This story has been updated with additional information from Air Combat Command.
The change will consolidate ACC’s fighter, rescue, and command and control forces, Holmes said in an online discussion hosted by the Air Force Association.
The 12th Air Force will be moved to U.S. Southern Command, and the 9th Air Force will be realigned with U.S. Air Forces Central Command, said Holmes, who is retiring at the end of the month. The 1st Air Force will also become part of U.S. Northern Command.
In an email Tuesday, ACC spokeswoman Leah Garton said that the 15th will be activated Thursday.
Wings and direct reporting units from the 12th and 9th will be realigned under the 15th, Garton said. After that transition, the 12th will focus on its role for SOUTHCOM as 12AF/AFSOUTH, and the 9th will focus on its job for CENTCOM as 9AF/AFCENT, Garton said.
Garton said that this move will bring all of ACC’s conventional capabilities — including fourth- and fifth-generation fighters, remotely piloted aircraft, search and rescue, and others — under a single tactical command.
Garton said that it will be an organizational structure realignment only; no units will physically move.
She also noted that the 15th will actually be a reactivation of a storied Air Force during the World War II era, which was first commanded by legendary airman Jimmy Doolittle.
The reorganization will allow commanders to focus on their primary tasks, ,Holmes said, noting that other reorganizations in the past have helped the service respond to emergencies such as Hurricane Michael at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida and the coronavirus crisis.
“We wanted to empower wing commanders and encourage them to take responsibility and give them more freedom to make decisions, down to their group and their squadron commanders,” Holmes said.
When Tyndall was hit by the hurricane in October 2018, Holmes said, 325th Fighter Wing commander Col. Brian Laidlaw had the authority and resources to take care of his personnel and aircraft, start the recovery process, and resume operations at nearby Eglin Air Force Base.
As the Air Force adjusted to the coronavirus pandemic, wing commanders have likewise had the authority to make decisions that are right for their bases and people, Holmes said.
“I’m happy with this refocus in Air Combat Command on pushing authority, responsibility and decision [making] down, and allowing our people to have autonomy, mastery and purpose in what they do,” Holmes said.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.