Future Engagement

Jan. 1, 1997

The Air Force is in the midst of a technological and philosophical evolution. It is making a transition from the Air Force of the last 50 years–focused on aircraft and air operations–to the Air Force of the next 50 years, with an increasing emphasis on spacecraft and space operations. This future Air Force, though smaller, will become the “strategic instrument of choice” for the nation’s leaders because of its ability to make war–or influence peace–decisively, accurately, over long ranges, on short notice, while putting as few Americans in harm’s way as possible.

Space operations will be so critical and fundamental to the US military that USAF is “now transitioning from an ‘air’ force into an ‘air and space’ force on an evolutionary path to a ‘space and air’ force,” the vision contends.

Changes on the way to this future, however, will be incremental, rather than sudden and wrenching, in an unusual combination of stability with transformation. Many of the systems that will create the future Air Force are already in service; many are just now being launched. The metamorphosis is inevitable, however, and it will happen within the career spans of those now entering the service.

Such is the future sketched out in “Global Engagement: A Vision for the Twenty-First-Century Air Force,” released by USAF leaders in late November. The document, which succeeds “Global Reach, Global Power” as the Air Force’s defining statement of missions and “core competencies,” is the capstone of an 18-month long-range planning effort, which represents the most sweeping and ambitious self-examination USAF has ever performed.

First Among Equals

The new document revises and expands the Air Force’s earlier list of core competencies and interprets their value to the nation, while laying out the Air Force’s tacit claim to a “first among equals” status in the armed forces.

“Global Engagement is a corporate vision for the decades to come,” explained Sheila E. Widnall, Secretary of the Air Force, as she officially released the document at a ceremony in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum. Rather than presenting a strictly parochial view of service capabilities, she said, the vision “flows from the national security strategy,” named “Engagement and Enlargement,” which advocates the expansion of world democracies. It also ties into the Defense Department’s “Joint Vision 2010,” a joint-service concept paper released last summer.

The fundamental observation underlying Global Engagement is the fact that in the twenty-first century, “it will be possible to find, fix, and target anything stationary or moving on the surface of the Earth,” said Gen. Ronald R. Fogleman, Air Force Chief of Staff. This single fact–that air and space forces “can touch 100 percent of the population of the Earth . . . at any time”–has shifted the weighting the US gives its armed forces, he said.

“New technology and new operational concepts already offer an alternative to the kind of military operation that pits large numbers of young Americans against an adversary in brute, force-on-force conflicts,” the new vision paper asserts. Air- and spacepower–on its own merits–“offers potentially decisive capabilities to the Joint Force Commander. . . . It is a strategy of asymmetric force that applies US advantages to strike directly at an adversary’s ability to wage war.”

The Air Force will be the prime force in space operations, according to the vision statement. For the US and its potential foes alike, there will be an increasing dependence on space assets for intelligence, communications, weapons guidance, and navigation.

“Operations that now focus on air, land, and sea will ultimately evolve into space,” Global Engagement asserts. Thus, it continues, “The medium of space is one [that] cannot be ceded to our nation’s adversaries. . . . The nation will expect the Air Force to be prepared to defend US interests in space when necessary.”

Global Engagement also sees a prime role for USAF in managing ballistic missile defense, orchestrating theater warfare, conducting information warfare (IW), carrying out deterrence, establishing forward presence, and providing the means for robotic warfare. It preaches the use of military-tuned commercial hardware that is leased rather than bought in order to bypass a glacial acquisition system. It argues for creating a force whose uniformed members are focused on truly military activities, while delegating “housekeeping” duties to private contractors.

The Global Engagement white paper also calls for the creation of a new, basic military course that must be passed by all newly minted officers and airmen alike. The course will describe the totality of the USAF mission and make each individual fully aware of his role in it before he embarks on his first assignment.

This course–as well as Global Engagement itself–will help “build a sense of institutional identity,” Secretary Widnall explained. General Fogleman added that the course, vision statement, and a new document, tentatively titled “How We Fight,” will bring each USAF member’s role in the service’s mission into sharp focus and work to abolish the “stovepipes,” or cliquish “functional chains of command,” within the service that at times set blue-suiters apart from one another.

The new vision also sounds the familiar theme that control over the battlefield–now expanded to the space above as well as the air–makes all US military operations on the surface below possible.

