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Driving Change In The Presentation And Employment Of Airpower

  • Published
  • By Dr. Sandeep “FRAG” Mulgund, Ph.D



In recent remarks the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, Gen C.Q. Brown, has identified a set of imperatives for the Air Force to address to meet the challenges presented by aggressive competitors, limited resources, and accelerating technological advances.[1] This article provides an overview of those imperatives, identifies the linkages between them, and describes the synchronized approach the Air Force will take to their rapid, iterative implementation. Their successful implementation will drive the capability that the Air Force presents to and integrates with the joint force to assure allies and partners, deter aggression, and prevail in conflict.

CSAF’s drivers for change

Figure 1 presents the six drivers for change that the CSAF has discussed: The Air Force Force Generation Model (AFFORGEN), agile combat employment (ACE), mission command, Wing A-Staff construct, multi-capable airmen (MCA), and integrated by design (IbD). At the highest level, AFFORGEN organizes the force into teams of MCA whose commanders are supported by a Wing A-Staff. Empowered by mission command, forces are trained and certified to conduct ACE and integrated by design with allies and partners. Together, these elements will enable the development and employment of a force that is prepared to meet the challenges posed by the rapidly evolving global security environment. Each is described further below.


Figure 1: CSAF’s drivers for change

Air Force Force Generation Model

 AFFORGEN is the Air Force's sustainable, capacity-driven model for presenting forces to Joint Force Commanders (JFCs). AFFORGEN's intent is to enable operational preparedness and readiness recovery to compete with peer competitors, while clearly focusing Air Force efforts on a predictable and sustainable force offering. All MAJCOMs will align their forces into the AFFORGEN model. AFFORGEN replaces the current air expeditionary force construct with a 24-month cycle consisting of four, six-month readiness phases:[2]

  • Reset (for reintegration and reconstitution)
  • Prepare (for training towards peak readiness)
  • Ready (for certification to meet specified requirements)
  • Available to Commit (for deployment in support of combatant commander requirements)

Airmen and resources start the cycle with six months in the Reset phase, then move into the Prepare phase, and so on. Under AFFORGEN, the Air Force presents standardized force elements (FEs) to offer well-defined and standardized operational capability to the joint force. A key element of the model is that Airmen train together at home station and then work together as the same team when deployed into theater. AFFORGEN balances trade-offs between short and long-term elements of readiness for the Air Force such as modernization, stabilizing manning, resourcing units to sustain higher levels of readiness and better informing resourcing/budgeting decisions.

Agile combat employment (ACE)

The Air Force is using the term ACE to describe a way of operating that relies less on large traditional main overseas bases as hubs for projecting combat power and more on launching, recovering, and maintaining aircraft from dispersed forward operating locations in concert with allies and partners. The motivation for ACE is twofold: 

  • Rapid adversarial advances in reconnaissance and weapons capabilities that can hold at risk those bases that have traditionally been considered sanctuaries.
  • A reduction in the global footprint of overseas bases - from 93 air bases during World War II, the Air Force presently maintains 33 permanent overseas air bases. This reduction challenges the Air Force’s ability to project power while concentrating friendly high-value assets for potential adversary action.[3]

ACE shifts operations from centralized physical infrastructures to a network of smaller, dispersed locations that can complicate adversary planning, improve resilience, and provide more options for joint force commanders. Aircraft are most vulnerable on the ground, and ACE offers the potential to mitigate combat losses through the use of dispersal. The potential benefits that ACE provides for projecting combat power in contested environments come with challenges for the command and control and logistical support of dispersed forces in circumstances where communications are likely to be disrupted and airfields subject to persistent attack.[4] A global effort is underway across the Air Force to operationalize the ACE concept across combat air forces (CAF), mobility air forces (MAF), strategic bomber forces (SBF), and aviation special operations forces (SOF).[5] The goal of this effort is to develop and implement a strategy to organize, train, and equip the force to conduct ACE worldwide in support of deterrence, crisis response, or operations plan (OPLAN) execution in coordination with joint and partner nation forces.

Mission command

Air Force Doctrine Publication (AFDP) 1 formally establishes mission command as the philosophy for the command and control (C2) of airpower, to be implemented through centralized command (CC), distributed control (DC), and decentralized execution (DE).[6] It is an evolution of the long-standing airpower tenet of centralized control and decentralized execution (CCDE).[7] At its core, mission command is a leadership philosophy that empowers subordinate decision-making for flexibility, initiative, and responsiveness in the accomplishment of commander’s intent. Its intent is to provide Airmen operating in environments of high uncertainty, complexity, and change with the freedom of action needed to exploit rapidly developing opportunities and succeed. The vision is to do so by:

  • Concentrating the responsibility and authority for deciding, directing, and approving military operations through centralized command.
  • Enabling delegation of planning, coordination, and assessment activities to dispersed locations or subordinate echelons as appropriate and feasible through distributed control.[8]
  • Fostering disciplined initiative and effective span of control at the tactical level through decentralized execution. 

