The enlisted leader of the nation’s air service, Chief Master Sergeant Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth Wright, told an audience earlier this week that “hybrid airmen” were needed in the near future in order to prepare for great power war that would test capabilities in ways not seen in decades.
These hybrid service members should be capable of taking on multiple roles, said Wright in an address to the Air Force Association’s Air, Space, Cyber Conference.
He noted that the service should not go so far as to turn airmen into generalists. However, the service also can’t afford to produce airmen who are so specialized they cannot take on another airmen’s role or be replaced during a conflict that would create serious damage to their units or incur major casualties
Air Force Times reported:
Wright’s comments about “the airmen we need” tied in with Air Force leadership’s call to get the service ready for the possibility of a conflict with a “great power” nation such as China or Russia. The National Defense Strategy laid out by the Pentagon earlier this year called for refocusing the military’s attention on preparing for such a major conflict, and away from conflicts like the battles against violent extremist groups, such as the Taliban and the Islamic State, over the past 17 years.
Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson on Monday unveiled a proposal called “The Air Force We Need,” to grow the Air Force’s operational squadrons from 312 to 386 by 2030 to meet that challenge. This 24 percent growth would likely require 40,000 more active, Guard and Reserve airmen and civilian employees, though other details on how it would happen remain to be hammered out over the next six months.
“Traditionally, we have a specialist kind of mentality in how we develop” airmen, Wright said. “Grow in one career field, and remain a specialist in what you do. Imagine a world where more of us were like crew chiefs than specialist mechanics.”
In addition, Wright said that airmen will need to be well-trained and well-led moving forward to make them more resilient — code for being better able to handle high-end warfare when it comes.
He added that Air University is currently working on new training curriculum aimed at revamping professional military development to ensure airmen who become more capable warfighters.
Analysis: Air Force leaders, like the leaders of the other military branches, are moving to quickly adapt the Trump administration’s National Security Strategy, which calls for a military-wide reorientation away from low-intensity conflicts like those in Iraq and Afghanistan to refocus on fighting major wars against great power near-peer competitors.
It’s important to note that other great powers such as Russia and China, along with regional powers like North Korea and Iran, have been studying the U.S. way of war for decades, and as such, they have developed tactics and strategies designed to exploit what they see as operational weaknesses should war break out.
It’s far different fighting a lightly-armed enemy like ISIS or the Taliban than it would be fighting even a regional power like Iran. Troops shoot, move, and communicate much differently in a high-threat, high-intensity combat environment, and frankly, though there are high numbers of U.S. veterans in the ranks, they are not veterans of high-intensity combat for the most part.
That’s not to say that adversarial forces are combat-experienced. Russian forces, for the most part, have also engaged in low-intensity warfare in Syria, though it is experience nonetheless. And Moscow has been able to field-test certain strategies and capabilities in a hostile environment. Ditto for Iranians fighting in Syria.
China’s forces, on the other hand, don’t have any real-life operational combat experience, but the point is Chinese forces, like those of other adversarial powers, have had the opportunity to study U.S. tactics and develop counter-strategies under high-intensity war conditions. U.S. forces, conversely, have not conducted as much training for those circumstances as Defense Secretary James Mattis believes is necessary.
Hence the reorientation. And the Air Force is no different. In a great power conflict, the service branch will suffer casualties at a rate not seen since World War II, and its leaders know that. Thus, they’re working on building a force that is much more capable of meeting those demands and winning the fight.
Time is of the essence, though, so let’s hope this transition doesn’t take too long to get underway.