New World Means New Air Force

Gen. Mike Holmes, commander of Air Combat Command, speaks at the Air Force Association's Air Warfare Symposium on Feb. 23, 2018, in Orlando, Fla. Air Force Magazine photo by Mike Tsukamoto.

The return of “great power competition” means big changes for the Air Force, which will have to be even smarter and more innovative to counter the formidable array of threats now confronting the nation, Air Combat Command chief Gen. Mike Holmes said in wrapping up AWS18.

China, for example, seeks “domination in [their] region first, then the world,” Holmes pointed out, and on the way there China is modeling its own air force after the US Air Force. Its economic power in just a couple of decades will exceed that of the US, Europe, Africa, and Europe combined, Holmes said, and “we have to find new ways” to counter it. The US will not be able to match China plane for plane, he said, and the technology gap the US has enjoyed since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which Holmes called the “high water mark,” “is closing.” The US, he said, “is coming to the end of the period where our joint force has dominated the landscape.”

“We’re not going to win because we build more or better things—and we will—but because of you,” he said to the assembled airmen and industry attendees. Airmen, “given the opportunity to make things happen” are “the warfighter’s edge,” Holmes said. “This is up to us.”

Holmes urged attendees to read the new National Security Strategy, which identifies the economic and “whole of government” threats to the US as well as the military challenges, and it points out that the US must be financially strong in order to finance a powerful military.

The new world order swaps out an era when the US was in “finite games”—where the players and the rules were known—to “infinite games” where the players constantly change, it’s not clear how to win, and “the game is over when everybody else quits.”

The US has been in an infinite game against terrorists like ISIS and al Qaeda for nearly two decades. In that kind of game, “hubris kills,” cautioned Holmes. “If you overestimate yourself or your enemy, you set yourself up for a fall.” He said the Air Force must “learn from enemy and find way to stay in the game.”