US Air Force needs to ‘reoptimize’ or it could lose to China
THERE ARE PLENTY OF TRADE SHOWS OUT THERE, BUT FEW CAN COMPARE TO THE ONE PUT ON BY THE AIR AND SPACE FORCES ASSOCIATION. HELD IN NATIONAL HARBOR, MARYLAND IT’S A VERITABLE WHO’S WHO OF AIRMEN, GUARDIANS, GENERAL OFFICERS AND DEFENSE INDUSTRY CORPORATE EXECS .
THE AFA’S AIR, SPACE AND CYBER CONFERENCE IS AN ANNUAL EVENT, AND THIS YEAR ALMOST 200 VENDORS PACKED INTO THE SPACE. BIG OR SMALL, ACCORDING TO THE AIR FORCE SECRETARY FRANK KENDALL, THEY’RE ALL HERE FOR ONE REASON, AND THAT’S TO HELP THE AIR FORCE MAINTAIN AIR DOMINANCE OVER NEER-PEER ADVERSARIES. AND RIGHT NOW, THAT’S CHINA.
Kendall: China, China, China. China is by far our pacing challenge. As the President indicated, there is no desire to contain or decouple from China. But there is a strong desire to live in a world free of aggression, which all nations can prosper in peace.
KENDALL GAVE A KEYNOTE ADDRESS DURING ASC 2023 IN FRONT OF THOUSANDS OF AIRMEN AND GUARDIANS. IN HIS REMARKS, HE SAID AFTER THE FIRST GULF WAR CHINA RECOGNIZED IF IT WANTED TO COMPETE WITH OR DEFEAT AMERICAN MILITARY DOMINANCE IN THE PACIFIC, IT NEEDED TO MODERNIZE ITS OWN MILITARY FORCES. SO, CHINA SHRUNK THE SIZE OF ITS GROUND FORCES AND FOCUSED ON MORE RELEVANT CAPABILITIES LIKE NAVAL AND AIR POWER.
CHINA ALSO CREATED TWO NEW MILITARY SERVICES: THE ROCKET FORCE AND THE STRATEGIC SUPPORT FORCE.
Kendall: The Rocket Force is intended to attack America’s high value assets, aircraft carriers, forward airfields, and key C2 and logistics nodes. The Strategic Support Forces are designed to achieve information dominance in the space and cyber domains, including by attacking our space-based capabilities.
AFTER 20 YEARS OF WORK, KENDALL SAYS CHINA NOW OWNS A MILITARY FORCE SPECIFICALLY DESIGNED TO COMPETE WITH THE UNITED STATES IN THE PACIFIC.
Kendall: War is not inevitable, and our job first and foremost is to deter aggression. History, including some recent history, tells us that deterrence can and sometimes does fail. If our power projection capability and capacity are not adequate to deter Chinese aggression against Taiwan or elsewhere, war could occur. If it does, and we cannot prevail, the results could cast a long shadow.
WHEN IT COMES TO POWER PROJECTION IN THE MODERN WORLD, DIVERSITY IS KEY. NOT AS MANY PEOPLE ARE SIGNING UP TO BE PILOTS ANYMORE. ALSO, MODERN MISSILES AND AIR DEFENSE SYSTEMS, COUPLED WITH THE RISE OF CHEAP BUT LETHAL COMMERCIALLY AVAILABLE DRONES ARE FORCING AIR FORCES THE WORLD OVER TO RETHINK AIR COMBAT.
FOR THE USAF, PART OF THE ANSWER IS FLYING HIGHLY ADVANCED AUTONOMOUS VEHICLES IN FORMATION WITH PILOTED CRAFT. THERE WERE SEVERAL CANDIDATES TO THE COLLABORATIVE COMBAT AIRCRAFT PROGRAM ON DISPLAY IN NATIONAL HARBOR. YOU CAN FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THE PROGRAM ON OUR WEBSITE, SAN.COM.
BUT A FANCY NEW FLEET OF UNMANNED CRAFT CAN’T FIX EVERYTHING. INSTEAD, A MORE HOLISTIC APPROACH MAY BE IN ORDER.
Kendall: Over the last few years, you have heard various pithy statements from your senior leaders. Accelerate, change or lose. Integrated by design. Competitive endurance. What got us here won’t get us there. One team, one fight. Change is hard; losing is unacceptable. You’ve heard these various mantras from leaders in the Department, and you might think it’s difficult to make out what they all mean, and how they all relate. They all mean the same thing. We’re all talking about the fact that the Air and Space Forces must change, or we could fail to prevent and might even lose a war. Not the kinds of war we fought or have been fighting for the last 30 years. But a war between modern great powers with enormous costs and consequences for the U.S. and its partners, and for the world. We cannot let that happen.