Mission command is not new, nor is it new to the Air Force; however, successful execution of CC-DC-DE requires leadership at all levels to take its principles to heart and apply them to across all facets of airpower. Airmen must be empowered in peace and stability if they are to seize the initiative in conflict and crisis.

Wing A-staff 

At CORONA Fall in 2021, the CSAF approved a re-design of the wing headquarters that adds a functional staff to the existing wing staff. Rather than a garrison structure that reacts to crisis, the intent is to establish an organizational structure that is ready for crises before they occur. The A-Staff supports the commander with rapid decision-making, maximizes responsiveness in crisis, and eases joint integration with a structure that will be familiar to other elements of the joint force. Empowered for action in support of commander’s intent, A-Staff coordinates and integrates inputs, synthesizes information into decision-level knowledge, and acts as a cohesive team that establishes and maintains relationships both within and outside the wing. Air Combat Command (ACC) has been working aggressively to establish how best to organize its units to be ready for any crisis before the crisis occurs; that effort is now expanding to the Air Force as a whole. The redesigned wing headquarters will:

  • Promote interoperability of wing command and control functions with numbered air force (NAF), MAJCOM, and component headquarters.
  • Improve the execution of operational and administrative responsibilities for assigned and attached forces.
  • Increase synchronization for crisis and contested conditions via a “train as you fight” approach.
  • Better align with joint partners who already use similarly organized headquarters while promoting professional development of staff assigned to key A-Staff positions. 

Multi-capable airmen

MCA are trained in advanced readiness skills outside their core Air Force Specialty Code (AFSC) in mission generation, command and control, and base operating support (i.e., airfield operations) in austere and challenging contested environments. They represent a mindset and cultural shift away from traditional, large force packages of highly specialized teams towards smaller-footprint, multidisciplinary teams able to provide combat support with the skills and resources at hand. The use of MCAs can reduce the number of people who must be put in harm’s way to generate airpower relative to traditional manning models. A smaller team relying on prepositioned equipment and supplies can be more agile and responsive than a

large, traditionally structured team when shifting operations from one location to another. Ongoing MCA efforts focus on practical standardization and application across the full range of airpower generation and employment requirements without cumbersome, overly prescriptive formal training requirements. MCA development builds upon the new Ready Airman Training framework that will provide the essential foundation for the MCA mindset and approach. Balancing risk acceptance and standardization will be key to success.[9]

Integrated by design (IbD)

In other remarks the CSAF has identified a sixth focus area for change that emphasizes the criticality of allies and partners – integrated by design.[10] The intent of IbD is to expand cooperation in defining threats, sharing information, and using airpower. It will drive collaborative decisions with allies and partners on interoperability requirements, resource investment, information-sharing, force development, and overarching strategy from the beginning of any endeavor. Traditional security cooperation has relied on foreign military sales or direct commercial sales fueled by fully-developed U.S. capabilities driven by our requirements; IbD embraces bringing partners into capability development process as early as possible, aligning interests, and promoting program co-ownership of future programs in the interest of cost-sharing and foundational strategic ties. It requires global fluency built into every Air Force schoolhouse, as early as when Airmen first enter service and continuously throughout their careers.

Connecting the elements

While there are many threads that link the six drivers for change, we can begin connecting them through the attributes of the fighting force that the Air Force will provide as depicted earlier in Figure 1:

  • Flexible: Able to employ multiple ways to succeed and to move seamlessly between them[11]
  • Interoperable: Able to work together coherently, effectively, and efficiently to achieve tactical, operational, and strategic objectives[12]
  • Ready: Able to fight and meet the demands of assigned missions
  • Resilient: Able to recover from or adjust to misfortune, damage, or a destabilizing event
  • Responsive: Able to react to a change in the environment in a timely manner

The six imperatives relate to each other through these attributes as follows:

Readiness through AFFORGEN and Wing A-Staff: AFFORGEN focuses on establishing a sustainable force offering to the joint force through a more predictable two-year cycle than has been the case with rotational deployments primarily to the CENTCOM area of responsibility. Its key focus is to establish discipline in the presentation and use of airpower, ensuring that commanders understand the readiness implications when selecting units to deploy. That “macro” view of readiness is complemented by a more “micro” view of the preparedness of a force element to be ready to support a response to a crisis when it receives the order to do so. The Wing A-Staff construct promotes a “train as you fight” approach that requires no reconfiguration or modification of roles and responsibilities upon deployment, which allows the wing HQ staff to operate together before crisis. 

Flexibility and resilience through ACE and MCA: Key to ACE is the use of dispersal to improve airpower survivability and resilience in a contested environment through a greater set of options – flexibility - on where to launch and recover aircraft. The more options there are for how we project airpower, the greater the potential cost to an adversary’s ISR and strike assets to counter all of them. In addition to reducing the footprint for distributed operations, MCA provide a mechanism for greater resilience – the more Airmen that are cross-functionally trained on different combat support responsibilities, the better they will be able to continue operations amid losses against peer adversaries in contested environments.

