June 14, 2005 | WebMemo on National Security and Defense
How should the Air Force be transformed to maximize its efficiency and effectiveness? In 2004, the Air Force issued its U.S. Air Force Transformation Flight Plan, a major document that specifically addressed important issues of transformation, such as business practices, capabilities, and service culture. As the Air Force prepares for the 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), there will be even more strategic and programmatic decisions to be made.
In a recent lecture at The Heritage Foundation, General John P. Jumper, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force, outlined the challenges that the Air Force faces as it enters the 21st century.
Agility is a Key to the Future
Looking back to the 1980s, the U.S. defense establishment had no inkling of the threats that Slobodan Milosevic, Saddam Hussein, and Osama Bin Laden posed. It was not possible to predict that the whole decade of the 1990s-not to mention the new century, to the present-would be dominated by these adversaries and by new kinds of conflicts for the U.S. military.
One of the main lessons to take from recent history is that agility is a cornerstone of success. As the U.S. military undertook Operation Desert Storm, it was still a cumbersome, Cold War-driven force. Planning still centered on a European or a Korean conflict. Although the U.S. military was successful in Operation Desert Storm, Operation Allied Force, and Operation Vigilant Warrior, there was still little agility, and military leadership knew that it had to do better. Since 1994, senior Air Force leadership has supported a major shift in the Air Force's culture to enhance agility, strengthen contingency forces, and transform the ability to respond to any crisis that could arise globally.
Part of this transformation effort is the focus on future force structure, to include more integration of the Air National Guard and Air Reserve in today's missions. Guard units have responded to this by mixing more, on a day-to-day basis, with active duty units and being better prepared for high-demand missions. Also, procurement is an important part of transformation equation. Unfortunately, it has reached the point where individual systems cost so much that each one is reduced to a niche capability. A variety of factors such as confidence of suppliers, requirements of the program, and competition in industry affect this. However, it is not just the procurement system, but business that must be influenced by the new culture emerging in the Air Force.
Transforming the Mindset
Transformation is as much about how the military thinks as what it buys. A big part of the force that any service has in place today will still be around 15 years from now, and so it is necessary to pay as much attention to integrating current assets as to replacing or acquiring new assets. There is an ongoing shift from concentration on platforms and systems to effects-based thinking. This means starting with operations and thinking more about how forces will fight than what they are going to fight with and what is going to be purchased. Cultural and bureaucratic roadblocks hamper this new thinking. Rivalries between the services can affect the service itself, the joint force, and coalition forces. Part of the problem is that the Air Force, in general, does not always clearly ask for the assets or systems that it needs (for instance, computer systems) and then must deal with the resultant inefficiencies.
Other problems are more cultural and bureaucratic. There are many areas where the senior leadership of the Air Force is trying to encourage people to move beyond the status quo and develop new ideas for the future:
Finally, General Jumper reiterated that despite all the technology, people remain the most important resource of the Air Force. The United States should be proud of the pride, discipline, and dedication of its airmen.
For more information on related defense subjects, see Heritage Foundation Executive Memorandum No. 970 "The U.S. Should Consider F/A-22 Sales to Select Allies," Backgrounder No. 1847, " A Congressional Guide to Defense Transformation: Issues and Answers," and Executive Memorandum No. 953, "Defense Priorities for the Next Four Years," all available at heritage.org.
Jack Spencer is Senior Policy Analyst for Defense and National Security in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation. Kathy Gudgel, Research Assistant in Defense and National Security, contributed to this piece. This WebMemo is based on a presentation given at "The Future of the Air Force: A View from the Top," a public event held at The Heritage Foundation on April 28, 2005.