US Pacific Command Air Forces to 'ramp up' operations in region

Servicemen from the SAF participating in a military exercise on Pulau Sudong in 2011.

SINGAPORE - After being hamstrung by last year's government budget cuts, the US Pacific Command Air Forces (Pacaf) will raise its stakes in this part of the world from this year.

Pacaf's commander, General Herbert Carlisle, has told The Straits Times that it plans to launch more planes to expand its rotational presence in the region, rejoin training exercises that it had pulled out of and take part in more drills with regional militaries.

There are also plans to expand the scope of current bilateral exercises by roping in more countries to take part in larger-scale multilateral exercises.

The plans follow a recent US congressional deal to ease the massive budget cuts that halted federal government operations last year. The spending curbs forced Pacaf to cut several exercises in this region, including one with Singapore.

The new pact to ease the cuts allows Pacaf to "ramp up" operations after a "difficult" 2013, said Gen Carlisle.

"We are trying to go back to our original schedule," added the 57-year-old, popularly known as "Hawk".

"We have added some exercises that we are able to do now because of the relief we got from the bipartisan budget act."

For instance, Pacaf men and machines will rejoin drills such as Pitch Black in Australia and Commando Sling in Singapore.

The joint air exercise with the Republic will, for the first time, include Australia, said Colonel Marc Caudill, who runs Pacaf's training exercise programme.

Such moves, Col Caudill said, are how Pacaf "is working to build upon the tremendous capabilities of the Asia-Pacific family of nations".

Gen Carlisle also said the increased American presence here should not be seen as a containment strategy directed at China.

Describing Singapore-US ties as "stronger than ever", Gen Carlisle said the Republic plays the role as a good interlocutor for China and the United States.

"Sometimes, (China) will do things that we don't really understand. Singapore can help us understand that perspective.

"The same thing can happen in reverse. (Singapore) can provide that as feedback (to the Chinese)," he said.

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