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The year 2025 is not far away. However, the coming years will doubtless surprise us since geostrategic or technological developments are so unpredictable. The air and space environment will certainly feature major breakthroughs that we must be ready to face. This article does not claim to treat this topic comprehensively; rather, it suggests a few principles that one can apply to support a view of the stakes for tomorrow's airpower.
Preparing for the future is difficult. One must select the time frame in order to build an innovative but realistic and reachable vision. Economist Peter Drucker used to argue that "the essence of planning is to make present decisions with knowledge of their futurity." (1) Indeed, the years between now and 2025 have already been defined by a program of orders and deliveries that scales the format of military forces until 2020, within a given financial framework influenced by military forces. Consequently, any modification remains subject to the law of interconnectedness, whereby a new program must replace another one, or several, in order to avoid budgetary problems. Because such planning freezes capabilities until 2020, it takes on a budgetary character and limits strategic thinking to the time frame in question. Consequently, if we wish to go outside this framework, we must look beyond. The 2025 time frame is significant because it gives strategic thinking a renewed scope, keeping in mind the objective of shedding light on the future so we can better assess today's decisions.
Various approaches present themselves and numerous parameters require assessment as we seek to plan air and space power for the year 2025. Given the difficulty of creating a definite vision of the future that will not be misunderstood, this article offers five principles that allow us to avoid the dual pitfalls of a vision that is too futuristic and disconnected from reality, or an approach that lacks innovativeness because of constraints imposed by current projects and studies.
First Principle: Overcoming Current Thinking, Which Can Bind Future Ideas
Although we must open up our thinking in a spirit of operational and technical innovation, Air Marshal Sir John C. Slessor reminds us that the lessons of the past still represent a tremendous source of data and experiments that we can revisit in anticipation of tomorrow's stakes. (2) Neither the visions of the future nor the lessons of the past, but the tyranny of today's commitments imposes constraints on our thinking. It is very tempting to scrutinize operations in Afghanistan as a way of imagining models of future forces, but the present is hazardous in that it has a strong legitimacy in countries where the news and coverage by the media exert much influence on public opinion. Airpower plays a significant role in Afghanistan but remains insufficiently promoted. On the one hand, its appreciation comes from successes that were as continuous as discreet; on the other hand, the visibility of its action is reflected in the land engagement. Airpower thus provides continuous surveillance, makes possible the stealthy designation of targets in a country with a number of natural or man-made vertical obstacles, offers a wide range of kinetic or nonkinetic effects, and frees itself from land constraints for the transportation of personnel and equipment, all the while minimizing losses among both allied troops and civilians.
Several incorrect lessons drawn from that engagement involved airpower. Given the very nature of the operation and fighting, we employed airpower in a wide range of missions, leveraging its variety of networked, interacting capabilities that combine their effects to benefit the tactical level. This situation reflects both the magic and perversity of networked operations. That is, integrating ever more versatile capabilities that cooperate in open operating modes, regardless of the level of use to which they belong, increases the effectiveness of tactical actions conducted in the field. However, we forget that under other circumstances, some of the capabilities offer courses of action that produce a substantial range of effects at the strategic level.
Thus, using a new-generation reconnaissance pod on a modern platform such as …