Academic journal article Air & Space Power Journal

Twenty-First-Century Air Warfare and the Invisible War: Strategic Agility

Academic journal article Air & Space Power Journal

Twenty-First-Century Air Warfare and the Invisible War: Strategic Agility

Article excerpt

America's Air Force: A Call to the Future, released in July 2014, asserts that the Air Force's ability to continue to adapt and respond faster than our potential adversaries is the greatest challenge we face over the next 30 years.

Meeting that challenge will require honest, recurring self-critique, and a willingness to embrace meaningful, perhaps even uncomfortable change. To their great credit, our Airmen-adaptive and resilient-are bridging the widening gap between the dynamic 21st-century environment and our 20th-century bureaucracy. Their initiative and perseverance allow us to succeed in our mission despite sluggish process and cumbersome structure that can engender rigid thinking and stifle the creativity and innovative spirit we seek to champion. We must commit to changing those things that stand between us and our ability to rapidly adapt.1 (emphasis in original)

Who will be our next enemy? Whom will we fight in the next 20-30 years, and how can we be ready? Perhaps even more importantly, how can we prepare the force to deter these fights? To meet its own strategy and the demands of an uncertain global environment, the Air Force must increase its strategic agility. Fundamentally, the service must remain prepared for today's fight yet also ready itself for future conflicts. The Air Force must synchronize these two time horizons and assure that its forces are capable of meeting a myriad of future threats. One step toward realizing greater strategic agility would involve establishing a Warfighter Integration and Innovation Branch (WI2B). However, to understand why this organizational change is necessary, we must first consider the current state of the Air Force.


We need strategic vision to anticipate global changes in the upcoming decades so the Air Force can maintain a capability and performance advantage in personnel, training, and equipment. Even as we fight today's wars, the necessity of recapitalizing has never been more profound. The average age of our fighter fleet is 30 years, and most of our tankers and bombers are senior citizens.2 The recapitalization efforts of Gen Mark Welsh, chief of staff of the Air Force, are similar to those of Gen Wilbur Creech in the 1970s, when he corrected what he called a "slippery slope" in combat capability.3 Within five years, the service was procuring new aircraft, had established Red Flag, and had developed the Air Combat Maneuvering and Instrumentation system to train personnel for more complex missions.4 Although no one could predict exactly how the world would change (and how Iraq would transition from ally to adversary), General Creech's foresight postured the Air Force for overwhelming success in Operation Desert Storm nearly 15 years later. The Air Force must have large, long-term, high-priority acquisition programs such as the F-35, the Long-Range Strike Bomber, and others to ensure that the United States is prepared for the future "10-year enemy," which may even be a near-peer adversary.

Predicting the Future

Todajr's enemy may be our future adversary as well, but history has shown that our predictions of the future have proven notoriously wrong. For example, in 2011 Secretar}^ of Defense Robert Gates pointed out that "when it comes to predicting the nature and location of our next military engagements, since Vietnam, our record has been perfect. We have never once gotten it right, from the Mayaguez to Grenada, Panama, Somalia, the Balkans, Haiti, Kuwait, Iraq, and more-we had no idea a year before any of these missions that we would be so engaged."5 Even Gen James Mattis, former commander of US Central Command and a true scholar of the profession of arms, in testimonjf before the Senate Armed Services Committee, observed, "I think, as we look toward the future, I have been a horrible prophet. I have never fought anywhere I expected to in all my years."6

Today's world is radically different than the one 30 years ago when many current senior military leaders first entered service. …

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