DROP ZONE: The Future Air Force

Organizational culture is critically important in times of change. Early Airmen like Gen Billy Mitchell and Gen Hap Arnold recognized the importance of culture to shape the early Air Force. Mitchell’s treatises focused on how Airmen could and should contribute to the fight at the dawn of the aeronautical era. His viewpoints were forged in the experiences of World War I and the promises of the technological innovations represented in the airplane. For Mitchell, air forces were of paramount importance, because they could hold nations at risk from greater distances, and also because post-war recovery of an adversary’s air force would be impossible due to the loss of factories to produce aircraft and training facilities to produce pilots.

Gen Arnold recognized that the airplane was a disruptive innovation that required the establishment of an entirely new industry and way of thinking. He spent the interwar years trying to establish an independent aerospace industry and funding aviation departments in colleges around the country. He pushed the limits of research, development, and acquisitions to generate the bomber—and later, fighter escort—aircraft that would become critical to the Allies’ success of World War II. He recognized the importance of bold execution on the success of research and development efforts. These two early leaders of the US Air Force established the culture of innovation that propelled the early Air Force to the indomitable force it has become today.

The modern Air Force finds itself again at a cross roads. As other nation-states reach technological parity, the US can no longer rely solely on superior technology to achieve victory. We must focus on developing a strategic vision that integrates technology and decision-making practices into multi-domain operations to succeed in future conflicts. The Air Force faces particular challenges in this vein, because it has taken ownership of operations in the air, space, and cyber domains and must find a way to integrate these operations, not just with each other, but also with the land and maritime domains. While humans have been operating in the air domain for nearly 100 years, operations in space and cyber are much newer.

Next week, Over the Horizon will offer two posts that seek to guide leaders in developing strategy and culture within a domain. On Monday, Lt Col Peter Garretson offers a methodology for how the Air Force can strategically develop a domain. While his commentary focuses on the air domain, the principles he outlines can—and should—be applied to development of the Space and Cyber domains. Strategic domain development is more important than ever as Congress continues to push the Service toward developing an independent Space Corps. On Wednesday, John Myers will close out his series about bridging the cyber cultures between start-up companies and the military, suggesting that the Air Force would benefit by developing cyber security architects as part of its initial cadre of cyber operators. Both articles attempt to address problems the Air Force needs to solve to develop a fighting force that can effectively contribute to multi-domain operations in the future battle space.

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