Budget, World Uncertainties Prompt Air Force to Seek More Agile Strategy

By Sarah Sicard

In the face of uncertain budgets and a quickly changing worldwide threat environment, the Air Force is looking for a more agile strategy moving into 2015 and 2016, Deborah Lee James, secretary of the Air Force, said Sept. 15.

“Morale is high, but with that said, there is no doubt our airmen are feeling some strains,” James said at the Air Force Association’s annual conference at National Harbor, Maryland.

“The biggest issue on the minds of our airmen is uncertainty — uncertainty about their careers, about the downsizing, about budgets, uncertainty about the world environment,” James said.

To address this ever changing landscape, the service is putting forth a concept known as "strategic agility." It will work to create flexibility across all areas of the Air Force, including recruitment, development, training, and the leveraging of new technologies, she said. 

The strategy should allow the service to rapidly adjust to threats as the world changes, James said.

Citing the turmoil in Ukraine, Russia and China, as well as the rise of the Islamic State terrorist group, James expressed confidence that through strategic agility, the Air Force can maintain itself as the dominant military air power.

“We have a legacy of facing challenges head-on,” she said.  

The Air Force of the next 30 yearswill not look the same as it did during the previous 67, James said. It will be smaller and more dependent on the National Guard and reserves, she added.

The Air Force comprises more than 690,000 active duty personnel across the world, but that number is expected to be lower as sequestration cuts continue, James said. Determining the right mix of all components that make up the Air Force is what will make the service strategically agile, she added.

“Today we are surrounded by uncertainty on the world scene. To counter uncertainty, we need bold leadership,” she said. 

In a world of ever-evolving threats in the skies, space and cyber space, air power is becoming increasingly important to international security, James said. 

The Air Force will be applying more of its resources against space and cyber space threats, which are increasingly contested environments. Gaining superiority in these realms is increasingly important, especially for deployed systems, James said. Air Force leaders need to continue to develop efficient technologies, she added.

Maintaining a technological edge is important, but so is the ability to adapt, she said.

James cited three key aircraft that have and will continue to allow the Air Force to maintain efficiency and adaptability in air power: the F-35, KC-10 and KC-46.

According to James, the approach for fiscal years 2015 and 2016 is to continue to build integrated systems, instead of applying “bolted on” technologies. The Air Force is focusing on securing information and mitigating vulnerabilities, she added.

“We all have important roles to play in the development of airpower. It is you, the airmen, who will carry the torch,” she added.

Just as the individual blue threads combine to make a uniform, every individual person is important to the fabric of the force, James said.  “We must bind ourselves to the common thread of dignity and respect.”

Topics: Aviation, Space

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