Magazine article Joint Force Quarterly

The U.S. Air Force and Stability Operations Transformation

Magazine article Joint Force Quarterly

The U.S. Air Force and Stability Operations Transformation

Article excerpt


On November 28, 2005, Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon R. England signed Department of Defense Directive (DODD) 3000.05, "Military Support for Stability, Security, Transition, and Reconstruction (SSTR) Operations." Although it was released with little fanfare, the directive's elevation of stability operations to the same priority as combat operations is having a sweeping effect on the Department of Defense--and the U.S. Air Force (USAF). This transformation does not deemphasize major combat operations; airpower will remain a critical asymmetric hedge against potential adversaries on land, at sea, and in the air. However, the USAF must balance the low-frequency, high-intensity demands of major combat against the fact that Airmen are invariably called upon whenever our nation commits military force. In today's strategic environment, the United States is far more likely to commit its forces to stability operations than to major combat operations.

The good news is that Airmen have gained valuable stability operations experience in recent years. However, the Air Force has a long way to go before stability operations are fully integrated throughout the institution. This article examines the implications of DODD 3000.05 on the present and future USAF. First, we define stability operations and provide a strategic context for their conduct. We then use Air Force Title 10 responsibilities as a framework to evaluate how well the Service is aligning its organization, training, and equipment with the demands of stability operations. Overall, we find much progress being made toward a stability operations transformation. At the same time, we identify many areas where further improvements can be made.

Stability Operations Since the Cold War

Stability operations encompass "various military missions, tasks, and activities conducted outside the United States in coordination with other instruments of national power to maintain or reestablish a safe and secure environment, provide essential governmental services, emergency infrastructure reconstruction, and humanitarian relief." (1) They range from humanitarian assistance and disaster response on the nonviolent end of the operational spectrum to counterinsurgency at the opposite end. Significantly, stability operations tend to be population-centric, while combat operations are enemy-focused. Success against even the most violent insurgency--witness Iraq today--ultimately depends more on a political settlement between warring factions and the support of the host population than on the defeat of enemy forces in traditional battle.

The USAF record since 1991 consists of continuous stability operations occasionally interrupted by major combat. In fact, since the Cold War ended, the United States has entered one new stability operation every 2 years. (2) Intrastate conflicts today far outnumber great power and interstate conflicts, and the likelihood of instability, insurgency, and civil war exceeds that of conventional, set-piece warfare. Moreover, contemporary conflict mainly affects civilians, who comprise 90 percent of the victims. (3)

The violent insurgencies arising after successful major combat operations in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom have only highlighted the demand for improved stability operations capacity across the entire U.S. Government, and our experience is shaping new thinking about the relationship between stability operations and combat operations. Previously, stability operations were conceived as a distinct Phase IV of a military campaign that followed the decisive conclusion of major combat operations. In practice, however, the postconflict phase in Afghanistan and Iraq remained violent as insurgencies developed and intensified after the fall of Kabul and the march to Baghdad.

A better model--newly released in Joint Publication 3-0, Doctrine for Joint Operations, and illustrated in figure 1--now offers a six-phase campaign model showing how stability operations activities occur in all phases. …

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