A Future Total Force for a Superpower
A Future Total Force for a Superpower
Remarks by Acting Secretary of the
Air Force Michael L. Dominguez to the Air Force Defense Strategy and Transformation Seminar, Capitol
Hill Club, Washington, June 21, 2005.
Source: Air Force
This week, in 1963, the United States and the Soviet Union
agreed to establish a “hot line” communication system to reduce the threat of an
accidental nuclear war. When it was activated a few months later, it became –
and still is – a 24-hour-a-day link between Washington, DC, and Moscow.
During the Cold War, the world’s superpowers dominated a polarized political
world. Today, however, the U.S. is commonly acknowledged to be the world’s lone
superpower. And the world is becoming multi-polar. We’ve exchanged the stability
of the Cold War for the unpredictability of a world with dozens of entities
vying for power: traditional states, non-state groups, even international
organizations. But so far, we remain the lone superpower. Our choices today will
dictate whether, and for how long, we remain so.
This morning I’d like to talk a little about what it takes to be – and to remain
– a superpower, and how the Air Force’s “Future Total Force” concept can help us
keep our lead over potential adversaries – and promote this great democracy’s
national and international interests.
So, what makes a superpower? I submit that three interrelated factors are
necessary for a nation to rise to superpower status: wealth, recognized power,
and prestige. Wealth is the basis for building all types of power: military
power, diplomatic power, and intellectual power. And the combination of wealth
and power leads to prestige – that is, to others’ positive perception of your
The economic argument is quite simple: poverty does not lead to power. A nation
that can’t create wealth and surplus through inventiveness, industry, and trade
won’t be able to create other instruments of power to secure its interests. And
those other instruments of power must include the military instrument if a
nation is to project power beyond its borders – to become even a local or
regional power. A nation with economic or intellectual power might wield some
amount of diplomatic power, for instance, but the presence of the sword is often
necessary for the olive branch to have any real meaning.
Once all the instruments of power are in order – diplomatic, military, economic,
and intellectual – they can be used to build prestige. Sometimes this is
peaceful, sometimes not. Often prestige is achieved through military victory;
for instance, our country’s prestige was raised immeasurably by the outcome of
last century’s world wars. Prestige can be won quickly, and just as quickly lost.
But as these three factors grow – as a country’s wealth, power, and prestige
outstrip its peers – the nation grows from being a local power to a regional
power and possibly to a superpower.
In addition to qualifying a nation for superpower status, a nation’s wealth,
power and prestige define its sphere of influence. Our “hot line” illustration
is from the era when the U.S. and the USSR had clearly defined spheres of
History shows us that where spheres of influence touch, we often find ourselves
in conflict: sometimes diplomatically, sometimes economically. This conflict can
be peaceful – but often is not. As the world’s lone superpower, our sphere of
influence is global. As it touches other groups pursuing their own interests –
whether those groups are states, business interests, or cultural – the
opportunity for conflict exists.
A superpower must be prepared for conflict on a variety of scales and by various
means. If we choose to remain a superpower, to promote our vision of global
peace and prosperity, we must be prepared for conflict. Therefore, our country’s
economy must continue to produce real wealth – we must invest our wealth in the
instruments of power – and we must act in such a way as to maintain or enhance
The military’s role is to maintain the military instrument of power in fighting
form, and use it effectively when needed. Without the military instrument to
protect and extend the others, our recognized power is diminished, along with
prestige – and our wealth is imperiled.
You’ve probably heard the concept of the “commons” – environments shared by
everyone. A nation may dominate its own environment and be a local power, but as
a nation reaches further – as its wealth is linked to places beyond its borders
– its interests must transit the global commons. In the past, the great common
was the sea. Today, we must add to the sea the commons of air, space, and
As the single global power, we can’t be content with dominating local commons –
the planet is our commons. And, for good or ill, the world looks to us to
enforce the rules, maintain the security, and sustain the stability of the
global commons. Why? Because we know and they know that our wealth – and theirs
– transits those commons. To maintain our superpower status, meet those
expectations, and sustain our prestige, we must be able to dominate the commons.
And we must expect to be challenged in the commons.
Thanks to the foresight of Air Force leaders who planned and procured the
systems we have today, the Air Force currently dominates the global commons of
air, space, and cyberspace. But we’ve found that the non-traditional, non-state
enemies we’re currently fighting don’t behave in the commons the way traditional
states do. Our sphere of influence has touched a non-traditional interest group
– and that group has chosen to compete with us through violence.
We certainly must adapt to this non-state challenge to the world order and
global peace and prosperity. But the nation-state has not gone away. Countries
like China are building the economic power – and with it the military power to
pursue their own vision of world order. As their growing sphere of influence
touches ours, how will they choose to challenge us?
As we consider the battlefield capabilities we may need in the future, we must
take into account both traditional and non-traditional competitors – both
conventional and unconventional wars. In addition, because of how long we
typically maintain and use our weapon systems – to maximize the taxpayers’
investment – we must plan and program for a generation ahead. That is, we must
project potential scenarios 30 years or so into the future, and try to make sure
the systems we procure today will be effective then.
Let’s consider a tangible example: the F/A-22. Critics say we don’t need it
because our current enemies – the non-traditional enemies, terrorists and
insurgents – don’t have fighter aircraft and aren’t challenging us for air
superiority. Fair enough. But that ignores two basic things. First, we’re very
good at using systems in unconventional ways and the F/A-22 is a very versatile
platform. I imagine, once the first squadron takes it into action, those pilots
will develop new tactics, techniques and procedures to take advantage of its
formidable intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities – and I’m
sure it will contribute to battlespace awareness and unconventional warfare in
ways we haven’t even thought of yet.