Interoperability through IbD and ACE: While ACE may be viewed cynically a U.S.-only solution to a U.S. Air Force challenge, nothing could be further from the truth. ACE will improve the survivability and resilience of coalition airpower as a whole, by providing more options for power projection and aircraft recovery to all participating partner nations. Further, it raises the political and strategic costs to an adversary – to effectively counter coalition airpower may require them to conduct concurrent strikes on many sovereign nations. To make ACE integrated by design will entail development of common support equipment, interoperable procedures, access, basing, and overflight (ABO) agreements, and smartly crafted policies that enable partner nation forces to work together effectively when executing ACE schemes of maneuver. It will require careful consideration of how to best support common capabilities used by a coalition as well as how to best leverage partner-unique capabilities against an adversary. 

Responsiveness through mission command and Wing A-Staff: Mission command and Wing A-Staff address two different aspects of how to improve responsiveness of a force supporting the response to a crisis. The framework outlined in AFDP-1 on mission command emphasizes the delegation of planning and coordination activities to dispersed locations or subordinate echelons to achieve effective span of control and to seize the initiative; it is a philosophy focused on empowerment and trust. A-Staff is the other side of the coin – an organizational structure established in garrison with the right roles and responsibilities, authorities, and communication pathways to translate rapidly to crisis without missing a beat, and to integrate with joint/coalition forces using similar structures.

A synchronized approach

The implementation of AFFORGEN, MCA, ACE, mission command, Wing A-Staff, and IbD will co-evolve iteratively and be subject to continuous mutual reinforcement. Specifically:

  • AFFORGEN FE composition will evolve to reflect implementation of Wing A-Staff and availability of MCA at scale. Force element training and certification through the Reset, Prepare, and Ready phases will reflect ACE requirements to prevail against peer adversaries in contested environments.
  • Mission command will be a core principle of how Wing A Staffs convey commander’s intent in executing schemes of maneuver such as ACE.
  • Continued ACE experimentation in concert with allies and partners will be a key element of IbD, to present an integrated force posture that supports assurance and deterrence.

 Key questions to be resolved include:

  • The extent of standardization necessary in Wing A Staff implementation across the entirety of the Air Force
  • How to translate the philosophy of mission command into a practical approach to the command and control of forces
  • Necessary skillsets and manning levels for distributed/dispersed operations
  • ACE training and certification within the AFFORGEN construct

Ongoing efforts will more precisely define how and when these efforts will come together as the Air Force works to meet the challenges of the National Defense Strategy. Airmen at all echelons and all corners of the Air Force have a role to play in the success of these efforts – in defining new capability requirements, innovating new tactics, techniques, and procedures, overcoming policy limitations that inhibit interoperability with allies and partners, embracing mission command, and many more. It is through these combined efforts that we will present a force that prevails in any challenge that the threat environment may present.


Sandeep "FRAG" Mulgund, PhD
Dr. Mulgund (BASC, University of Toronto; PhD, Princeton University) is a highly qualified expert senior advisor to the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations (AF/A3). He is leading the A3’s efforts to evolve air component approaches to operational-level planning, execution, and assessment to more effectively incorporate operations in the information environment as part of the Air Force’s overall approaches for joint all-domain operations.



[1.] John A. Tirpak, “Brown’s 5 Big Steps to Transforming His Air Force” Air & Space Forces Magazine, ; “Air Force Chief Touts ‘Integrated by Design’ as Competitive Edge” Fedweek, 28 July 2022.

[2.] “New Force Generation model builds high-end readiness, sustainability for Joint Force,” United States Air Force, August 05, 2021,

[4.] Sandeep Mulgund, “Command and Control for Agile Combat Employment”, Wild Blue Yonder, 30 August 2021.

[5.] “Air Force operationalizes ACE concept, addresses today’s changing threat environment,” United States Air Force, June 23, 2022,

[6.] Air Force Doctrine Publication 1, The Air Force, March 2021.

[7.] Joint Publication 3-30, Joint Air Operations, July 2019.

[8.] Gilmary M. Hostage III and Larry R. Broadwell, Jr., “Resilient Command and Control: The Need for Distributed Control,” Joint Force Quarterly, 74 (3rd Quarter), 2014, 38-43.

[9.] “Air Force introduces new, foundational Ready Airman Training program,” United States Air Force, October 3, 2022,

[10.] Air Force Chief Touts ‘Integrated by Design’ as Competitive Edge” Fedweek, 28 July 2022.

[11.] David Alberts and Richard Hayes, Power to the Edge: Command, control in the Information age (Washington D.C.: CCRP Publications Series, 2003).

[12.] Joint Publication 3-0, Joint Campaigns and Operations, 2022.

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