AURORA, Colo. — The Air Force said Monday it will create a new forward-looking capabilities planning command, refocus its training enterprise, and rethink how airmen deploy as part of a set of 24 initiatives designed to reorient the service to outpace China’s military ambitions and prevail in future conflicts.
The Air Force and Space Force’s top civilian and uniformed leaders unveiled the sweeping slate of plans at the Air and Space Forces Association’s Air Warfare Symposium here following a monthslong, department-wide review that began in the fall. Its results comprise one of the most significant reorganizations since the end of the Cold War.
Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said the goal is to prove the Department of the Air Force’s competitive resolve to U.S. adversaries — particularly Russia and China — and to execute those plans with urgency.
“We can no longer regard conflict as a distant possibility or a future problem that we might have to confront,” Kendall said. “The risk of conflict is here now, and that risk will increase with time.”
Among the biggest shakeups is the launch of a new Integrated Capabilities Command. The organization will become a central planning hub as the service crafts its requirements for the decades ahead — removing that responsibility from the service’s other commands and allowing the Air Force to think more holistically about its needs.
The new command, to be led by a three-star general, is “just what the name infers,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Allvin said.
“This is where the operators will test operational concepts against our force design,” he said. “They will also ensure that when we have modernization initiatives, those are rationalized to ensure … we do not unintentionally put modernization on platforms that really don’t have a long-term play in the future force design. It wastes money.”
The move also frees up the Air Force’s major commands, which organize, train and equip troops for missions around the globe, to focus on daily operations rather than future force planning.
The Space Force will create a similar organization, Space Futures Command, to lay the groundwork for expanding the service’s missions through experiments and wargames.
While much of the proposed updates aim to revamp the Air Force and Space Force’s acquisition enterprise — including several more offices that will lend greater focus to the department’s highest-priority projects, like nuclear modernization and information warfare — the services also hope to improve how airmen and guardians are trained throughout their careers.
To that end, Allvin said, the service will replace its Air Education and Training Command with a new Airman Development Command. While few details accompanied the announcement, Allvin said the renamed command aims to streamline the educational pipeline, so that when troops move “from one part of our Air Force to another part of our Air Force, they don’t need to relearn the systems and tools and they can develop faster.”
“We believe we’re going to have a more coherent force … that can move rapidly through the future,” Allvin said. “We’re all also reinforcing mission-ready training.”
Many details of this week’s announcements, on which the service had raced to build consensus by Monday’s keynote, are still being finalized. It’s unclear where the headquarters of new organizations will be located, or how quickly the department can launch them.
Senior leaders had discussed the possibility of consolidating the Air Force’s nine major commands into a more streamlined system, according to two sources outside the military who are familiar with the internal discussions.
But rather than combine or eliminate commands, Allvin said, the service can do more to highlight the various roles within them — particularly, how they provide forces to the larger joint combatant commands like U.S. Cyber Command and U.S. Transportation Command.
That includes a plan to move Air Forces Cyber from under Air Combat Command and elevate it to a service component command. AFCYBER would report to U.S. Cyber Command for daily offensive and defensive operations on military networks and systems. Doing so may allow CYBERCOM to more seamlessly direct Air Force cyber units and give the organization a larger role in managing its own training and resources.
The shift marks Air Forces Cyber’s third major move since 2018, when the organization moved from Air Force Space Command to Air Combat Command. It later combined with Air Force intelligence units to create 16th Air Force at Joint Base San Antonio, Texas.
As it seeks to become more nimble and responsive to the joint combatant commands that direct daily operations around the world, the service will also turn its operational wings into “units of action,” categorized as deployable combat wings, in-place combat wings and combat generation wings, the Air Force said.
The idea is to create standardized packages of combat assets, like aircraft, maintainers and other support staff, that can deploy alongside the same squadrons with which they train, without shortchanging bases of the airmen needed to run daily operations and protect their perimeters.
The plan is expected to contribute to more predictable deployment schedules, a top focus for the service after leaving Afghanistan in 2021.
Allvin also said the Air Force will aim to mount a new service-wide training exercise in the Indo-Pacific in fiscal year 2025 that tests how pieces of the force work together, rather than limiting those lessons to individual commands.
Hints of other planned personnel changes have already trickled out, including news that the service will bring back warrant officers to bolster the Air Force’s technical expertise in cyber operations and information technology. The Air Force’s last active duty warrant officer retired nearly 50 years ago after the service deemed them too inflexible to meet its personnel needs, according to the Warrant Officer Historical Association.
The Department of the Air Force isn’t requesting specific funding for the changes in the fiscal year 2024 or 2025 budgets, but will ask Congress to move money around mid-year if necessary, Kendall said. New funding will be built into the fiscal 2026 budget request that is starting to take shape, he added, but officials will largely try to use existing appropriations in new ways.
One challenge the Air Force faces will be defining the separate responsibilities of each organization, one retired general officer told Air Force Times. Defense organizations tend to multiply over time because it’s typically easier to stand up a new unit to address a problem than to repurpose existing ones, he said, so leaders must have a clear implementation plan and ensure airmen understand the long game.
Another retired general officer questioned whether the Air Force and Space Force have enough time to put the plans into action before Kendall, a political appointee, may leave his post at the end of President Joe Biden’s current term.
The department must see its vision through to the end to ensure piecemeal changes don’t cause more confusion than good, he said.
“The question is, will it be done right?” he said.
Author: Courtney Mabeus-Brown