Aligning the Air Force Vision with the Future Security Environment
Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley
Remarks to the Air, Space, and Cyberspace Power in the 21st Century Conference at the 38th Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis-Fletcher Conference on National Security Strategy and Policy, Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2010
You started the day with General Schwartz laying out some important areas in which we are focusing our strategic planning efforts. His guidance on Joint initiatives, increased capabilities, and reduced vulnerabilities will help prepare our nation and Air Force for the future security environment. As a complement to the Chief's thoughts, this evening I'd like to share some thoughts about how we'll align the Air Force Vision with the future security environment.
The Air Force vision remains for us to be recognized as a trusted and reliable Joint partner. Your Air Force looks to answer the nation's call with speed, range, and flexibility; and although the nature of conflict continues to change in new dimensions, these enduring aspects of airpower remain key to providing our combatant commanders and national leadership a wide array of strategic options.
Looking forward, it's certain that our national leadership will need an extensive set of tools available. The complex, hybrid nature of future conflict will continue to challenge us, and will demand coalition, whole-of-government, and Joint applications of power. National and international security will continue to be a team sport, and it will be key for teammates to understand their respective roles and work together. Perhaps the short answer to the question of, "how will we achieve alignment of our vision with the future security environment', is that the Air Force needs to remain vigilant in tying our work to the National Security Strategy, the QDR, and other authoritative guidance that sets the direction for DoD and the larger national security community.
In the future, however, we'll confront a wide range of strategic challenges, such as
- global terror networks
- nations determined to build long-range missiles and nuclear weapons, and others ready to sell the technology to do it
- rising economic and regional powers whose intentions may be unclear
- the continuing problem of failed states
- new challenges in space
- a new warfighting domain called cyber, and others.
And, as we confront these issues with limited resources--perhaps at a deeper level, our challenge is how to plan for uncertainty in this complex security environment.
Tonight I'd like to explore a handful of strategies aimed at how we plan for uncertainty and ambiguity in this complex environment, how we mitigate the possibility of surprise, and how we can both shape and recover from what Secretary Gates often reminds us will likely be imperfect assessments about the future.
The first is engagement. In this vein, I'm reminded of Woody Allen's admonition that "90 percent of life is just showing up." To be sure, we need to be present when and where change is occurring, to be present in regions of interest, and building both partnerships and partner capacity along the way.
Being engaged provides early warning, and helps us understand the direction and pace of change through the eyes of potential adversaries and partners in the region. Continuous engagement provides a way of creating shared perspectives of the strategic environment, and opportunities to shape that environment in ways favorable to the United States. This applies at all levels, from Combatant Commander and other senior interactions, down to the C-17 loadmaster who, when the ramp goes down, is able to speak the language of his foreign partner on the ground.
Secretary Gates noted that, "understanding the traditions, motivations, and languages of other parts of the world has not always been a strong suit of the United States. It was a problem during the Cold War, and remains a problem." We have moved to remedy this shortfall with our Air Force Culture, Region, and Language Flight Plan. As one step of this plan to develop "coalition-minded" warriors, we now have nearly 350 Pol-Mil and Regional Affairs Specialists in our Air Force, and another 228 in the pipeline this year. Additionally, we've made the career field attractive enough that we now have eight high-quality candidates applying for each available position. This, and other similar initiatives, posture us to better influence outcomes across the spectrum of conflict, but we have a long way to go.
Partners with a wide range of capabilities challenge us to broaden the scope and depth of our engagements. The Iraqi and Afghan air forces present fundamental challenges, such as establishing safe flight operations, technical schools, and logistical systems. And, by the way, as we partner to rebuild these air forces, they are conducting real-world operations; we need to do this at an affordable level; and on accelerated timelines. Well-developed air forces, including several represented in this conference, often seek partnership with us in the most advanced weapon systems, like the Joint Strike Fighter and ISR or space-based capabilities. The air forces of Eastern Europe probably fall between these two extremes. We recently recognized Building Partner Capacity as a core function for which our capabilities must be sufficiently robust and flexible to address a broad range of engagement needs.
Global AF Posture
Our engagement also supports access. As General Schwartz noted this morning, basing access is the lifeblood of a globally-oriented Air Force. A second approach to planning for uncertainty involves how we posture our forces abroad. Our task here is to find the right balance between the forward stationing of US forces in key regions--which sends the appropriate message of long-term interest and commitment--and periodic rotations and deployments, which can deliver strategic messages while preserving greater flexibility in our global posture, but can also limit our opportunities for sustained partner engagement. And, of course, understanding the motivations and sensitivities of our potential partners helps us find that balance.