The second thing the critics neglect is the simple fact that things change.
Countries and groups that can’t buy fighters could very well buy some of the
modern, highly capable surface-to-air missile systems that are proliferating
around the world. And countries are developing their own very capable fighters –
and may not always be friendly many years into the future.
Consider the fact that the Soviet Union agreed to a “hot line” between their
capital and ours, but they never believed us when we told them we weren’t
planning a first-strike nuclear capability. Why not? Because they paid in blood
for believing in a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany. They weren’t about to
make that mistake again. We shouldn’t make that sort of mistake, either, by
failing to prepare today for tomorrow’s potential conflict.
To recap: the military contribution to maintaining superpower status is to
maintain and use the military instrument of power. As a superpower – so long as
we choose to maintain that status – our military must be able to dominate the
global commons of the sea, air, space and cyberspace. Weapons and equipment are
only part of the solution to that problem: it also takes people and doctrine.
Remember, we must plan and procure systems that we will use for a generation.
But we don’t just equip forces for a generation: we organize, train, and equip
them. Plus, we recognize that the weapons and equipment we use are very
expensive – so the more we can rely on people and doctrine to get the most out
of that equipment, the better. That’s why we’re pursuing the “Future Total
Force” – our “road map” to make the Air Force of tomorrow better than the one we
have today. It’s not just about solving fiscal problems. It’s the right thing to
do to make the Air Force better and provide global strike, rapid mobility, and
persistent C4ISR assets to the joint warfighter.
The Future Total Force will allow us to provide combat capabilities in a way
that only a global power can provide them: striking with little notice, anywhere
in the world, with precision; moving our armed forces and their equipment to any
location, at any time, to support our national objectives; and providing our
senior leaders – who are the leaders of the free, democratic world – with the
assets and information they need to make informed decisions about national
Future Total Force is an outgrowth from the last Quadrennial Defense Review.
It’s designed to improve overall combat capabilities by retiring the oldest,
least capable, and most expensive equipment while investing in more capable
platforms – like the F/A-22. After we implement the Future Total Force, our
force structure will have 10 percent fewer total aircraft – and 25 percent fewer
fighters. The 2025 fighter force will be 100 percent
precision-guided-munitions-capable and more than 90 percent low observable.
Future Total Force isn’t just about equipment, though. It creates operational
efficiencies through reorganizing and re-shaping our force structure. We’ll use
higher crew ratios to increase equipment use in wartime and efficiency in
peacetime. Not only will we modernize our active-duty fleet, but the Reserve
components will fly newer, more capable airplanes as they are introduced –
rather than operating “hand-me-downs.”
Future Total Force integrates the active, Guard, and Reserve components into
innovative organizations that share equipment and, in some cases, leverage each
other’s experiences in mixed units. One of our biggest initiatives will be to
flow Air Reserve component manpower into enduring, new and emerging missions.
Using them in new roles – for instance, with unmanned aerial vehicles and C4ISR
business – will reduce reliance on involuntary mobilization by using “reachback.”
For example, Air National Guard crews in New York, Texas, North Dakota and
Arizona can fly Predator missions over Iraq from their home stations. Future
Total Force will also maintain a suitable force to continue stateside training
and Homeland Defense while we continue our Air and Space Expeditionary Force
Currently we are working a number of Future Total Force initiatives. I’ll
mention just a few. We’re standing up an F/A-22 associate unit at Langley Air
Force Base (Va.). In fact, the Guard’s first Raptor pilots are already being
trained. In addition, Guard units and an Air Force Reserve Command and Air Force
Special Operations Command unit will increase our operating Predator orbits – we
can provide eight orbits today with active units, but with Reserve component
additions we’ll provide 30 more. In Vermont, we are exploring community basing,
where active component forces are garrisoned at a Guard or Reserve location. And
in Utah, an F-16 Air Force Reserve unit will integrate with a collocated
active-duty fighter wing – increasing operational capability and capitalizing on
high Reserve experience. Integrating Air Reserve component crews with active
duty crews will help us provide “persistence in people” – to keep taking the
fight to the enemy for as long as it takes to secure victory.
In summary, the Future Total Force uses new organizational constructs to create
a smaller, more capable force. It leverages the capabilities from new
technologies and the talent in the active, Guard and Reserve components to
prepare us for both non-traditional and traditional threats. It allows us to
fight the war today while we build the force of the future.
If we’re going to remain a superpower, we have to maintain our wealth, our
power, and our prestige. From a military perspective, because we’re a global
power, we have to be prepared and able to dominate the global commons. This
means we have to be future-focused, not short-sighted, in our planning and
programming. The warning sign is clear to me: if we concentrate too much on
non-traditional threats, we will sacrifice our ability to defend our superpower
Critics may tell you that, historically, no superpower has ever survived. Every
world power before us – from the ancient empires of Egypt, Greece and Rome to
the kingdoms of France, Spain and England – has eventually been replaced by
another player on the world stage. Do we stand a better chance than they had? I
don’t know. But we have to try.
Even though we no longer have an easily identifiable enemy to share a crisis
“hot line,” we have to try. Even if it takes a dozen separate “hot lines” – plus
constant vigilance against non-state actors – we have to try. If we believe that
representative government and a free economy are the best mechanisms for
preserving human dignity, human rights, and human freedom, then we have to try.