Transforming Air Force Education for the Long War and Beyond

Article excerpt

AIR UNIVERSITY IS currently in the process of transforming for the "long war" and beyond. The idea of a university reorganizing for war may seem odd, but in the Western way of war, warriors and academics have always enjoyed a close relationship. The West's first great general, Alexander, was tutored by Aristotle, and when he went to war, he did so with academics in his train. According to noted military historian Victor Davis Hanson, the close relationship between warriors and scholars in the Western way of war is one of the main reasons for its success across the millennia.1 In the US military, the connection between thinkers and fighters has become closer than ever, and exploiting this relationship to the fullest will prove key to winning the current war. Doing so, however, will require (1) understanding how military education differs from the traditional civilian model and (2) reorganizing our present system of military education to meet the emerging challenge.

The Unique Nature of Military Education

At its core, the US system of military education does not differ significantly from the civilian system. Both are based on the university model of research and teaching that has dominated Western education for centuries. In this model, professors conduct research to push their fields forward. They produce books and articles that they subsequently teach to their students and, in the process, become better educators themselves. This procedure, which systematically turns out better students, faculty, and ideas, has played a significant role in the explosion of knowledge in the West and is largely responsible for the lightning pace of innovation in science and technology today.

Military education, however, differs from most academic fields in a number of ways. First, although hundreds or thousands of schools offer instruction in most fields of study, in the United States only a handful of joint/service schools teach military art and science. Further restricting the breadth of the field, for the most part only those schools associated with certain service sponsors have faculties knowledgeable about particular domains of war. Thus, for instance, we have only one air war college, one land war college, and one naval war college, a situation that places an enormous burden on service-school faculties to research and publish work related to the type of war for which their service is responsible. In most fields of study, if professors do not publish, they can fall back on books and articles published elsewhere to stay current and educate their students. At service schools, however, they are often the only game in town.

A second difference between military schools and the majority of civilian schools involves pure versus applied research. In most fields of study, professors write for academic audiences. Promotion, tenure, and other benefits come from moving academic debates forward. In the civilian world, outside of business, law, and engineering schools, writing for policy makers and practitioners may even have negative connotations since it might appear to sully an instructor's credentials as an unbiased observer. In military education, however, this relationship is reversed, with practitioners constituting our most important audiences. Military schools conduct, or should conduct, their most highly regarded research for policy makers in Washington, generals in the field, and students in the classroom. Though important, purely academic work does not have the pride of place it enjoys at civilian schools.

A third difference involves urgency. The ideas that we in a military university explore through research and the lessons we teach often pay off-for good or ill-much faster than in other fields of study. For instance, a school's decision about whether to drop classes on conventional war and add lessons on insurgency this semester or to wait for another year can mean the difference between life and death; its results will show up on the battlefield with the next graduating class. …