The far different mission in the Pacific and Asia has "lost understanding and appreciation with the senior leadership," he says. "Out here, we're 10 min. from a No Dong [North Korean missile] impact. What's different in this part of the world is that you have major military capabilities that are modernizing very quickly. [Maintaining] airpower is a major concern. This alliance [with Japan] promotes peace and stability in a region that could become a flash point for the entire world."
As commander of USFJ, U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Bruce Wright is obligated to plan for both the best and worst.
"I'm very positive about our engagement with China," Wright says. "I think there's tremendous potential for the alliance to engage in military-to-military-to-military interaction with the Chinese."
"We're trying not to let anyone drive a wedge between China and the U.S.," Moulton agrees. "It's through engagement that there's friendship. and through friendship that you don't end up in wars. I think there are ways to straighten out the Taiwan Strait issues without coming to blows."
But complacency and hope aren't a policy.
"We are keeping an intelligence watch on China and continue to be concerned about military modernization and force shaping," says Wright, who shares in the responsibility for regional preparedness. "They are constantly engaged in everything—cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, chemical, biological and radiological weapons, advanced air-to-ground weapons. The way they service and operate their force has our attention.
"There is a lot of electronic probing," he continues. "They are generating combat aircraft and missiles with conventional warheads that could create problems in our ports and rear areas. [Moreover,] if one gets through, Japan will look at counter-action."
Yet, fielding a defense that will stop everything is daunting to military planners and operators. It would require every bit of sophisticated weaponry available to the U.S., including advanced radars, air defense missiles and aircraft capable of evading air defenses.
"You have to go after command-and-control [sites] and points of origin [for missile launches]," Wright says. "We need to be more efficient and [the new capability of] cruise-missile intercept needs a lot of work. The challenge is timely warning and keeping combat air patrols up—the F-22s and F-15s [equipped with active, electronically scanned array radars]—that can detect small targets. There's only a small window to intercept them. How many aircraft do we need? There are significant challenges, and the answer is to constantly balance capabilities and to put more money into robust cruise and ballistic missile defense."
In fact, some in the U.S. Congress were so concerned with cruise missile defense this summer that early budget language supported full funding for key weapons procurements, including the F-22 and F-35 (both of which will have the capability to detect and attack small targets like stealthy cruise missiles). Development programs that address "asymmetric threats, including cruise missiles," were also cited. While the words were excised from the final document, congressional staffers expect the language to reemerge in subsequent defense budgets.