DAF leaders lock arms, present plan to reoptimize Air Force, Space Force

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  • Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs

In a show of unity fueled by a sense of urgency, senior Department of the Air Force civilian and military leaders unveiled Feb. 12 a set of sweeping decisions designed to reoptimize the Air Force and Space Force to maintain preeminence, deter adversaries, and prevail in an era of Great Power Competition.

The leaders – Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Financial Management and Comptroller performing the duties of the Under Secretary Kristyn Jones, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Allvin, and Chief of Space Operations Gen. Chance Saltzman - outlined 24 specific decisions during a panel discussion at the AFA Warfare Symposium. The package of decisions, they said, will position the services to better confront China and maintain the hard-won superiority in air and space that has been a crucial foundation for deterrence and for protecting the nation’s security.

In explaining the “why” behind the decisions, Kendall was clear and unmistakable.

“We have the most pacing challenge we have ever faced - China, China, China. Ladies and gentlemen, we are out of time, we are out of time, we are out of time,” he said, reprising two familiar themes.

"The United States does not seek a conflict; we have every hope that one can be avoided,” Kendall said in his leadoff remarks. “We are, however, involved in a competition, an enduring competition that could turn into a conflict at any time. We can no longer regard conflict as a distant possibility or futured problem that we might have to confront.

“Our job, our fundamental mission - the reason we exist - is so we can be ready now and always. The name of the game is deterrence. But deterrence rests on strength and the will to use it,” he said.

With that foundation laid, Kendall and the other leaders walked through the decisions and changes that will result.

“We need fully capable units with all the assets they need to fight China or possibly Russia on short or no notice. We need units fully ready to deploy or conduct operations in place also on short or no, notice,” Kendall said.

“We need mechanisms to ensure these units are in fact ready and address any shortfalls that may be found. We need the right mix of Airmen and Guardians with the skills necessary for high end combat and to ensure technological superiority. We need an efficient and effective pipeline of technologies flowing continuously into more competitive capabilities for our highest priority missions.”

He also laid down a mandate.

“Successful execution of these changes will be the Department of the Air Force’s and all senior leaders’ top priority,” Kendall said.

The senior leaders who followed Kendall - Jones, Allvin and Saltzman - echoed his assessments and the need to move fast while also adding detail about specific parts of the initiative.

Jones focused on changes at the department’s headquarters designed to merge strategic planning and modernization more precisely and seamlessly with long range. The effort would also address resources needed to achieve the results.

One element, for example is a new command to be called the Integrated Capabilities Command that will merge and consolidate work being done separately across different commands that do not always mesh as needed. As designed, this new command will look into the future, understand force design, and test operational concepts against that and look for opportunities to update and improve force design into the future.  At the same time, this new command will examine the current force and current modernization efforts to prioritize them for the senior leadership to decide which ones get resourced at what level.

Jones, as did others, acknowledged that effort is complex, and the leaders do not have every answer to every question.

“We are confident that the changes we are putting into place will move us forward [and we’ll] adapt as needed,” she said.

“This effort is not about efficiency or doing more with less. … The world has gotten more dangerous, our battlespace is increasing, technology is advancing, decision space is shrinking, the pace of our adversaries is accelerating. All of this is driving our need to change.”

Allvin made a similar point as he outlined the decisions assigned to the Air Force.

“We are committed to these [decisions]. We do not have them exactly right, but I am unapologetic to stand here in front of you and say I do not know the exact, final destination,” he said.

“Because if we wait to move, to have those final answers, we will be too late,” he said. “We have to have trust and confidence that the analysis we’ve done will put us on the right path. I am fully confident … we can adjust once we get on course.”

Among the more high-profile changes Allvin outlined was reconfiguring air wings into “Units of Action.”

These “Units of Action,” he said, will be more capable of operating as a self-sufficient unit with the command and control, mission, and sustainment layers needed to provide airpower. Each will include experts that understand what it takes not only just to get the jets airborne, but to support them in an austere environment, be able to regenerate that combat power, be able to do logistics under attack, and other functions that Allvin and other senior leaders say are going to be required in the highly complex combat environment anticipated in an era of Great Power Competition.

These units will be organized so they can be severed from their home installations, which planners expect will face disruptions that require leaving leaders and capabilities in place that Allvin said can “fight the base.”

In his remarks, Saltzman conceded that the decisions are substantial, but he portrayed them as an opportunity.

“We are going to reoptimize because this leadership team is telling you … we’re willing to change fundamentally everything about our services so that we can get after the pacing threat, the PRC and the challenges they face,” Saltzman said, using shorthand for the People’s Republic of China.

For the Space Force itself, Saltzman said change is necessary even though the service is only four years old.

“We have to transform this service if it’s going to provide the kinds of capabilities, to include space superiority, that the joint force needs to meet its objectives. That’s the transformational charge that’s at hand,” he said.

Like the others, Saltzman put a high priority on readiness. In that regard, one of the decisions calls for implementing Space Force readiness standards that reflect operations under contested conditions rather than those of a benign environment. Readiness must be defined by the ability to deter and defeat rival powers rather than its capacity to provide services to others. Guardians will build and conduct a series of nested exercises that increase in scope and complexity to fit within a broader department-level framework, and they will use assessment results to shape force design and development.

The proposal also calls for formalizing combat squadrons as the Space Force’s Unit of Action, completing activations of the remainder of Space Force service components to combatant commands, and accelerating the implementation of the Space Force Generation Model. To be prepared for GPC, the service must fully integrate into the Joint Force - properly trained, equipped, and ready to accept mission command for assigned objectives.

Saltzman wrapped up the panel the same way Kendall began.

“We’re out of time. We have to be ready. We have to be ready tonight and tomorrow has to be more ready than today, and we have to keep looking at enduring advantages into the future. … This is the opportunity of a lifetime, to shape these forces against a threat that is going to challenge our country the most,” he said.