LT GENERAL JIM SLIFE IS THE DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF FOR OPERATIONS FOR THE USAF. HE SAID IN THE LAST 50 YEARS, THE STRATEGIC ENVIRONMENT FOR THE U.S. SHIFTED FOUR TIMES.
THE FIRST TWO WERE AFTER VIETNAM, AND AT THE END OF THE COLD WAR AND DESERT STORM TIME PERIODS WHEN THE ERA OF PERSISTENT DEPLOYMENTS STARTED.
Lt. Gen Slife Prior to Desert Storm, the Air Force was not really persistently deployed anywhere. After Desert Storm, we get into air policing, no fly zone enforcement, periodic precision munitions strikes in places like Iraq, and Bosnia and so forth.
THE NEXT TWO MAJOR SHIFTS HAPPENED AFTER 9/11, WHEN THE U.S. FIRST STARTED TO INVEST HEAVILY IN UNMANNED TECHNOLOGY LIKE PREDATOR DRONES.
THE CURRENT SHIFT, ACCORDING TO SLIFE, WILL SET THE STAGE FOR THE FORESEEABLE FUTURE.
Slife In many ways, since the end of Desert Storm, we have optimized for efficiency. And I think the Secretary has come to the conclusion, rightly so in my estimation, that we need to perhaps sacrifice a little on the efficiency front to make sure that we are as effective a force as we can be for the strategic environment that we find ourselves in. You know, to be able to deter, we have to be credible. And so, there’s things that we can do from an organization and training perspective to complement the work of the operational imperatives.
SECRETARY KENDALL ASSIGNED TEAMS TO EXAMINE THOSE OPERATIONAL IMPERATIVES, WHICH INCLUDE HOW THE AIR AND SPACE FORCES ARE ORGANIZED, THE PROCESSES USED TO ACQUIRE NEW EQUIPMENT, HOW EACH FORCE CREATES AND MEASURES READINESS, AND THE SUPPORT SYSTEMS IN PLACE FOR MOBILIZING UNITS. RECRUITING AND RETENTION IS THE FIFTH OPERATIONAL IMPERATIVE TO BE EXAMINED. DURING A ROUNDTABLE WITH MEDIA KENDALL SAID HE’S NOT WORRIED ABOUT RECRUITING TO THE AIR AND SPACE FORCES.
Kendall: I think we’ve put a lot less resources into recruiting than the other services do. And with a relatively modest increase in resources, I think we could do much better.
WHEN IT COMES TO DEPLOYING, KENDALL SAID THE AIR FORCE NEEDS TO MAKE MASSIVE CHANGES. IN EARLY SEPTEMBER, KENDALL CREATED THREE NEW AIR TASK FORCES WHICH WILL BE THE BASIS FOR A PILOT PROGRAM TESTING NEW METHODS OF DEPLOYMENT.
Slife: It’s about deliberately building a team that has combat power, embedded combat support, combat service support forces all packaged together in a light footprint, deployable unit.
THIS DEEP-DIVE REVIEW OF THE AIR AND SPACE FORCES IS GOING TO MOVE QUICKLY. KENDALL SAYS HE WANTS EACH OF THE FIVE TEAMS TO REPORT BACK TO HIM IN JANUARY WITH THEIR FINDINGS. FROM THERE, KENDALL SAYS HE’LL MOVE QUICKLY TO IMPLEMENT THE RECOMMENDATIONS. THE REASON FOR THE SPEED? ONCE AGAIN, CHINA.
Kendall Today, the intelligence couldn’t be clearer. Whatever its actual intentions may be, I could not say, but China is preparing for a war, and specifically for a war with the United States. Again, war is not inevitable, and no one can predict when or if it will occur. Our job is to deter that war and to be ready to win if it occurs. Being prepared for war means ensuring that our competitive advantages are continuously and consciously strengthened and maintained.
TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE U.S. AIR FORCE AND SEE OTHER STORIES FROM AFA’S AIR, SPACE AND CYBER 2023 CONFERENCE, BE SURE TO DOWNLOAD THE STRAIGHT ARROW NEWS APP TODAY, OR LOG ON TO SAN.COM.