USAF Updates Its Irregular Warfare Strategy to Address Strategic Guidance
Mort Rolleston and Peter Garretson
The Secretary of the Air Force and the Chief of Staff of the Air Force recently signed an updated United States Air Force (USAF) Irregular Warfare (IW) Strategy to provide direction for the USAF to organize, train, and equip to provide capabilities necessary to meet strategic guidance. The USAF published the initial version of its IW Strategy in 2009. Since then, however, strategic guidance has sought to rebalance IW:
- From large-scale operations to low-cost, small footprint approaches
- From direct U.S. operations to indirect actions by, with, and through partner nations
- From large-scale counterinsurgency and stability operations in Iraq and Afghanistan to a more distributed, though carefully prioritized, global effort focusing more on the Asia-Pacific region
- From crisis response, near-term focused efforts to more deliberate, long-term efforts closely tied to enduring U.S. strategic interests
- From predominantly a special operations force mission to one institutionalized across the general purpose force
Also since its publication, several studies by the Joint Staff and the USAF have highlighted critical shortfalls and challenges affecting USAF conduct of IW that need to be fixed to address this strategic guidance. They include: the lack of a coordinated U.S. Government strategy and execution; authorities that do not support long-term planning and execution timelines; capability and manpower shortfalls; the lack of “right tech” USAF platforms to transfer to partner nations; limited funding; and inadequate IW education and training.
The new USAF IW Strategy replaces the initial version to remain consistent with these developments. It first provides the context underlying this strategy by briefly summarizing: (1) what IW is; (2) how airpower contributes to IW-related operations and activities; (3) the changes in strategic guidance related to IW relevant to the USAF; and (4) documented shortfalls and challenges facing USAF IW operations before describing the USAF’s IW strategy to organize, train, and equip to address the new guidance and challenges.
The USAF IW Strategy has nine initiatives:
1. Adopt a partnering culture: Going forward, air advising and being an instructor to partner air forces and civilian aviation will be part of the fundamental identity, self-concept, and expectations of individual Airmen. Building and maintaining language, region, and culture expertise; demonstrating air advising skills; and thinking strategically about how peacetime operations can shape geopolitical relationships to provide advantage for U.S. foreign policy will grow in importance and positively affect individual promotions.
2. Influence U.S. global shaping activities guided by a new USAF Aviation Enterprise Development (AED) Vision and Strategy. The primary USAF approach to conduct IW indirectly by, with, and through partner nations is to help develop, enhance, and sustain their aviation enterprise as directed by the Department of State as part of the overall U.S. security sector assistance effort. While the USAF is only one of many actors involved in this effort and does not lead them, it has clear equities in its success, especially given it is a critical enabler of future base access vital to achieving Global Vigilance, Global Reach, and Global Power. Therefore, the USAF AED Vision (now in coordination) intends to help shape this whole-of-government effort as it relates to the global air domain. A forthcoming separate USAF AED Strategy will describe how the USAF will achieve its part of that AED Vision.
3. Advocate IW authorities that enable effective, long-term, persistent engagements. The laws governing security sector assistance efforts across the U.S. government and the lack of broad authority for multi-year spending creates a confusing and difficult patchwork of authorities that prevents effective long-term planning essential for most IW operations and activities. The USAF will continue to work with Congress and OSD to address or mitigate this challenge through legislation and other appropriate means.
4. Establish the means to meet global light aviation demands with American aircraft and services. One goal of strategic guidance is for the United States to become “the partner of choice.” However, because the U.S. military today often does not fly the transferrable, affordable, modular, and interoperable platforms emerging air forces need, those nations tend to approach other suppliers, to include potential strategic competitors. Therefore, the USAF will establish a creative, effective, and affordable way to enhance its ability to develop PN air forces that operate light aircraft.
5. Adequately man planning staffs associated with IW. To effectively execute strategic guidance, there must not only be adequately trained personnel on planning staffs (particularly those AFFOR staffs supporting the geographic combatant commanders), but also enough personnel to effectively plan and execute IW, especially in drafting and executing long-term country plans.
6. Excel at IW-related planning, resourcing, execution, and assessment. Properly developed and executed long-term Theater Campaign Plans, Campaign Support Plans, and Country Support Plans that effectively consider the full spectrum of IW activities at a sufficient level of detail are critical to enable USAF resourcing and manpower processes to effectively address IW-related needs and shortfalls. Airmen will continually engage in this process with all involved to ensure air, space, and cyberspace power are effectively integrated into these plans.
7. Develop a USAF concept and strategy using general purpose forces to support unconventional warfare. While UW is a specific competency and mission area of special operations forces, it has been supported by GPF in recent conflicts on an ad hoc basis, a trend expected to continue. Therefore, it is important that Airmen think through the future use of UW in advance and promote early consideration of airpower as appropriate in joint and interagency thinking by developing a USAF UW concept and strategy.
8. Address USAF shortfalls in conducting direct IW operations. Nearly all USAF capabilities can be used to conduct or support direct IW operations. The USAF Service Core Function Master Plans and combatant commander Integrated Priorities Lists describe various shortfalls in the ability of the USAF to conduct effective direct IW operations. Such shortfalls need to be addressed.
9. Implement the USAF IW Operations Roadmap FY12-FY16. In October 2012, the CSAF and SECAF signed the USAF IW Operations Roadmap. This roadmap lists a number of tasks intended to: (1) achieve the same level of proficiency in IW as conventional warfare; (2) institutionalize IW across the USAF; and (3) address a number of identified materiel and non-materiel IW shortfalls. Many of these tasks have been completed, but various others are still being worked. Completing these tasks will improve USAF IW capabilities and operations.
In sum, achieving these initiatives will significantly strengthen the USAF’s ability to support strategic guidance on IW. They will address materiel and non-materiel shortfalls and improve USAF deliberate, long-term planning for IW. In addition, these initiatives will influence and improve whole-of-government efforts to build partner capacity, as their success is critical to enabling access to conduct global air, space, and cyberspace operations in the future. Finally, these initiatives will improve the chances that nations important to American strategic interests will partner with the United States as opposed to strategic competitors.