An Air Force Strategy for the Long Haul PDF Thumbnail

Chapter 3 offers three main prescriptions consistent with the overarching theme of reducing the middle-weight forces and improving Air Force capabilities and capacities at both the low and high ends of the conflict spectrum:

  • Reinvigorating and reestablishing the Service as an influential force in the defense policy debate;
  • Changing the Service’s force structure and platform  plans; and
  • Adapting the Service’s basing plans.

Specifically, the Air Force must overhaul its research and development and acquisition communities to restore the technical expertise and professional excellence lost in the years following the Cold War. A parallel initiative for the Air Force nuclear enterprise seeks to restore the discipline and pride that had been hallmarks of the Strategic Air Command.

Moreover, the Air Force should begin a long-term effort to communicate its ethos and doctrine with other key organizations, to include its sister Services. Advanced education at first-rate institutions of higher learning must become a priority for senior Air Force officers. The Service should also provide more comprehensive officer education on the US national security institutions, starting with their own and the other three Services.

One of the best ways to exert greater influence in joint force management and employment is to develop and advocate compelling ideas. Air Force leaders must begin to develop a set of alternative operational concepts that stake out important perspectives on the entire spectrum of joint military operations, not just ones relating to air and space. Four strong candidate mission areas for conceptual innovation are: high-end, asymmetric warfare; irregular warfare; counter-proliferation; and homeland defense. In each of these areas, the Air Force has an opportunity to take a leading role in innovation and doctrine. In particular, the service should be the pathfinder for institutionalizing long-term Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) integration.

Tanker modernization must be sustained. The combined risks of tanker fleet systemic failure, shrinking overseas basing options that mandate greater mission endurance, and the growing need for extremely long-range air operations in irregular warfare and opposed high-end warfare present a compelling case for tanker modernization. Toward that end, Air Force should reformulate its KC-X program to address aerial tanking in the most demanding area of operation, the Pacific theater, under the assumption that most air and sea bases inside 2,000 nautical miles of the Asian mainland will be held at risk.