Critics Lash Out

Even before Global Engagement hit the street, the paper was taking fire. It was being attacked as a bald grab for some of the other services’ roles and missions as the Pentagon embarks on its Quadrennial Defense Review. The QDR is a follow-on to the 1993 Bottom-Up Review, which established the size of the current force as well as the national strategy of maintaining forces to fight and win two nearly simultaneous major regional conflicts. The QDR is expected to revisit the assumptions made four years ago and possibly redistribute roles and resources among the services.

Prominent among the attackers was the US Army, which unveiled its own new “vision” not long before the Air Force made Global Engagement public. In “Army Vision 2010,” that service flatly dismissed some basic assertions made in Global Engagement, arguing that, in spite of the “apparent” success of air- and spacepower in the Persian Gulf War and in Bosnia-Hercegovina, the “standoff” approach to fighting wars amounts to “nothing more than twenty-first century attrition warfare.” The idea of influencing events solely by inflicting damage from the air has been “proved . . . invalid,” the Army asserted, without producing specifics. It argued for more “army-vs.-army contact” because there are more armies in the world than air forces.

When asked about the Army’s claims, General Fogleman responded, “Those who say only ground forces can be decisive” in a conflict of the future “are clearly wrong.”

In an interview with Air Force Magazine, General Fogleman maintained that Global Engagement is chiefly for consumption by the Air Force itself. However, he allowed that he’s “just a little disappointed” in the Army vision.

“They must feel terribly threatened,” he said, “but . . . there’s no reason for them to feel threatened. I think that . . . we need to be looking to the future [and] . . . recognize the realities of what the battlefield is going to be like. And I have to tell you that we, as senior leaders in our military, should not take the potential for casualties lightly.”

General Fogleman told Air Force Magazine that the investments being made in the force now will bear fruit in the 2010 to 2015 period, and the philosophical changes that go with “revolutionary” systems, such as the Airborne Laser and the F-22, will have most meaning then.

“Whatever comes out of this Quadrennial Defense Review, in my view, is going to be a transition force,” he said, since the QDR will inform budgets that are already reaching to 2003. From where the service is now, it can “recognize” what the future will be like, “but we will not have fielded the technology . . . to go into ‘The Force After Next’ ” until around 2015, said General Fogleman.

A massive effort went into crafting the new vision. The major building blocks included “New World Vistas,” the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board’s 30-year technology forecast; “Air Force 2025,” Air University’s view of the political and technological horizon 30 years out; “Spacecast 2020,” an AU look at future space systems and operations; and a Rand Corp. study on Air Force structure and installations. Hundreds of experts and specialists contributed to the effort.

The Rand study, about which little has been said publicly, concluded that the Air Force cannot continue to allocate resources in the way it has in the past and that some “cherished” priorities may have to give way to less glamorous but far more valuable investments, General Fogleman told Air Force Magazine.

“To have something like that come out of Rand is a powerful message,” he said.

The new vision was fine-tuned along the way by senior Air Force leaders. Its development was overseen by a “Board of Directors” comprising the vice commanders of the major commands and chaired by the Vice Chief of Staff, Gen. Thomas S. Moorman, Jr. Each command had its own action team contributing to the effort; as a result, the new vision had the “corporate buy-in” of the entire Air Force as it was taking shape, General Moorman reported.

“The socialization of this process was more pervasive than I thought it would be,” he told Air Force Magazine. He said that, though he observed some “fear” about changing long-cherished notions of the service’s mission, “I saw people start to identify with the enterprise . . . and really contribute.”

The process culminated in October at the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., site of the fall 1996 Corona meeting of USAF four-star generals. “There was real excitement,” said General Moorman. “Everyone knew this was going to be big.”

Not Precooked

General Fogleman noted that the new vision was not handed down from above with instructions to make it work. “This was not a cookbook deal,” said the Chief of Staff. “We played an open and honest game” in developing the vision, “and we feel pretty good about that.”

The planning effort will yield not only Global Engagement, the “How We Fight” document, and the Basic Airman’s Course, but also a long-range plan for the Air Force. The planning process itself will be institutionalized with a reorganization of the Air Staff, which was slated to be completed this month.

The long-range plan is intended as “something between” a philosophical statement and a dollars-and-cents budget, Maj. Gen. David W. McIlvoy, special assistant to the Air Force Chief of Staff for Long-Range Planning, said at the Smithsonian ceremony.

The plan, he added, will be akin to the Defense Planning Guidance issued annually by the Pentagon to the services. As the DPG establishes basic priorities, notes emerging or declining threats, and tells the military services where to invest more or less heavily, the long-range plan will similarly instruct the Air Force major commands on budgets. It will also provide a blueprint that will ensure that capabilities deemed necessary by a certain point will be ready in time.

