THE FOLLOWING DISCUSSION resulted from a review of a proposed revision to Air Force Doctrine Document (AFDD) 1, Air Force Basic Doctrine, and the author's belief that it fails to adequately describe the airpower of the United States and of the US Air Force. (1) Consequently, in this article I take the original AFDD 1 framework and expand it to offer a more comprehensive picture of US airpower and the contributions of the Air Force. My discussion begins with an expansive perspective of US airpower and concludes with elements that combine to explain the "air-mindedness" unique to Air Force Airmen.
To understand Air Force airpower, one must first understand that the United States is an airpower nation. It is a global leader in airpower technology, economically dependent on access to the global domains of airpower (air, space, and cyberspace), and a provider of access to these domains. Its people love the technology of airpower, and they make up a nation of air, space, and cyberspace innovation. US airpower, therefore, is a combination of the nation's air, space, and cyberspace research and development, production capacities (both private and government), commercial capabilities (in and across the three domains), military capabilities resident in its military services, and, most importantly, people who excel in every aspect of airpower activity. (2) For the purpose of this discussion, the term airpower encompasses all three domains: air, space, and cyberspace. (3)
The Air Force conducts air, space, and cyberspace operations around the globe as the leading "full-service" military provider and protector of the nation's airpower. (4) The Air Force provides options to defend the nation and its vital interests by means of efforts in and through the air, space, and cyberspace domains, protecting access to those domains for the nation, as well as for allies and partners. In conjunction with sister services and other instruments/institutions of national power, the Air Force defends the nation and protects access to these global domains as a global good in peacetime and as a matter of necessity during conflict. When and where required, the Air Force uses its access capabilities to obtain control of a domain and then employs its capacities for persistence to sustain that access and control. The ability to protect worldwide access and to project control of air, space, and cyberspace constitutes the Air Force's unique contribution to national defense.
The Air Force's role in US airpower encompasses the synergistic application of air, space, and cyberspace capabilities to project strategic military power throughout the globe. Airmen exploit speed, range, payload, and precision to create effects in the global domains of air, space, and cyberspace, as well as in the maritime and land domains. Unencumbered by the constraints of surface domains, airpower provides the nation and joint team unequalled flexibility in response options to meet mission requirements during either peacetime or contingencies. In defense or on offense, only Air Force airpower can so quickly and precisely provide so many effects anywhere on the planet, in air, space, and/or cyberspace.
Three strategic pillars--global reach, global power, and global vigilance--direct Air Force strategy in the development of ways and means to offer flexible options to the president, secretary of defense, and combatant commanders; those pillars function across the spectrum of operations and through every phase of joint and coalition actions. Serving as the conceptual framework for the Air Force, they are therefore neither restricted nor tied to an organizational command structure or platform; they guide the way Airmen think about the application of airpower. (5)
Global reach, which directs the Air Force's determination to offer options and effects anywhere, anytime, spans all three global domains and includes both kinetic and nonkinetic capabilities. The service's reach includes airlift that supports humanitarian-relief operations such as tsunami relief in Indonesia and the transport of soldiers to limit convoy exposure to improvised explosive devices, as well as air-refueling capabilities that support airlift and strike operations around the globe. Reaching out and kinetically producing effects by means of operational concepts such as global strike reflects another aspect of global reach. Finally, the reach provided by Air Force capabilities in the cyberspace domain permits options and effects restricted only by the limits of imagination and technology. Thus, global reach, which transcends all other Air Force capabilities, lies at the core of its two companion pillars.
Global power focuses on providing effects enabled by global reach, those of the kinetic variety often the most visible ones. For example, the termination of news broadcasts from Baghdad during the first night of Operation Desert Storm in 1991 dramatically demonstrated the might of US military airpower. The power of the Air Force's kinetic capabilities greatly contributed to joint and coalition triumphs …