Base, Japan. This marks the first time the aircraft will operate out of Japan, and the service expects up to a 70 percent increase in their use from the new base, Carlisle said.

The Global Hawk “is a key component” in the Pacific shift, Carlisle said.

However, other assets are just as important, including RC-135 Rivet Joints and JSTARS, which have seen increased operations in the Pacific. This year marks the first time the Pacific will have JSTARS year-round, Carlisle said. The E-8C is a modified Boeing 707-300 outfitted with radars and other surveillance equipment that produces a 120-degree view that can cover more than 19,300 square miles, according to the Air Force. The service in its fiscal 2015 budget request is looking to retire the current fleet of JSTARS and develop a replacement to be in place by 2022.

Another target for retirement is also still a key component in the Pacific: the U-2. The service wants to cut the entire fleet of the manned surveillance aircraft and replace them with the Global Hawk.

But the U-2 is a large part of PACAF’s ISR plans, Carlisle said. “We are doing great work with our ability to use multiple platforms,” he said. “We are getting better at it, we have to take advantage of every piece we have.”

Those pieces are needed to counter increased activity by other countries in the region, especially Russia, which has been busier in the Asia-Pacific since the conflict in Crimea began earlier this year. On top of that, China has been more active. In response, the Air Force needs to spend more effort on reassuring allies that it is capable to help, Carlisle said.

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