The United States Air Force has lost its way. It has forgotten what business it’s in, mistakenly believing that its raison d’être is air supremacy while forgetting that the core of its mission is long-range strike. If the nation is to be successful in the great-power competition it finds itself in, the Air Force will need to find its way home and regain its strategic relevance in an environment dominated by anti-access/area-denial systems employed by China and Russia.
The present situation is not unlike the scenario that confronted Apple founder Steve Jobs when he returned to the company in 1997. Building upon the core small-personal-computer market that had characterized the company at its inception, Jobs’s successors had branched out, adding multiple software and hardware lines of operations, with declining results. By the time Jobs returned, the company was two months from bankruptcy.
Jobs’s prescription was to cut staff, simplify production back to one basic desktop computer, reduce retailers, and wait. These initial actions stabilized the company and bought time, but Jobs’s lack of action to plot a new course for the company raised questions. One strategic consultant asked him, “So what are you trying to do in the longer term? What is the strategy?” Jobs’s cryptic reply was, “I am going to wait for the next big thing.”
Jobs’s actions when the technology that let him move forward with the iPod and the iPhone became mature demonstrated that he understood the company’s true strategy, which was not building desktop computers but rather making data, information, and entertainment more accessible to the public. Jobs restored his company’s ethos.
The Air Force once understood its purpose with stark clarity. In the first half of the 20th century, air-power advocates continually stressed the importance of bypassing tactical skirmishes and penetrating to the enemy’s vital centers to coerce either the foreign government or its population to submit. Independent air forces in Great Britain and Italy focused their procurement efforts on larger and longer-range heavy bombers. Non-independent air forces, such as the U.S. Army Air Corps, sought the same even as their parent service (the U.S. Army, in the American case) pressed them to buy tactical aircraft and perform direct-combat air-support missions for ground infantry and armor units.
This made some sense during World War II, when long-range bombers found themselves in need of fighter escorts to fend off enemy fighters and establish temporary air dominance for the bombers to get through to their targets.
But after the war, science and engineering combined to alter circumstances. (end of excerpt)
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