One feature will be a “25-year master technology plan,” General McIlvoy said.

“Our job now is to take the vision and turn it into desired end-states,” he explained. Though it will “inform” the QDR and the program objective memorandum–or POM budget process–it will not simply be a ledger-and-green-eyeshade affair.

Force structure will be altered, for example, to introduce armed uninhabited combat aerial vehicles into the force at some future date, and information warfare will have to be integrated at all levels of the Air Force, General McIlvoy observed.

Dr. Clark Murdock, General McIlvoy’s deputy, said the long-range plan now being readied will be in draft form until October 1998, when it will be formalized. The plan is to be updated every two years thereafter.

Key to Global Engagement is continued innovation on the part of the Air Force. That innovation is to be institutionalized in the form of “battle laboratories,” which will be set up to explore new concepts in strategy and tactics, as well as in technology and coordination.

These battle labs will focus on space, air expeditionary forces, battle management, force protection, IW, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

“They will be about prototyping new ideas and new concepts,” General Moorman said. “We will test equipment and concepts in a real environment. We will play it and see how it works. The tangible result will be hands-on experience,” he said, noting that the process will help to demonstrate whether a new idea or technology is worth pursuing with precious budget dollars.

With battle labs, “we will discover, ‘Is it useful?’ And, ‘Is it value-added?’ ” General Moorman explained.

The battle labs will be tightly focused on enhancing the Air Force’s stated “core competencies,” which form the frame of Global Engagement.

The Critical Six

The core competencies identified in the new vision have been shifted and revised since Global Reach, Global Power was written in 1990 and revised in 1992. The new list includes Air and Space Superiority, Global Attack, Rapid Global Mobility, Precision Engagement, Information Superiority, and Agile Combat Support.

“Things are changing so fast that information warfare didn’t even make the list when we did Global Reach, Global Power,” General Fogleman noted.

Air and Space Superiority, which the General described as “the freedom of action and attack,” is counted as USAF’s chief mission and strength. “It denies the enemy sanctuary. It’s about gaining control quickly and decisively, the ability to operate with impunity,” he told AFA’s Montgomery (Ala.) Chapter on the day Global Engagement was released.

“The control of air and space is a critical enabler for the joint force,” said the white paper, “because it allows all US forces freedom from attack and freedom to attack.”

Given control of the air and access to space, while denying both to the enemy, the Joint Force Commander can prevail “quickly, efficiently, and decisively,” according to the vision statement. Without it, “everything on the battlefield is at risk.”

Ballistic and cruise missile defense is counted under this first competency. Global Engagement notes that the Air Force is “moving aggressively to counter this threat,” chiefly through the Airborne Laser program. However, “although the global and theater missile threats are now addressed separately, over time they will merge into a common missile defense architecture, becoming a single counterair and space missile defense mission.”

Alone among the services–and possibly among world air forces–USAF has the ability to attack any spot on the globe quickly and on demand, summed up as “Global Attack.” As for the “find, fix, and attack any site on the globe” capability of USAF, “we can do it today, but not . . . in real time,” General Fogleman told the Montgomery Chapter, “but the way we’re moving, . . . this will be a reality.”

While the vision recognizes that “nuclear weapons no longer play as central a role in America’s security strategy as they [once] did,” the Air Force will maintain the readiness and safety of the bomber and landbased missile legs of the nuclear triad, countering proliferation, deterring “rogue states” armed with nuclear weapons, and being “prepared to undertake further reductions as circumstances require.”

The Global Engagement white paper asserts that USAF is ready to conduct global operations “using both lethal and nonlethal means.” While nearly a quarter of all USAF personnel today are deployed overseas, the Air Force expects international and domestic pressures to force the US back to an almost exclusively continental-US-based military posture.

The air expeditionary force is one way to address this trend. It can be tailored to fit the needs of the theater commander, able to carry out “lethal and nonlethal applications,” such as combat air patrol or humanitarian assistance, and can be ready to fight within three days of the order.

But the trend is clear, according to Global Engagement: “In the future, capabilities based in the continental United States will likely become the primary means for crisis response and power projection.” Long-range airborne and spacebased assets will fill the bill.

Finite Number of Carriers

General Fogleman told the Montgomery gathering–which included guests from the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps–that “the requirement to be expeditionary is not because we’re trying to replace carriers but because there will be a finite number of carriers. . . . There will be times that we will need [those] carriers in other parts of the world, and landbased air . . . can [substitute for] them. . . . [It is] cheaper, can sustain a greater sortie rate over a longer period of time, and ought to be there. And so, this should not be something where we’re trying to pit one organization . . . against another.”

