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Presented at the Air Force Association Air Warfare Symposium, Orlando, Florida, February 24, 1995
The history of warfare is essentially the history of change. Every conflict involves participants learning from the previous conflicts and adding new technology to the fight. There's a wonderful book written back in the 1950s called Ideas and Weapons. The whole thesis of the book is to determine what comes first -- is it a really good idea that someone turns into a weapon? Or do we develop, through technology and innovation, a weapon though we do not see the manner in which it will be employed in war?
We recognized during the American Civil War how valuable railroads would be. It was during this same war we came to appreciate how lethal modern firepower could be on the battlefield. You could describe this war as one fought in the 19th century, with 18-century tactics and mind-set on the part of most generals, with emerging 20th century firepower. And it resulted in great carnage on the battlefield. Later in World War I, we saw the introduction of the tank and aircraft, even though they played little role in preventing the tremendous casualties suffered by both sides in static warfare fought with little imagination. Their impact would only be felt in the future.
In looking ahead to the 21st century, we should expect it to be marked by the appearance of new technologies. I realize that any discussion will naturally turn to what this new equipment will be. I've elected to leave the "what" to the Secretary (of the Air Force Sheila Widnall) and to the other four-star (generals). I know that yesterday you heard about our combat and overseas forces from (Gen.) Mike Loh (commander, Air Combat Command) and (Gen.) Jim Jamerson (commander, U.S. Air Forces in Europe). You heard about space from (Gen.) Joe Ashy (commander, Space Command). And you've heard how we'll logistically sustain these forces in the future from (Gen.) Ron Yates (commander, Air Force Materiel Command). You also will learn about the training and mobility parts of the equation from (Gen.) Butch Viccellio (commander, Air Education and Training Command) and (Gen.) Skip Rutherford (commander, Air Mobility Command).
I'd like to use this occasion to talk about how we get to the future. This isn't going to be as meaty as some of you would like. But it's important to figure out how we're going to get to where we need to be if we are going to stay relevant, if we're going to continue to be, as we are, the economy-of-force capability for this nation, in a period in which we see a downturn of resources.
As the chief, how we get there is one of my fundamental concerns. In my view there are two basic approaches we could use to get there. First, we could follow the traditional, programmatic approach. This might seem most likely when you recall that the last four chiefs of staff of the United States Air Force have been programmers. This approach tends to look forward with a budgetary mind-set that operates within the stovepipes of mission capabilities that have emerged over time. It served us well. But I think we are on a threshold in the area of technology. I say this not because the clock is going to turn from 1999 to 2000; that's an artificial thing. I say this because of the rate at which technology is accelerating and coming down the road toward us. I have some concerns that this programmatic approach constrains our expectations with present fiscal concerns. On the other hand, it's fairly safe, but it doesn't lend itself to an imaginative view of what our Air Force should and can do.
The other approach, the one I suggest we need to take, is to fly into the future, maybe to the year 2020. Then we should put ourselves in a low earth orbit, in a position to take a look at what the …