Air Force strategists preparing for an upcoming war game are setting
their sights on 2025, mapping out scenarios for how the service
will organize, equip and train its forces two decades from now.
events, however, also will play a leading role.
Although the tabletop and computer-simulation drills, called Title
X war games, are routine annual events in the military services,
this year’s exercise takes on added significance for the Air
Force, as it will occur in the midst of a swirling debate on the
value of air power in U.S. military operations.
In a departure from previous war games, the June 2005 event, called
“Future Capabilities Game,” will not only assess the
Air Force’s tactics and weapons, but also commanders’
abilities to transition from traditional to unconventional combat
Burning issues such as the U.S. war on terrorism and the expansion
of the military’s role in homeland defense are dominating
the discussions within the Air Force about future strategies, officials
tell National Defense. The debate is occurring as the Pentagon prepares
the congressionally mandated Quadrennial Defense Review of military
capabilities and strategy. The QDR also serves as conceptual groundwork
for the Pentagon to make spending decisions.
The service’s head of strategic planning, Maj. Gen. Ronald
J. Bath, says his job is to think about “2025 and beyond.”
Nevertheless, he adds, the QDR compels the Air Force and the other
services to take into account immediate priorities that the Defense
Department must address in the next three to five years.
“What makes this QDR different is that we are in the middle
of a war,” says Bath.
Unlike the 2001 QDR, when emphasis on “air power” was
at the core of the nation’s military strategy, the ongoing
review is about supporting ground forces. “We have a joint
responsibility to make sure troops on the ground are taken care
of,” Bath says.
Against that backdrop, officials anticipate the upcoming war game
to be dominated by “joint” concepts and tactics.
“We’ll find there is a lot of common ground among the
services,” he says. “My job is to talk to other players
to find out what their positions are. There is going to be communication
back and forth.”
Although the QDR work is just getting under way, and will continue
for at least six more months, the Air Force already has articulated
its posture in terms of how it assists troops on the ground.
“Everybody sees things from their own organizational culture,”
says Bath. “We see things from an airman’s culture.
We need to articulate what we bring to the table, why we bring it,
what we think we should do in the future.”
In the next 20 years, the Air Force’s ambitious agenda involves
two major goals: shifting more procurement spending towards systems
that benefit all the services, and being better prepared to fight
unconventional wars, explains Christopher J. Bowie, deputy director
for strategic planning.
He says that by 2025, at least half of all procurement dollars
will go to “joint” systems, which Bowie describes as
those that contribute to the success of a combined air-ground-sea
military force. Examples include advanced communications and intelligence-gathering
satellites, improved cargo and aerial-refueling aircraft, and airborne
surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.
The ability to gather timely information is key to combating the
“irregular” enemies that the Pentagon worries about,
Bowie says. “The irregular challenges were present all along
before 9/11. We really missed them.” In the future, “You
don’t want to get caught flat-footed by potential regional
threats, the rise of a military peer, armies with nuclear weapons
or failed states with nuclear weapons.”
Another prevailing theme throughout these discussions is a new
approach to managing people, Bath says.
The intent is to “use our people in new and creative ways,”
he adds. With plans to downsize the active-duty ranks by 20,000,
the Air Force is adopting a new strategy for employing Reserve and
Air Guard personnel.
A case in point is the growing number of Guard and Reserve officers
on the Air Staff, some of whom are getting assigned to influential
jobs that in the past had been off limits. In Bath’s organization,
for example, two division chiefs are reservists, and a senior deputy
is an air national guardsman. “We didn’t see organizations
like that before,” Bath says. The changes came in response
to specific directions from Chief of Staff Gen. John Jumper to make
better use of the skills that reservists and guardsmen bring from
the private sector.
Increasingly, the Air Force is creating “associate”
air wings that mix active-duty, Reserve and Air Guard pilots and
Jumper, who is slated to retire later this summer, will host the
war game at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala.
From a technology standpoint, the Future Capabilities Game will
focus on four broad areas that, according to Air Force officials,
the service needs to bolster between now and 2025:
• Persistent Dominance: This includes the use of radar-equipped
satellites and long-endurance unmanned aircraft for reconnaissance
and surveillance missions.
• Dynamic Re-supply: This would involve the use of strategic
and tactical airlift to support ground forces in remote, austere
• Near-Space Systems: These would be lighter-than-air vehicles
deployed at altitudes above 65,000 feet, but below 300 kilometers.
These aerostats would be equipped with advanced sensors.
• Homeland Defense: The Air Force plans to step up its role
in homeland security missions, particularly by improving global
command-and-control technologies that can help shorten the time
it takes to respond to a terrorist attack or catastrophic event.