Great power competition is the central challenge to U.S. prosperity and security. A rapidly growing China and resurgent Russia aim to coerce their regional neighbors, undermine long-standing alliances, and displace American influence from critical regions around the globe.
These great power competitors are challenging U.S. dominance in all warfighting domains: air, land, sea, space, and cyberspace.
Over the past several decades, the U.S. Air Force’s science and technology enterprise focused on developing technical advances to enhance operational effectiveness. The goal was to confer an unprecedented force multiplication advantage to the military-do more with less. This focus remains an important component of the Science and Technology Strategy. However, the Air Force now operates in a changed strategic environment.
The globalization of technology now allows potential adversaries access to cutting-edge science and technology research and the best science and technology talent. As they work toward reaching technological parity, they also push to erode our military’s technological superiority.
Vision for 2030 and Beyond
The guiding vision of this Strategy is an Air Force that dominates time, space, and complexity in future conflict across all operating domains to project power and defend the homeland. This means the Air Force operates at an unrivaled speed. It achieves unparalleled global awareness, reach, and effect. It harnesses the power of complexity, presenting the adversary with an ever-growing number of challenges that demand resource prioritization, increase vulnerabilities, and impart overwhelming confusion.
The National Defense Strategy calls for building “a more lethal, resilient, and rapidly innovating Joint Force.” The 2030 Science and Technology Strategy aligns with this call, but it also requires transformational strategic capabilities that must be driven by scientific and technological advances.
Rather than reacting to others’ advances, the Air Force will set an unmatched pace. Instead of looking at where potential adversaries are heading, the Air Force scientific and technical enterprise will predict where adversaries cannot easily go and then ensure the Air Force gets there first.
The plan for executing this Strategy is divided into three objectives and the supporting reforms that will help drive toward the new vision. The three objectives are as follows:
- Objective I: Develop and Deliver Transformational Strategic Capabilities
- Objective II: Reform the Way Science and Technology Is Led and Managed
- Obiective Ill: Deepen and Expand the Scientific and Technical Enterprise
Each of these objectives is an integral element necessary to make the vision a reality. They also directly support all three lines of effort tasked by the National Defense Strategy:
- Build a more lethal force.
- Strengthen alliances and attract new partners.
- Reform the U.S. Department of Defense for greater performance and affordability.
Objective I: Develop and Deliver Transformational Strategic Capabilities
The Air Force will focus on developing and delivering transformational, operational capabilities by restructuring its science and technology portfolio and management processes, enhancing the competition for ideas and sustaining an enabling and enduring scientific and technical base.
Two components are needed in the Air Force scientific and technical portfolio-a broad-based, enabling, and enduring component and a focused transformational component. The broad-based, enabling, and enduring component aligns to technical disciplines of enduring importance to the United States as a global air and space power. The transformational component will focus on five strategic capabilities that directly support the vision to dominate time, space, and complexity across all operating domains. The five strategic capabilities are as follows:
- Global Persistent Awareness
- Resilient Information Sharing
- Rapid, Effective Decision-Making
- Complexity, Unpredictability, and Mass
- Speed and Reach of Disruption and Lethality
The transformational science and technology component will advance technology solutions along these capabilities and include a set of focused research programs called vanguards.
Vanguard programs will aim for significant technical achievements that demonstrate the viability of leap-ahead capabilities.
Objective I: Reform the Way Science and Technology Is Led and Managed
The Air Force proposes to reform the way we lead and manage through the appointment of a Chief Technology Officer. Our intention is to elevate the advocacy for science and technology within the Air Force. The Chief Technology Officer will guide strategic scientific and technical decisions, prioritize activities, and coordinate across the Service to effectively convert scientific and technical investments into new disruptive capabilities.
Objective Ill: Deepen and Expand the Scientific and Technical Enterprise
The Air Force will deepen and expand the enterprise by engaging the workforce and leveraging partnerships with partner organizations. Enhancing the recruitment of national and global talent, advancing workforce development, creating a stronger pipeline of technology-proficient military airmen, and implementing agile workforce practices will significantly strengthen Air Force scientific and technical expertise. Expanding the Air Force’s scientific presence in innovation hotspots, funding research in universities and with partnerships, creating a more visible Air Force science and technology front door, and strengthening partnerships increases discovery, innovation, and technology transition. We will strengthen the workforce and strengthen our connections to the broader scientific enterprise.
Call to Action
Technological parity is insufficient to maintain U.S. military superiority. The Air Force Science and Technology enterprise must set the pace to drive the Air Force toward the vision of dominating time, space, and complexity across all operating domains. Through immediate and sustained commitment to the objectives of the 2030 Science and Technology Strategy, the Air Force will embrace this new mindset and continue to develop and deliver disruptive innovations to ensure our nation’s defense.
“The advantage will go to those who create the best technologies and who integrate and field them in creative operational ways that provide military advantages.”
– Heather Wilson, U.S. Secretary of the Air Force