No More Ops Groups, Allvin Says, Promising First ‘Combat Wings’ in ’26

The Air Force is eliminating group-level Operations and Maintenance commands, streamlining the makeup of squadrons and wings, Chief of Staff Gen. David W. Allvin said June 14, revealing the latest twist in the drive to more effectively project combat power.

Dozens of such commands, usually led by colonels, exist today across the Air Force. But as Allvin oversees the “re-optimization” of Air Force combat power for great power competition, leaders group-level commands don’t have a place in a structure where wings could deploy as a unit, then disperse squadrons or smaller units in a “hub-and-spoke” agile combat employment scheme.  

“We’re talking about having a doctrine of mission command that means empowering at the lowest competent level, giving left and right limits—commander’s intent—and letting them leverage their initiative,” Allvin said. “Those squadrons need to be able to exercise that. And sometimes, if there’s another level of command between the squadron commander and the wing command, the group command maybe might be helping them out too much.

“If you’re a group commander, what do you want to be when you grow up? A wing commander. How do you do that? Well, you make sure your squadrons are all the best. So maybe you might be helping them out and succeeding and not letting them fail forward in training.”  

The colonels that previously commanded groups will instead move to wing staffs, where they will focus on “the operational warfighting and joint warfighting functions,” Allvin said. The aim is to help them become better joint leaders, something Allvin believes is necessary for the Air Force to take a leading role in the future of warfare. 

“I think it’s our responsibility not only to be good participants in the joint force, but I also think the Air Force should start having maybe perhaps a greater leadership role,” he said. 

The change is not a small one, Allvin acknowledged, and will require the service to revamp some of its processes. Officers’ career paths may have to change, and professional military education will have to shift to emphasize the operational level for wing commanders and their staff. 

Doing so, though, will help align the Air Force better with the other services Allvin predicted. It will also make sense for the service’s new combat wings, the “unit of action” leaders first unveiled in February as part of their “Re-Optimization for Great Power Competition.” 

At the AFA Warfare Symposium, officials said they will break down all of the Air Force’s operational wings into three categories: 

  • Deployable Combat Wings: Complete units that can deploy together, with their own native command-and-control, mission, and support elements 
  • In-Place Combat Wings (ICW): Complete units with command, mission, and support elements that fight from their home station. 
  • Combat Generation Wings (CGW): Units that provide force elements to Deployable Combat Wings, whether those elements entail command and control, mission, or service support elements. 

The goal, leaders explained at the time, is to move away from the current system where Airmen are pulled from dozens of different units to fill out one expeditionary wing, only meeting and working together once they arrive in theater. Eventually, entire wings will train and deploy as one singular unit. The service is taking a phased approach to get there, first introducing Expeditionary Air Base teams pulled from a smaller group of bases, and now planning to move to Air Task Forces, who will pull forces from only two or three bases. 

The locations of the first six Air Task Forces were announced in May and are scheduled to start deploying in late 2025 and early 2026. The timeline for implementing combat wings is “pretty dynamic right now,” Allvin told reporters, but the goal is to have enough in place ready to go when the Air Task Forces start to wrap up—sometime around the fall of 2026. 

Like the Air Task Forces, some of the first combat wings will deploy to the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility. But make no mistake, Allvin said, they are not designed for the typical CENTCOM structure of large central bases from which all airpower is generated. 

“We’re optimizing for the pacing challenge. So this construct is best suited for going over and doing deterrence exercises or actually having to go over and employ Agile Combat Employment against the pacing challenge of China,” Allvin said June 13 at an AFA Warfighters in Action event.

A central tenet of Agile Combat Employment is dispersing smaller teams to operate from remote or austere airfields—and Allvin told reporters that it makes sense for the combat wing’s staff to act as the hub while squadrons go to the spokes. 

“If we’re going to actually expect these wings to go and be able to do these maneuver functions in the hub and spoke locations, then we need them to have a different set of specialties,” Allvin said. That drove the decision to fold group commanders into the wing staffs. 

Deployable Combat Wings will be the principal “units of action” presented to combatant commands, not every wing will be designated as such. Some will be Combat-Generation Wings, which might lack the command-and-control functions of a combat wing, but provide plug-and-play combat capability to those wings that can deploy as a unit. Allvin said USAF leaders are still determining how much combat airpower each Deployable Combat Wing will need.

Still other wings will deploy in place. These could include any wing that can operate globally from its home station, including bomber and cyber units, among others. 

“We don’t want to have a Deployable Combat Wing that’s got two airplanes in it just because we’ve got to spread them around,” Allvin said. “So finding the right number of platforms around which you can do the command element and then the sustainment element is going to be key, but it starts off with, what are the requirements? And then what are we resourced to do?” 

Service leaders plan to make a decision on how many Deployable Combat Wings they’ll start with by this fall, Allvin told Air & Space Forces Magazine.