US Air Force eyes deadline to launch new command

US Air Force eyes deadline to launch new command

The U.S. Air Force wants to have its Integrated Capabilities Command up and running by the end of 2024, the service’s chief of staff told reporters Thursday.

The command is a central pillar of a vast reorganization the service announced in February. This revamp, the service’s largest since the end of the Cold War, is intended to better prepare the Air Force to counter major adversaries such as China and win a high-tech, modern war amid limited funding.

The Air Force has become “fragmented” and built up its capabilities “in chunks at a time,” Gen. David Allvin said at a roundtable. But in an era where the Air Force must prepare for a potential fight against an advanced enemy, he added, the service must take a broader look to prepare for the future.

For example, he said, a siloed approach to modernization could lead one section of the Air Force to focus on updating an outdated capability, even if that capability won’t be relevant to a future fight. By having an Integrated Capabilities Command looking at the big picture, he noted, the service might recognize such an upgrade wouldn’t be worth it.

The command is intended to take a more unified approach to developing the Air Force’s future requirements into new systems or other capabilities. It will centralize the Air Force’s current system for developing plans for future capabilities, which is now largely done piecemeal by individual major commands such as Air Combat Command and Air Force Global Strike Command.

The service is still working out many details about the new command, Allvin said. But the service intends to put a three-star general in charge, he noted, and likely one from an operational background, even if it has to pick a temporary commander at first.

And the organization could ultimately have between 500 and 800 airmen, Allvin said, though he stressed that figure is still in flux. These would be airmen who focus on conducting longer-term planning and preparing for modernization projects.

He said the Air Force’s goal is to have individual airmen tapped for the command and already starting to work in their new jobs by the end of the calendar year.

Allvin indicated the number of airmen moved from individual commands to this new one would probably number a few dozen, adding: “We don’t anticipate it will be moving hundreds from a place.”

The Air Force is working to ensure it doesn’t mistakenly take airmen away from major commands, which could impact the readiness of existing systems, Allvin said.

The Air Force envisions a series of satellite offices for the command throughout the United States, Allvin noted, meaning most airmen would likely stay at their current bases.

The Air Force needs to think more creatively about ways to accomplish its missions, Allvin said, such as carrying out long-range strike operations to sink Chinese ships. For the last two decades, he added, China has focused on building a naval force designed to keep the United States at a distance — something the U.S. Air Force must counter. He pointed to the service’s experimentation with launching cruise missiles from the back of a cargo plane as an innovative way to achieve long-range strike requirements without employing traditional bombers.

Or, he said, modernization planners working on updating the F-16 jet′s radar might have more access to experts working on the KC-46 tanker and share ideas and strategies that might work better.

“We want to be able to keep up with the pace of technology, the pace of change, and have the operators come together to build one force design, rather than multiple parts that are sort of stitched together at the end,” Allvin said.

This will benefit the entire service by leading to “a more coherent force design,” he added, as well as help Air Force Materiel Command better understand and predict what it will need to build and sustain all the service’s different systems.

“This is about getting the system right,” Allvin said. “Looking into the arc of the future and how we see how technology is playing out, how the strategic environment is playing out, and how we assess the way that we put together the capabilities we use to go to war.”

Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.

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