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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 Link.

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 national power.

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 influence.

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 our prestige.

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 cyberspace.

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 policy.

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 commitments.

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 status.

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.

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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).