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Sweeping Great Power Competition Changes Demand Focus!

Great Power Competition

By now you’ve heard Secretary Frank Kendall’s big announcement at the AFA Warfare Symposium last month in Colorado—sweeping changes are in store for the US Air Force and US Space Force in response to the deepening power competition with China.

Optimizing the Nation’s Force structure to improve warfighting readiness is not a new conversation. In fact, the discussion over the last few years is easy to summarize.

  • Our force structure and acquisition process are too slow. All together… YES!
  • Accelerate change or lose. All together… YES!
  • These are Operational Imperatives. All together… YES!
  • We need to reorganize the Department. All together… Now wait just a minute!

That’s a perfectly normal reaction, but this isn’t anyone’s first rodeo. We’ve all seen major reorganizations; each of us has a favorite (I loved the ATC, SAC, MAC, and TAC days!); and we know we can make any organization work. The trick is to make the new organization work better than the previous one. This requires trust, collaboration, clear thinking, and an execution mindset.

Changes worth pursuing

The strong rollout by Secretary Kendall, and the Department’s most senior leaders has provided powerful testimony these changes are worth pursuing. The legacy system was powerful because we could create an extremely strong linkage from funding request to documented requirement to operational user, making it easy to defend funding requests and associated programs. Unfortunately, the process was very slow. It took years to analyze alternatives, document requirements, request funding, then buy new systems. Typically, the results were incremental with new systems looking very much like legacy systems. The process also suffered from limited enterprise perspectives, few revolutionary ideas, and significant integration challenges.

The new construct provides opportunity. Weapon system solutions will be fostered with an improved enterprise-wide perspective and analysis, and with a forceful expectation of integrated performance. Yes, the new organizational structure will be challenged to build and sustain user support—but this is doable. The litmus test, of course, will be the rapid delivery of quality system solutions.

Hard work ahead

There is a lot of work to make the proposed organizations real. We must acknowledge the challenge for a department with little margin.  Every organization could use more people, and now we add the effort to reorganize.  Big job, but one we can handle if we commit and get moving.

In recent comments, Lt. Gen. Hinote, former Deputy Chief of Staff for Strategy, Integration and Requirements at HQ USAF, warned us not to fall into the trap that caught the Marine Corps. He said, “The main impediment to implementing change will not be Congress, however. It will be institutional resistance, driven by service members and civilians who are uncomfortable with change and allow their discomfort to descend into cynicism.” (Adapt or Die: Big Air Force Changes Demand Buy-In from Within)

In short, we must be ready to change.

What now?

The changes are worth pursuing. It’s up to us, Airmen and Guardians, military, civilian, and industry partners, to support. How? Focus!

Understand that we are not throwing out engineering principles, operational analysis, training, operational readiness, or good business practices. If you’ve been there, done that, and got the re-org t-shirt, you know the best way to support the change is to ensure work quality is maintained while the changes are implemented. There are combat missions to execute; new systems to field; legacy systems to sustain; technology, development, and test efforts to support; training and readiness goals to meet; and government-industry teams that still deserve our best every day.

Robert McMurry

About the Author

Robert McMurry, Lieutenant General, USAF (Ret), is a seasoned executive with over 35 years of experience leading large, complex organizations—culminating in total life cycle responsibility for all USAF aircraft, engine, munition, electronic, computer, network, cyber and agile combat support systems. He has served in a variety of senior leadership positions including Interim Commander, Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC), and Commander, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center (AFLCMC) and Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL).

To learn more about Robert, visit his expert profile here.