The General drew attention to another unique Air Force capability–its phenomenal airlift power and complementary aerial refueling capability. Rapid Global Mobility describes the Air Force’s capacity to airlift enormous quantities of materiel on short notice over long distances. Airlift and aerial refueling are the enablers of forward-deployed forces, an expeditionary force, and a CONUS-based strategy. In such operations as humanitarian relief, “the rapid delivery of materiel is the campaign,” the Air Force’s vision maintains.

Another core competency, Precision Engagement, is “more than laser-guided bombs,” General Fogleman said in Montgomery. “It may mean precisely delivering materiel to a forward location . . . via airlift. It may be precisely implanting a computer virus in some adversary’s command-and-control network.”

The new vision statement notes that the Air Force offers the nation “reliable precision, an ability to deliver what is needed for the desired effect but with minimal risk and collateral damage.”

Given the enormous increases in available battlefield and peacetime information–and the importance it carries for both US forces and for adversaries–the Air Force has made Information Superiority one of its core competencies, even though it “is not the Air Force’s sole domain.” Familiarity with and skill in operating air- and spacebased sensors “make airmen uniquely suited for information operations.”

UAVs fall under Information Superiority for now, because in the present and in the near-term, they will be used chiefly to gather information and as communications relays. But in the mid- to long-term, the Air Force “expects” an expanding role for UAVs, beginning with high-risk missions, such as Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses. Later “migration of additional missions to UAVs” will depend on how fast technology matures and how warfare evolves.

USAF will continue to pursue defensive IW efforts, particularly with regard to battle management and command and control, as well as offensive IW, and “in conjunction with other federal agencies . . . support strategic information operations.”

Responsiveness, Not Mass

Some of the newest Air Force concepts will be brought to bear in the area of Agile Combat Support. “Just in time” supply practices will be used to acquire and field only that support materiel that is necessary, and only when necessary, allowing USAF to “substitute responsiveness for massive deployed inventories.” The Air Force believes that a shorter support tail will be quicker and cheaper to maintain. This competency keys onto a Joint Vision 2010 mandate for focused logistics.

The Air Force white paper said, “When combat commanders require an item, the system will reach back to the continental United States and deliver it where and when it is needed.” This approach will mean fewer functions and personnel are put forward for the deployment and sustainment processes. “This, in turn, will reduce the size and . . . vulnerability of our forces forward.”

General Fogleman observed that this last comment was a “lesson learned from [the terrorist bombing of] Khobar Towers,” the Saudi Arabian housing complex. Nineteen airmen perished and hundreds sustained injuries in the June 25 truck-bomb attack.

To make this logistics vision a reality will require instantaneous access to the whereabouts of any part or piece of equipment, as well as assiduous streamlining of the depot system, aggressive outsourcing and privatization, and a “factory to flight line” mentality. These concepts will first be explored in air expeditionary forces and later expanded USAF-wide.

Business transactions will have to follow “best practices” guidelines, under which speed, quality, and prior performance rule.

Moreover, USAF will rely increasingly on private industry to carry on more sensitive work it has traditionally done in-house, including research, development, test, and evaluation. It will work with other services to form Joint Centers of Excellence for RDT&E to share knowledge, resources, and facilities.

As a result of the new vision paper, the Air Force plans to usher in new concepts of what it is to be a blue-suiter. Because the ways in which USAF will exert influence–by force or finesse–will change to include space-system technicians, IW specialists, and a host of new nonrated experts, it has embraced the idea that, in the future, “Any military or civilian member who is experienced in the employment and doctrine of air- and spacepower will be considered an operator.”

The Air Force will look for new opportunities to hand more active-duty force missions to the Guard and Reserve components, and there will be an expansion of the use of Individual Mobilization Augmentees.

Implementation of Global Engagement will take a long time, said General Fogleman, who noted that, for this reason, he won’t have to go back on the promise he made when he became Chief of Staff–that there would be some stability in the force under his tenure after the rocky, uncertain years of the early 1990s.

“The senior leadership is committed to not creating that kind of turbulence again,” he insisted.

Air Force people will be encouraged to be “comfortable with uncertainty and willing to make decisions with less than perfect information,” the new vision statement asserts. An environment of innovation must be fostered, and the system steered toward rewarding people who demonstrate “adaptability and agility,” if the service is to make good on its new, bold covenant with the nation.