Great Power Competition Demands a Resilient, Experienced and Accessible Reserve

  • Published
  • By Lt. Gen. John Healy and Chief Master Sgt. Israel Nunez

The developing strategic environment demands a resilient, experienced and accessible force that is responsive, agile and lethal…all attributes of our Air Force Reserve. “At no time in our nation’s history has the Air Force Reserve advantage of surge capacity and strategic depth been more critical.” These words opened Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General Allvin’s, Intent Message to the Air Force Reserve earlier this year. In this Intent Message, the CSAF charged us to prioritize four fundamentals to guarantee success in meeting these strategic demands:  Surge Capacity, Strategic Depth, Force Mix Optimization and Warrior Ethos.

The CSAF’s Intent Message could not come at a better time, as each of these priorities will play a role in how we align with Great Power Competition (GPC) changes. At the Air and Space Forces Association Warfare Symposium in February, Secretary Kendall unveiled 24 decisions, many of which will influence the Air Force Reserve. Each of these decisions are designed to achieve a more competitive posture and are centered on how we develop people, generate readiness, project power and develop integrated capabilities. Our ongoing TASKORD priority of Transforming for the Future has already put us in a position to adapt to these decisions. And while there are always risks associated with change, the Air Force Reserve is all in with these re-optimization decisions and is already moving towards implementation.

To further enhance our surge capacity, we will continue to advocate for purposeful use of mobilization authorities. Recent Levant operations prove that the Air Force Reserve is Ready Now as crews and tails were mobilized within 72 hours to fill critical airlift and aerial refueling missions. Since early October, nearly 1,400 Citizen Airmen have answered the needs of our allies and RegAF partners, providing over 68,000 man-days of support. We will continue to provide this capacity to maximize combat effectiveness and relevance to the joint force.

Reserve strengths and resources strictly aligned to Air Force Core Functions will ensure strategic depth. We remain focused on critical missions consistent with the Air Force Future Operating Concept through legacy platform enhancements and advocacy for new weapons systems. We continue to fight for concurrent modernization and proportional fielding for our equipment, infrastructure and training to ensure we are embedded in future force design.

Force mix optimization will be a key element in balancing the ever-increasing costs of military personnel and modernization. To meet the demands of GPC, your senior leaders are committed to a calculated effort in determining the optimal integration between the Regular and Reserve components. Equally important will be finding the ideal balance between our full-time and part-time Reserve force. As the DAF begins to restructure, the Air Force Reserve will be looking at ways to optimize our force structure to maintain capacity while building capability.

As a member of the Air Force Reserve, the warrior ethos is already instilled in every one of you, as evidenced by your willingness to serve. However, it is more important than ever that we ensure our Airmen are mentally, physically and emotionally prepared for the rigors that will come with operations in the western Pacific. This highly contested environment will be far different than what we have previously faced, and your tough-mindedness, motivation and vigilance will be tested more than ever. We will prepare for the demands of this conflict, both in readiness and resilience through increased exercise participation and standardized formal training.

One of the decisions, Wing-Level Organization and Support, reoptimizes Department of the Air Force (DAF) Wings into standing Combat Wings capable of building and maintaining readiness to execute wartime functions. Deployable Combat Wings, In-Place Combat Wings and Combat Generation Wings, along with Base Commands, will be identified and the Air Reserve Component (ARC) is prepared to offer forces under this new presentation model. Due to the unique nature of some of our ARC installations, like those that rely heavily on contract, civilian and community support, we will determine the resources required to support this change.

Along with Wing-level restructure will come MAJCOM Optimization. Overlapping MAJCOM roles, responsibilities and authorities resulted in conflicting priorities between readiness and modernization, slowing the decision process. The solution establishes Institutional MAJCOMs as enterprise integrators for capability modernization, capability acquisition and sustainment, human capital and readiness. In addition, 10 combatant command-aligned Component MAJCOMs will be codified from the existing structure. This restructure will prioritize a deliberate integration at each layer of the Air Force. Air Force Reserve Command will continue to underpin all of the Institutional MAJCOMs and continue to provide operational forces using existing authorities and funding.

A few other decisions we would like to highlight include Exercises for Speed and Scale and Weapons System Prioritization. Under Exercises for Speed and Scale, the DAF will begin undertaking exercises focused on aligning with the demands our forces face during rapidly escalating crises. PACAF will work closely with INDOPACOM and Partner Nations to ensure alignment with the National Defense Strategy. As always, AFRC will coordinate with key stakeholders from planning to execution to ensure maximum Reserve participation and effectiveness in these exercises. We will also continue to expand upon our AFRC-led exercises like Rally in the Pacific.

The DAF’s ability to effectively sustain fielded weapons systems is instrumental in optimizing forces for GPC operations. Weapons System Prioritization will require development of an enterprise-level prioritization model for both fly and non-fly weapons systems. It will provide implementation guidance to ensure organizational focus on sustaining required capabilities. We maintain Air Force Reserve fielding and sustainment must be proportional and concurrent. As the CSAF charged the Reserve to meet surge capacity requirements and maintain strategic depth, we must work closely with HAF/A3 and supported MAJCOMs to ensure we can meet his charge.

As the DAF moves into implementation, senior leadership is focused on deliberate assignment of component roles and responsibilities to ensure optimization across the Total Force. AFRC is the most diverse MAJCOM in the DAF. The Air Force Reserve touches nearly every mission and balancing manpower across these missions will be our greatest challenge as we move forward. An incremental approach, combined with a clear understanding that additional manpower and equipment may be needed, gives us the best chance for a smooth transition.

As the strategic environment evolves, the DAF will continue to evaluate and adjust to ensure readiness for Great Power Competition. The cumulative effects of these changes will enhance our capabilities within the Air Force Reserve as well as the capabilities of the Total Force. These changes will streamline interoperability across the Joint Force and guarantee our success in the future fight. We appreciate your continued service and as always, we are committed to keeping you informed every step of the way.