US Air Force – A Call to the Future

August 14, 2014

The U.S. Air Force recently released its newest strategy, A Call to the Future and it is the best of its kind put out by a U.S. defense and security entity in a long time. The new concept—“strategic agility”—will allow the Air Force to employ new technologies, better deal with increasingly powerful state and non-state actors, and adapt operations to new environments over the next thirty years. The strategy is so comprehensive that other military branches—and even the State Department and White House—should incorporate these themes into their future strategies.

Foreword

Airmen and Airpower Advocates:
Over the past 18 months, we released two foundational documents to help us define the United States Air Force for the twenty-first century. The first, America’s Greatest Air Force – Powered by Airmen, Fueled by Innovation, describes who we are—an exceptional team of innovative Airmen, grounded in our Core Values, superbly trained and equipped to execute our five core missions. The second document, Global Vigilance, Global Reach, Global Power for America, describes what we do. Understanding the importance of airpower now and well into the future, this paper details our core missions and how—through the skill, commitment, dedication, and leadership of our Airmen—we provide enduring contributions to American security. Building upon “who we are” and “what we do,” this Strategy provides a general path of “where we need to go” to ensure our Air Force meets the needs of our great Nation over the next 30 years. This is an aspirational document, providing an “over the horizon” sight picture and delivering strategic vectors that describe how the Air Force needs to look and act as we move towards a dynamic future. This long look guides the 20-year Strategic Master Plan, which identifies priorities, goals, and objectives that align our planning activities with strategic vectors to produce a resource-informed 20-year planning force. This Strategic Master Plan gives us the opportunity to reassess the environment, adjust strategic vectors based on the predicted changes, and make course corrections before decisions arrive within the budget horizon. Through an annual Planning Choices event, we will update this planning force, putting particular emphasis on balancing the next 10 years in light of fiscal projections.
This Strategy is not just about resources and investment choices. In fact, our ability to thrive in the future environment and provide responsive and effective Global Vigilance—Global Reach—Global Power is as much about our structure, people, and processes as our purchases. Uncertainty will always accompany strategy development, and the rate at which the strategic environment can shift complicates the task even further. As the pace of change across the globe quickens, many of our processes and paradigms will be made obsolete.
The Air Force’s ability to continue to adapt and respond faster than our potential adversaries is the greatest challenge we face over the next 30 years. We must pursue a strategically agile force to unlock the innovative potential resident in our Airmen and turn a possible vulnerability into an enduring advantage. We owe it to our Airmen, our Air Force, and our Nation.
Mark A. Welsh III, General, USAF, Chief of Staff

Introduction

Any coherent path to the future must begin with a single common, clear understanding of purpose. Our purpose is to ensure the Air Force can always provide responsive and effective Global Vigilance—Global Reach—Global Power.
These are what we deliver to the nation in peacetime and war. We are the globally responsive force – always ready. We measure our responsiveness in minutes and hours, not weeks or months. We deliver these contributions through unmatched execution of our five core missions: air and space superiority; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; rapid global mobility; global strike; and command and control.
Though the portfolios within these mission sets have expanded to include the space and cyberspace domains, the heart of these missions remains unchanged since President Truman assigned them in 1947. Courageous Airmen have forged the evolution and refinement of these core missions with their blood and sacrifice, ensuring they will endure long into the future.
The effects our Airmen create through our five core missions are the prerequisite for successful joint operations. In some cases, this is through the precision of a strategic strike, the protective umbrella of air superiority, or the unseen persistence of our space constellations. Our reliable rapid global mobility shrinks the planet, and our dominant ISR capabilities enhance awareness for joint force commanders. The connective tissue of our preeminent command and control provides unmatched integration of joint forces. Whether we are in a leading or supporting role, every service needs something from the US Air Force to succeed. Put simply, our capabilities underwrite our nation’s security. This is a responsibility we value, and will always hold sacred.
With Global Vigilance—Global Reach—Global Power as our underlying purpose, the aim of this document is to project into the future – considering global trends and the environments they might create – to generate future opportunities for us to exploit while ensuring we take steps to overcome the greatest threats along the way. This is as much art as science to be sure, but a necessary exercise and one we owe to those who will follow us.

Strategic Context

The Emerging Global Enviroment

While any attempt to describe the world thirty years in the future will inevitably come up short, emerging global trends help establish a context to inform strategic choices. For our purpose, we anticipate several overarching trends shaping the environment in which the Air Force will operate. More broadly, these four trend areas highlight national security challenges that airpower is well suited to address.
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