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Allvin: Aligning Air Force’s approach is key to reoptimizing for Great Power Competition

  • Published
  • By Charles Pope
  • Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs

When Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David W. Allvin looks closely at the service he leads, he sees plenty to like.

“The U.S. Air Force remains the best, most capable and lethal in the world,” Allvin said. “But that status is not guaranteed into the future and will only be realized if we adapt and shape the Total Force more precisely to meet the challenges we face today.”

One challenge that particularly draws Allvin’s attention is the “fragmentation” of effort and organization across the Air Force.

“Over the last three decades, our Air Force has incrementally become more fragmented across the four focus areas of our reoptimization effort – developing capabilities, developing people, generating readiness and projecting power. This gradual diffusion was the result of decisions made in the context of a different strategic environment. After some deep introspection, we know we cannot let this continue. Reoptimization will align our force to best compete, deter and if required, win in today’s volatile strategic landscape.” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Allvin

The Air Force’s recently announced reoptimization initiative is designed to attack fragmentation and better align the force. As the pace of change accelerates and the threat posed by the pacing challenge grows, a fragmented force slows the Air Force enterprise down, hampers modernization and limits integration, Allvin says. He also acknowledges change can be difficult but knows it is nothing new to the service.

“The twenty-two chiefs of staff who proceeded me all shaped our Air Force to meet the rising challenges of their time,” Allvin said. “They and their contemporaries never blinked in the face of an adversary, and neither will we. They led change to ensure our Air Force was always the strongest in the world – now it is our turn.”

In making the “Case for Change,” Allvin highlighted the need to solidify the service’s currently splintered approach and unify the fragmented nature of planning and operations.

“To forge ahead, we must prioritize organizational alignment, streamline decision-making and place mission outcomes above narrow functional competence,” he wrote.

The Air Force’s ambitious plan to “reoptimize” the service in the face of Great Power Competition was released in February. It recognizes the need for a more holistic approach.

For example, the plan establishes Integrated Capabilities Command. ICC fuses disparate modernization efforts from across the Air Force into a centralized structure and process to produce capabilities aligned with a single force design.

“We do not have the time or money to keep designing and building the pieces of our Air Force separately, hoping we can solve the integration challenges after the fact,” Allvin said. “ICC will ensure deliberate integration of mission systems and that the platforms we engineer and operate align with those systems.”

ICC will be formed largely by aggregating the expertise resident in the current major commands and Air Force headquarters that are charged with modernizing elements of the force within their individual portfolios.

“We currently develop capabilities largely within our major commands, and as a result don’t build our Air Force in an integrated manner from the start,” Allvin said. “Years ago, the direction to reduce the size of management headquarters staffing increasingly drove decision-making down to MAJCOMs who are not designed to have an enterprise perspective. That will not cut it in today’s strategic environment. We must eliminate the stovepipes and integrate across the enterprise to be one Air Force.”

In addition to establishing ICC, reoptimization will solidify how the service trains and develops Airmen.

One specific goal is refocusing training to produce what the Air Force is calling, “Mission Ready Airmen.” This approach, the Air Force “Case for Change” document states, will emphasize “the need to transcend syllabus-driven, technical training for specialized roles with an appreciation of their overarching role in a challenging environment and as empowered members of small teams tasked with anticipating and solving complex, undefined problems under contested conditions.”

“Airmen are multi-capable by design,” Allvin said. “To make them ‘Mission Ready Airmen,’ we owe them development policies and programs with an enterprise view, plus a common competency baseline, so our force develops evenly across career fields. Currently, we see uneven development and skewed mission alignment across functional communities – that is not what the Joint Force nor the mission demands.”

The scope of reoptimization extends to readiness as well. Under the new approach, the priority will be on mission readiness rather than a narrower functional competence.

“We must be ready to face tough, complex combat scenarios,” Allvin said. “To be as prepared as possible, we are taking a hard look at ourselves so we know what we truly can and cannot do as an entire service, not just in one or two functional areas. The mission-focused assessments and inspections we are instituting will help us do this, as will the large-scale exercises we are implementing as part of reoptimization.”

Operationally, the Air Force says reoptimizing will “create coherent, standardized and well-defined “Units of Action” to present a clear and cohesive structure for effective combat operations and force presentation … These wings will prioritize readying whole units that can be combat effective on Day One of a conflict. They will train together and, as applicable, deploy and fight together — enhancing their ability to provide direct support to combatant commanders.”

“For 20 years, we piecemealed forces into the counter-violent extremist organization fight because that is what the Joint Force required. Crowdsourcing to deploy and fight is a losing proposition against the pacing challenge,” Allvin said. “It is also unfair to Airmen. They need to know and train with the team they are going to fight alongside. Reoptimization addresses that by assembling units of action and aligning training to focus on mission, not function.”

In presenting the plan for reoptimizing and its 24 major actions, Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall acknowledged the same problem. “Over more than two decades, we have optimized to support post-9/Il conflicts and demands; this is not what the nation needs for the coming decades of strategic competition,” he said.

Reoptimization is also designed to prevent the all-too-common problem of “pieces” available to commanders not being able to work together because each was developed and deployed largely in a vacuum. This problem is not unique to the Air Force. Commanders across the Joint Force cope with this dynamic.

While China is the main driver to depart from fragmented decision-making, development and operations, senior Air Force leaders say bringing in a more aligned, comprehensive perspective will have clear benefits across the entire service.

“I think that is just going to help warfighting capability be developed more holistically in the future,” Lt. Gen. Alexus G. Grynkewich told Air and Space Forces Magazine on April 3. “That’ll be a benefit, no matter where the conflict is. So, even though it’s optimized for China … we’re pretty bad at predicting where we’re going to have a conflict. If we end up fighting somewhere else in the world, whether it’s the Middle East or elsewhere, I think it’ll have a benefit.”

VIDEO | 01:32 | Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Allvin explains his perspective on reoptimization and the role the Air Force plays in ensuring military superiority. (U.S. Air Force video by Juan Femath)