ORLANDO, Fla. -- Gen. Ken Wilsbach, Pacific Air Forces commander, discussed the pacing threat of China and the efforts of Airmen and Guardians in the theater with the U.S. Space Force deputy chief of space operations as guest panelists during the Air Force Association’s (AFA) Warfare Symposium, Mar. 3.
Wilsbach and Lt. Gen. B. Chance Saltzman, U.S. Space Force deputy chief of space operations for operations, cyber and nuclear, conducted a question and answer panel with Lt. Gen. (ret.) Bruce “Orville” Wright, AFA president, to discuss the threats within the Pacific theater, primarily focusing on the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
The generals’ remarks matched the theme of the symposium, “Air and Space Power: Indispensable to Deter, Fight & Win.”
“It is an honor to be here and to talk about the pacing threats in the Pacific, namely China,” said Wilsbach. “Whenever we have Airmen gather in PACAF, we talk about China. We are focused daily on what is happening across our area of responsibility, and it is why we are here today.”
Wilsbach told the audience China was the pacing threat for the command based on their destabilizing activities in the diplomatic, information, military and economic realms, and the PRC’s accelerated efforts to modernize their military.
“Why we are here is to talk about our overall objective in the theater and that is to keep it a free and open Indo-Pacific,” said Wilsbach. “The PRC is on the opposite end of having a free and open Indo-Pacific; they want it to be the Chinese way. While we support the rule of law and an international rules-based order, which almost every country in the theater wants too, the PRC doesn’t.”
The general highlighted some of the actions the PRC has done over time that is counter to the goals of likeminded nations who want a free and open Indo-Pacific region, like predatory lending practices, promising and then denying democratic processes in Hong Kong, and supporting an unprovoked invasion of the Ukraine by its neighbor.
“These are the reasons we are here, and it is the reasons many of our Allies and Partners are focused as well, including the British, the French and the Germans who all have interests in the Pacific,” said Wilsbach. “Our Allies and Partners are a top priority for us to maintain our competitive advantage. We rely on our Allies and Partners in the theater, as well as our European Allies and our joint force teammates, to present dilemmas for the PRC before they can continue or start any nefarious activities.”
The general said the command also watches Russia and North Korea closely, and would be ready to respond if that is what the commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command or the President asked Airmen to do.
In light of current events happening in Europe, the general said he is closely watching the PRC so they don’t take advantage of the situation.
“If you translate the word crisis from Chinese, it doesn’t translate exactly into English. The Chinese characters translate into threat and opportunity,” said Wilsbach. “We must watch what the PRC might do to take advantage of the crisis. So far, it has been relatively routine for now, but the friction is in the routine.
“When you have an unprovoked attack and the world has come together, I hope the PRC is paying attention. They have communicated their stance for Taiwan, but as the SECAF said Putin made a mistake in his calculations. A similar outcome would happen in the Pacific if the PRC did an unprovoked attack,” said the general.
Wilsbach also told the crowd that Agile Combat Employment (ACE) is the strategy the service is using now and in the future to deploy and employ combat airpower over the vast expanse of the Pacific.
“We have the capability to do ACE in PACAF, and we incorporate it into all of our exercises as well as some of our deployments,” the general said. “Exercise Cope North 22 was recently conducted with Australia and Japan in the Guam cluster where we flew from multiple airfields with multi-capable Airmen. It was difficult to do, but we did it.”
Wilsbach said the ACE concept is maturing and the command is collaborating with United States Air Forces in Europe and Air Combat Command on further developing the ACE concept of deployment and employment. He also said many Allies and Partners are interested in ACE as well, with some already conducting their own ACE events, and the command is sharing lessons learned with them.
Wilsbach also touched on changes within the Air Operations Center with the transition of having a director of space forces to having a space component command for USINDOPACOM. He also spoke of the great innovation and can-do attitude of the PACAF Airmen, as well as the efforts of Congress and the joint and air staffs to continue to modernize the service’s capabilities while finding ways to protect innovation and technology to keep a competitive edge.
The general closed with leadership advise for all Airmen—officer, enlisted and civilians.
“I believe leaders should be humble, credible and approachable; it works in any size organization,” Wilsbach said. “I also follow the USAF Weapon School method of focusing on being better using ‘plan, brief, execute, debrief.’ You need to do an analysis of how you did and what were the lessons learned to improve. You don’t use it to tear people down, but to make someone better next time.”