Identifying and exercising a full range of contingency basing opportunities abroad is important to all parts of our forces, such as mobility and tanker forces that facilitate joint movement and logistics. This is also why we sustain periodic deployments of long-range strike aircraft in the Pacific, and why, as we eventually field the Joint Strike Fighter, we will consider the need for early beddowns outside the continental U.S.
Build a Balanced Force
Another way to accommodate uncertainty in the international environment is to build a balanced force that, in essence, hedges our bets. We must build-in the flexibility and versatility that enables our forces to operate effectively across the potential spectrum of conflict. This includes the enabling capabilities on which the entire Joint force depends at any level of conflict, capabilities like C4, mobility and air refueling, and ISR, to name a few.
It also reflects the need for a broad range of capabilities. For example, while we are currently reinforcing our counter-insurgency capabilities, we're also building the Joint Strike Fighter. While working on command and control for missile defense, we're building the Light Attack Armed Reconnaissance and Light Air Support aircraft to more effectively train nascent Air Forces. While planning for the recapitalization of the tanker fleet, we're strengthening space situational awareness and cyber defense. And, while building up language and cultural competency, we continue research on directed energy weapons.
Of course, building a balanced force also has a temporal dimension. We must balance our operational focus on today's fight--which we must win--with the necessary investments for tomorrow's fight, and preserve the personnel, training, acquisition, and other institutional foundations upon which our capabilities are built.
In building the force -- a balanced force for strategic flexibility and versatility -- we should encourage operational concepts that will optimize its capabilities. A fourth way to deal with uncertainty is through operational innovation. As General Schwartz noted this morning, the history of Airpower is replete with examples of operational innovation - concepts and tactics developed and executed with existing technology--and developed rapidly enough to be tactically and strategically relevant. Recent examples include weaponizing remotely piloted aircraft and using fighters and bombers with Sniper pods for ISR support roles in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The underlying principle is that we should fully understand and exploit the capabilities we have. This means connecting the dots across the air, space, and cyber domains, recognizing interdependencies and both weaknesses and opportunities. Innovation is a competency that we must continue to nurture as a potent mechanism against uncertainty--and, it is part of our Air-minded, American heritage to do so.
Developing Institutional Capacity for Change
Finally, perhaps the most important capability we can foster is the institutional capacity for change, and to strengthen our capacity for risk assessment. If strategy is about balancing ends, ways, and means, there are several ways to fail at this work. One is attempting to predict the strategic environment for which we are planning too far into the future, without due regard for the twists and turns of international politics between here and there.
Another is to lock in a single approach or strategy for success, which risks failure if the means for success - say resources, or a technological breakthrough - do not materialize. Yet another is to let administrative processes grow so cumbersome that we become incapable of making necessary changes in ways and means within a strategically meaningful timeframe. The strategic environment can shift dramatically--in fact, more than once or twice across a 25-year acquisition cycle. The Air Force must have the institutional competence for change, to get inside this proverbial "OODA-loop" which operates no less at the strategic than it does the tactical level.
At the root of an institutional capacity for change is a dynamic approach to strategy. The driving vision of a dynamic leader and insightful assessments of what the world will be like 10 or 20 years from now do have their place. But institutions like the Air Force also need embedded structures and processes for continuous review. Processes that integrate facts, risks and opportunities, resources, and leadership judgments as we best understand them. Processes that help optimize our strategic choices, and then challenge them, on a regular basis.
As it turns out, the appropriate response to a weak capability to predict the future is not necessarily to expend more time and resources trying to get better at prediction. Rather, we need the capacity and culture to anticipate and recognize changes early, respond quickly and effectively to new facts and circumstances, and ensure that it's not our own inertia or bureaucracies that stand in the way of a timely or appropriate response. Strategic agility matters.
This conference is occurring at a most important time - we are challenged to meet today's requirements while preparing for tomorrow's, and doing both with fewer resources than we would like. As the Chief described earlier today, developing new Joint initiatives and capabilities, and closing vulnerability gaps will be important as we move forward into the future.
And, as we confront an increasingly complex security environment, we must plan for uncertainty. Tonight, I've noted five ways of doing this: engaging with partners and shaping the environment, making careful decisions in posturing U.S. forces abroad, developing balanced forces and hedging bets, promoting operational innovation, and developing the institutional capacity for change.
Each of these plays a part in helping us keep the Air Force vision aligned with the future security environment, and I look forward to working with many of you to ensure we make it so.
Thank you for participating in this conference, and for your individual efforts in support of our Air Force and the broader national security team.