Recasting the Vision

Aug. 1, 2000

The Air Force has published its third vision statement in 10 years, and “Global Vigilance, Reach, and Power,” brought out June 19, is the best of the lot.

The new vision statement is short, only 12 pages long, with much of that consisting of pictures and graphics. The tone of it is more inspirational than doctrinal.

The easy presentation packages more substance than might be obvious at first glance, though.

This is the definitive statement of how the Air Force sees itself and where it believes it is going. Over the past year, it has undergone numerous rounds of word-by-word scrubbing by the Secretary of the Air Force, the Chief of Staff, and all of the other top leaders.

The Air Force likes to stress the continuity of its vision statements, but, in at least one respect, the new vision departs from “Global Engagement” in 1996. The most famous line in the 1996 vision said that “we are now transitioning from an air force into an air and space force on an evolutionary path to a space and air force.”

That suggested the rise of space power meant a corresponding decline in airpower. It was also taken to mean that space programs could and should be paid for at the expense of airpower.

In reality, the demand for military space power is growing–but so is the demand for airpower. It does not make sense to pit one against the other.

The new vision sees air and space as complementary rather than competitive. It describes a force operating in an integrated “aerospace domain” that “stretches from the Earth’s surface to the outer reaches of space.”

The emphasis is on effects rather than on platforms. The Air Force will develop commanders and leaders “able to employ forces that produce the desired effects, regardless of where platforms reside, fly, or orbit.”

  • Despite the similarity in titles, this vision statement is not a return to “Global Reach-Global Power” from 1990. Too often, according to an Air Staff officer who worked on the new vision, the “global reach” element of the 1990 paper was misconstrued as referring only to airlifters and tankers and “global power” was interpreted as meaning fighters and bombers, with everybody else left out.

This time around, inclusiveness is one of the main messages. “Airmen from all across the Air Force contribute to our ability to deploy and sustain powerful aerospace capabilities whenever and wherever necessary,” the vision says.

It is entirely possible that some future Chief of Staff will wear a space and missile badge rather than pilot’s wings.

  • The addition of Global Vigilance in the title makes a more complete definition of what the Air Force actually does. It is also a good fit with “Joint Vision 2020,” produced several months ago by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which elevated information operations to the same level of importance as dominant maneuver and precision engagement.

Vigilance in the new Air Force vision is not limited to intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. It includes aerospace forces on alert and watch everywhere, from ICBM sites to no-fly zones.

  • During the Cold War, the force was built primarily to fight the Warsaw Pact in Europe. Anything else–up to and including the Vietnam War–was a “lesser included contingency” in the preparations for the threat of global war.

In the early 1990s, the emphasis in US military strategy shifted to regional conflict, and the realization finally set in that the change called for forces tailored specifically for that kind of action.

Accordingly, the Air Force is grouping its combat power into 10 Aerospace Expeditionary Forces, two of which will always be deployed or on call to meet national requirements.

Each AEF can provide intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and command and control of aerospace forces over an area half the size of Texas, plus air superiority and the capability to strike some 200 targets a day.

The vision statement promises to expand the battlespace an AEF can cover and increase the number of targets it can strike. The goal is the capability to deploy the first AEF in 48 hours, “fast enough to curb many crises before they escalate,” and up to five AEFs within 15 days.

However, the new vision statement may not have the last word in one important area. In December, a Congressionally mandated commission will report back on the best way to organize the military space effort. Advocates of a separate military service for space are hoping for a radical solution.

The nation would be better served by recognizing–and adequately funding–the integrated aerospace concept. The Air Force provides about 90 percent of the assets for a huge military space program but still gets the same share of the defense budget it did before the space program began. It is not reasonable to expect more without additional resources. Furthermore, the Air Force has now made an unequivocal commitment to space.

“Global Vigilance, Reach, and Power” encompasses “global vigilance to anticipate and deter threats, strategic reach to curb crises, and overwhelming power to prevail in conflicts and win America’s wars.”

It is billed as looking ahead to 2020. Whether it will hold up that long remains to be seen. What can be said is that it seems to have all of the bases covered, and it has the Air Force pegged exactly right.