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Defense Secretary Ashton Carter speaking at ASC15 Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2015. Staff photo by Kristina Parrill.

​The Air Force and airpower are playing “the dominant role” in national security right now, with respect to the three biggest security challenges to the US: China and the Pacific, resurgent Russia, and the fight against ISIL, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Wednesday. Answering questions after his speech at ASC15, Carter said the “rebalance” to the Pacific was “a strategic imperative” because “that part of the world, more than any other single part of the world, will determine America’s future. And we’re playing a winning hand there of decades of strengths and being the pivotal power.” China’s willingness to use “coercive” means to get its way in territorial disputes, he said, is driving regional countries to partner with the US. However, “we must be realistic” in recognizing “Vladimir Putin’s aggression” in eastern Europe, where USAF “also plays a crucial role.” And in the effort to deal “a lasting defeat” to ISIS, “airpower has also played, right now, the dominant role” as it paves the way for “local” forces to achieve a ground victory, Carter said. ”So the demand signal for the Air Force goes up, in all these dimensions,” he concluded, adding that this is why “I’m so concerned about the budget gridlock” on Capitol Hill. Either a continuing resolution or sequester will amount to “self-inflicted damage” on US power and “send the wrong message at the wrong time” to adversaries watching for any diminishment of US resolve or capability.