New AF development planning effort key to Third Offset

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio — In 2030 and beyond, the Air Force will achieve air superiority with a networked family of capabilities that may include legacy systems like the F-22 and F-35, new concepts such as manned/unmanned teaming, and advanced weapons including lasers, hypersonic munitions or cyber capabilities.

To help the Air Force define and develop future capabilities, Air Force Materiel Command is standing up a multidisciplinary Air Force team at the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson AFB. 

Gen. Ellen M. Pawlikowski, AFMC commander, said it is a key component of a new Air Force Strategic Development Planning effort. Its focus is future multidomain capabilities needed, in part, to support the Third Offset Strategy.

The general first briefed Air Force and aerospace industry representatives on the concept in late February during the Air Force Association Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Florida. 

Lt. Gen. Mike Holmes, Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff for Strategic Plans and Requirements, amplified the discussion on April 7 while highlighting results of the yearlong Air Superiority 2030 Enterprise Capability Collaboration Team, or ECCT. 

A small core Air Force Strategic Development Planning team of about 10 full-time military and civilian Airmen will be established within AFRL. The team will be augmented by experts from across the Air Force operational, acquisition, and planning communities to “explore both materiel and non-materiel solutions” to inform senior Air Force leadership strategic decisions. 

“The Air Force is rejuvenating our Development Planning process,” Pawlikowski said, noting the Air Force’s emphasis on strategic agility in its capstone 30-Year Strategy, Strategic Master Plan and Future Operating Concepts documents is closely aligned with the Third Offset.

Many analysts acknowledge peer competitor military capabilities are on a path to parity with the U.S. in several key mission areas. The gap is closing on the extraordinary technological advantage U.S. forces have enjoyed since the advent of precision-guided munitions, stealth and integrated command and control. These capabilities, known as the Second Offset, were the result of a focused long-range development planning effort initiated in the mid-1970s to counter the Soviet Union’s numerical advantage in conventional weapons.

Now Pentagon strategists and the research and development community are focusing their energies on identifying a new “Third Offset” to deter conflict and, if deterrence fails, defeat a major power adversary.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work called the Third Offset “strategy-based and technologically oriented,” and will incorporate new operational and organizational constructs.

“I think we all have the same ultimate objective when we talk about pursuing the Third Offset, which is to mine those technologies that give us back that technical edge,” Pawlikowski said. “This is all about providing agile war-winning Air Force capabilities for the future.”

Pawlikowski said the new Strategic Development Planning effort will “marry up” operational warfighters and doctrine experts from all Air Force domains with the acquisition and technology community. It will incorporate investments in new operating concepts, wargaming and experimentation, as well as mature and emerging technologies to focus on addressing Air Force needs and gaps 15 to 20 years from now. 

She acknowledged Development Planning had long been a core Air Force competency, but a discipline which has been allowed to wane with various Air Force reorganizations and years of intense focus on the current counterterrorism fight. As a result, programming solutions for filling gaps became more platform-centric, rather than strategy focused. Assessments under the new effort will involve multidomain, air-space-cyber approaches to solutions.

Pawlikowski added the new effort will refine and operationalize recommendations from the 2014 Air Force Studies Board report, “Development Planning — A Strategic Approach to Future Air Force Capabilities,” led by former Army Secretary Claude Bolton Jr. and Dr. Paul Kaminski.

“We’re going to use experimentation, we’re going to use modeling and simulation, as the tools to allow us to make that marriage, if you will, between what are the gaps, what are the challenges, and what concepts and technologies we are going to bring to bear.”

She noted experimentation dollars and small investments in modeling and simulation are already funded to support the effort. The effort will likely explore the role of “game-changers” like directed energy and hypersonics in future joint operations.

“Of course cost is always going to be in the calculus. Because affordability is going to be a key element for the Air Force, now and into the future,” Pawlikowski said.

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