The large, geographically dispersed terrain of the Asia-Pacific region generates unique challenges, USAF officials say. Credit: USAF.

We all remember what happened at Pearl Harbor — US military forces were taken by surprise, its fleet bombarded and largely destroyed, while planes struggling to get off the ground were machine-gunned.

While such a surprise attack would likely be detected much earlier, the US Air Force still faces a similar issue.

Over the past decade, Russia and China have each invested in a network of technologies — such as integrated air defense systems, ballistic and cruise missiles, advanced aircraft, and hypersonic weapons.

As it ponders the possibility of a future conflict, the USAF faces a massive logistical problem: In a time where its adversaries have invested heavily in layers of air- and ground-launched missiles, how will the USAF get its planes off the ground?

In other words, big bases offer big targets.

The answer — which the Air Force calls Agile Combat Employment — calls for the service to be able to launch, recover and maintain planes away from its main air bases and instead at unorthodox locations such as partner nations’ military airfields or civilian airports, according to a report by Valerie Insinna at Defense News.

Specifically, the large, geographically dispersed terrain of the Asia-Pacific region generates unique challenges, said Maj. Gen. Brian Killough, deputy commander of Pacific Air Forces.

“We’ve got to respond to that requirement to move everything by either air or ship across the theater” he said in a Jan. 29 interview. “We don’t have the very efficient rail lines and highway systems that Europe does to move those things around, so we’ve got to get lighter and leaner.”

One issue is the weight and quantity of support equipment needed to maintain aircraft and prepare them for takeoff, he added. Each aircraft type has its own specialized support gear, such as unique test stands or munitions-loading equipment. As a solution, the Air Force wants to field common support equipment that can be more easily deployed, the report said.

“We are putting stress on the system to develop new support equipment,” said Killough, adding that Air Materiel Command is looking into options. “It’s heavy. … We’ve got to make it lighter and more efficient, more effective.”

In the meantime, one technology that could help airmen work with heavy gear is a wearable exoskeleton designed to allow the user carry up to 250 pounds without assistance, said Col. Daniel Lockert, chief of Pacific Air Forces’ logistics plans division.

The Air Force is also considering placing regionally based cluster pre-position kits across the Asia-Pacific region, which would reduce the need for airlifting some equipment needed for training or operations, the report said.

Similar to the deployable air base kits used in Europe, the RBCP kits would include equipment supportive of expeditionary operations, such as rapid runway repair material, power generators and communications gear, the report said.

The RBCP kits would be easier to transport than the deployable kits, allowing for multiple small deployments of two to four jets across different operating locations, the report said.

“I do believe if we ever went to conflict, we would be at risk for sitting static in certain locations,” Pacific Air Forces Commander Gen. Charles Brown said in September, Stars and Stripes reported.

“We have to be able to disperse. We can’t all be sitting on big bases and being big targets,” he said. “The ability to move around — and have the flexibility to pick up and move fairly quickly — I think is important.”

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