Who We Are and What We Do: The Evolution of the Air Force's Core Competencies

By Krisinger, Chris J. | Air & Space Power Journal, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

Who We Are and What We Do: The Evolution of the Air Force's Core Competencies


Krisinger, Chris J., Air & Space Power Journal


Editorial Abstract: Colonel Krisinger analyzes the process that produced the Air Force's original core competencies and offers insights into how recent changes to them will affect the air and space power culture. The degree to which airmen can communicate their culture and capabilities both to themselves and others will determine the scope and persistence of transformation initiatives.

Air Force core competencies are who we are and what we do.

-Lt Gen John Jumper, 1996

IN THE INAUGURAL issue of his policy letter, The Secretary's Vector, Secretary of the Air Force James Roche publicly debuted an evolving construct for the Air Force's core competencies.1 A similar statement by the Air Force chief of staff in an issue of the Chiefs Sight Picture closely followed this pronouncement.2 Influenced by the corporate-management style of today's Department of Defense (DOD) as well as his own experiences in the defense industry, the secretary helped explain the change to the service's own assertion of its identity by saying that "just as our concepts of operations and capabilities continually evolve, so also does the way we articulate Air Force competencies."3

The new definition hinges on perceiving three new core competencies-developing airmen, adapting technology to war fighting, and integrating operations-as a deeper refinement of the fundamental elements that identify the Air Force as a service. Further rationale offered in support of the new definition notes the retention of the previous six core competencies but characterizes them as "distinctive capabilities." In fact, this definition points out that the three new underlying institutional core competencies make the six distinctive capabilities possible.

One of the underpinnings of the Air Force's current war-fighting doctrine publications, as expressed in the keystone Air Force Doctrine Document (AFDD) 1, Air Force Basic Doctrine, is the delineation of six core competencies (now capabilities): air and space superiority, global attack, rapid global mobility, precision engagement, information superiority, and agile combat support.4 This set of core competencies, whose introduction coincided with the Air Force-wide invigoration of war-fighting doctrine and the establishment of the Air Force Doctrine Center at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, in the mid-1990s, lay "at the heart of the Air Force's strategic perspective and thereby at the heart of the Service's contribution to our nation's total military capabilities," according to AFDD 1. They were a statement of functions "that can be accomplished only by air and space forces" and "that confer advantages to the nation when performed by air and space forces."5 Put simply, the Air Force intended its core competencies to encapsulate what distinguished the Air Force from the other services in terms of war fighting.

These evolving Air Force perspectives on the concept of core competencies and capabilities are more substantive than any codification of a definition of the service's identity. The new intellectual course will manifest itself across the full range of efforts to "organize, train, and equip," and will affect budgets, force structure, operations, training, and command-level decisions. More specifically, the new definition could complicate the Air Force's continuing search for optimum alignment of its organizations and structure for managing and employing air and space power. The first noticeable manifestation of the changed perspective on core competencies-tied to "developing airmen"-is the recent announcement of the new force-development initiative, which will fundamentally change the way the service prepares its future leaders and will include substantially increased resources devoted to officer development.6

With so much riding on the core-competency concept, such a course correction should be the topic of robust Air Force discussion, possibly conducted through the more formalized and accepted doctrine-development process of today, to ensure that the changes are well understood and used for maximum institutional advantage. …

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