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Blue Horizons IDE/SDE Program

  • Published
  • USAF Center for Strategy and Technology, Air University, Maxwell AFB, AL

The Blue Horizons Program at Air University is a CSAF-chartered, future-oriented study exploring military-technical and geostrategic competition and its implications for Air Force strategy and planning. The program enrolls 16-17 officers selected from the inbound ACSC and AWC classes, typically 11-12 from ACSC and 5 from AWC. The program is not an elective within the traditional schools, but rather a wholly distinct IDE/SDE fellowship. Officers spend the year in specialized academics and focused research on a CSAF-directed question. This research is focused on developing and testing prototypes of ideas that can help the Air Force meet future threats. Fellows have the opportunity to brief these projects to the CSAF and other senior leaders. The program is designed to track available graduates toward follow-on staff positions in the A5/8 or J5/8, or to return to leadership positions (DO/CC) within their operational communities.

Academic Program.  The Blue Horizons program includes nine academic blocks of instruction, on topics such as metacognition, strategy, technology, international politics, military history, regional studies, and joint capabilities. In addition to rigorous academics, the program includes a series of experiential future-focused wargames; guest speakers from across DoD, academia, think tanks, and industry; travel to national labs and innovation centers; and extensive time for individual research. Blue Horizons research has traditionally been focused on producing academic papers. Beginning in Academic Year 2017-2018, however, the program pushes its fellows to work with partners in government, industry, and academia to develop innovative prototypes of organizational constructs, operational concepts, and applications of technology. The program's facilities are located in a SCIF, so the fellowship is conducted at the TS/SCI level. After a year of classified research, regular dialogue with senior leaders, and routine interaction with staff officers in the Pentagon and in the Combatant Commands, Blue Horizons graduates are uniquely equipped to make an immediate value-added impact in a strategic staff position (e.g., A5/8, J5/8).

Selection. Officers are selected from a volunteer pool out of the inbound ACSC and AWC classes. The AFSC composition of the fellows varies year to year based on the requirements of the CSAF's question. The process begins when the IDE and SDE schools selects and alternates lists are published. The faculty use these lists to invite eligible candidates to apply for the program. After the application deadline has elapsed, the faculty choose the following year's class based on the quality of answers provided in the application, records reviews, recommendations, and the desired mix of AFSCs. The faculty may also use phone interviews to help select candidates. Finally, the Blue Horizons faculty nominates a list of candidates to the AU Commander for selection in the spring.

Air Force officers chosen as selects or alternates for 
AWC and ACSC can find out how to apply here: 

IDE Application Link

SDE Application Link

Course Length, Degree, PME. The program dates run concurrently with AWC and ACSC dates; no changes are required to the reporting or departure dates established by ACSC or AWC.  Officers receive SDE or IDE credit for participation.  If needed, SDE officers will receive JPME II credit by participating in the Joint Forces Staff College, when sent by AFPC or DPO in preparation for a joint assignment.  IDE officers receive JPME I credit by completing ACSC by Distance Learning.  The Blue Horizons program was recently accredited to confer its own Master of Science degree in Airpower Strategy and Technology Integration.   

Assignments.  A portion of the Blue Horizons class will likely match to a command or leadership billet during the year and will return to their operational communities.  For the remaining officers, the Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force (VCSAF) directed that Blue Horizons graduates be proactively assigned based on the Advanced Studies Group (ASG) process. In the spring of each academic year, the director of Blue Horizons will work together with the Commandant of SAASS (who manages the ASG assignment process) to assign Blue Horizons graduates to high-impact positions that capitalize on their unique exposure and expertise.