Air Force Materiel Command and Air Force Smart Operations for the Twenty-First Century

By Carlson, Bruce | Air & Space Power Journal, Winter 2006 | Go to article overview

Air Force Materiel Command and Air Force Smart Operations for the Twenty-First Century


Carlson, Bruce, Air & Space Power Journal


I HAVE PROUDLY SERVED in the United States Air Force for over 35 years, and today's Air Force possesses the strongest, most technologically advanced, capable, and lethal combat power I have ever seen. Whether we talk of total air dominance or unmatched close air support of ground troops, our modern Air Force-and the men and women who comprise it-remains unmatched in its ability to execute the mission: to fight and win America's wars.

Air Force Challenges

However, if there is one constant in life, it is change. Threats to our national security have evolved from those posed by a traditional foe to those from an irrational, unpredictable enemy. Yesterday's technological advances are dwarfed by today's capabilities, which will become obsolete sooner than ever before. More pointedly, our military's weapons systems will age and become inferior. Unless we do something to counter this trend, the United States' military advantage over potential enemies will rapidly deteriorate.

For instance, when I came into the Air Force, the average age of the fleet was about nine years. Shortly thereafter, I began to fly the F-4D. Every person I met who knew this aircraft, from maintenance troops to pilots, described it as the oldest in the Air Force, falling apart, difficult to maintain, and destined not to last. At the time, the F-4D was 10 to 12 years old! An examination of the Air Force fleet over the past 25 years and of expectations for the next five years shows that we have fewer aircraft than ever before and that they are old (fig. 1).

Moreover, the personnel drawdown that has occurred since the early 1990s serves to compound this problem. After determining the number of active duty military and civilian personnel from 1989 until now, we see that the end strength of our total force has experienced a steady decline. In 1989 the Air Force numbered over 827,000 military and civilians; today, that number has fallen to 520,000-a reduction of approximately 37 percent.'

In addition, our nation continues to financially support the men and women of all military services in their efforts to fight the global war on terrorism-but for how long and at what overall cost? When the Air Force begins to recapitalize its aging fleet, we will see tremendous costs associated with that effort-as well as varying degrees of personnel, equipment, and alterations in infrastructure required to make it happen. Radical changes loom on the horizon for our Air Force, and implementing them will challenge us.

In a letter to all members of the Air Force, Gen T. Michael Moseley, the chief of staff, identifies what lies ahead for the service:

Today, we have three major challenges facing our Air Force. First and foremost is accomplishing the combatant tasks the President and secretary of Defense assign. The tasks will be ones we've done before and ones we've never undertaken. second, we must preserve that which makes us the most feared air force in the worldour people. Our culture of excellence must continue to develop Airmen ... Airmen who are the most adaptable, most skilled, most professional, and most lethal the world has ever known. Third, we face the difficult task of operating the oldest inventory in the history of the United States Air Force. My senior leadership will work to break this vicious cycle. I need you, our Airmen on the line, to continue making the mission happen.2

Recently, General Moseley and secretary of the Air Force Michael Wynne urged the entire Air Force to bring its thinking in line with Air Force Smart Operations for the Twenty-first Century (AFSO21), an initiative intended to focus all Airmen's efforts on eliminating waste from their work as well as making processes reliable, repeatable, and efficient. Recognizing the necessity of this charge, Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC) is aggressively implementing AFSO21's initiatives for continuous process improvement.

The Air Force Recognizes the Need for Change

Pursuit of the Air Force core value "excellence in all we do" must never end.

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