Securing the High Ground: Air Combat Command's 2014 Strategic Plan

This month, Air Combat Command (ACC) put out its 2014 Strategic Plan. Gen. Gilmary M. Hostage, the ACC commander, stated the plan is “my twofold guidance to: (1) optimally organize, train and provide combat ready forces and (2) manage and deliver the capabilities required to secure the high ground for our military forces to deliver dominant combat airpower for our Nation.”

This plan addresses the following core visions and principles:

  • Develop, retain and care for airmen and their family;Airman as wingman;
  • Responsive conventional force provision;
  • Train for broad spectrum of conflict;
  • Improve operational effectiveness and increase integration of Air Force, joint, allied and coalition partners;
  • One wing, one boss, one fight;
  • Readiness, realistic training, leverage technology assets; and
  • Fully developed capabilities across command and control, global integrated intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, air superiority, global precision attack and personnel recovery core functions.

As a package, the 2014 ACC strategic plan looks to provide airmen with all the tools, resources and training to “secure the high ground for America.”

However, there are some interesting and somewhat concerning statements made, especially considering the strained relationship between the active and reserve components in the combat air forces domain.

When discussing the core functions of the Air Force, the ACC strategic plan looks towards four overarching principles:

  1. Recap over refurbishment;
  2. Prevent a “hollow force”;
  3. Accept short term risk for long-term capability; and  
  4. Whole, integrated approach – must account for all programs, including Special Access.
     

Interestingly, and somewhat concerning to me is the following statement: “Over the past two years, the Air Force has had to cut viable programs in order to recapitalize some critical waning capabilities to ensure future effectiveness. When necessary, we will continue to sacrifice capacity for the capabilities we need to win in the highly contested environment…While struggling to maintain sufficient capacity to meet Combatant Commander Requirements in the near-term, no matter how much we refurbish our 4th-generation assets, they will still be overmatched in the highly contested environment in the mid-term. This, coupled with the concerns of an aging fleet means when faced with the choice between recapitalization and refurbishment, we will work to recap our fleets. This may lead to capacity risk as we get smaller, especially in the near term.”

So what does this mean?

If the Air Force is looking to reduce capacity in order to recapitalize, one would logically assume that the older, legacy fleets will be reduced. That is the reserve component.

Some could argue this is counter to the essence of the recommendations by the National Commission of the Structure of the Air Force, and the Air Force’s rhetoric of wanting to “mend the rift.”

NGAUS posed this question to Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James for a story in the August edition of National Guard. Stay tuned for possible answers.

In the end, the ACC 2014 strategic plan claims to look towards a future where capability has to be balanced with the fiscal environment. If current budgetary trends continue, ACC fears it will become a hollow force, ultimately reducing its ability to provide the best airmen to the nation.

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