The US Air Force major general in charge of the service's portion of the Quadrennial Defense Review said the service should avoid focusing too much on one technology, such as UAVs. (Northrop Grumman)
WASHINGTON — The man in charge of a major US Air Force review warned an audience Tuesday that the service needs to rethink long-held strategies in order to maintain air dominance in the coming decade.
“In my humble opinion, there is tremendous room for maneuver here as far as being creative and being innovative,” Maj. Gen. Steven Kwast said during an event at the Center Strategic and International Studies.
“We, as people who are here defending this nation, need to be very creative about going back and questioning our assumptions. Are we doing it this way because it’s worked for the last 70 years and we think it is going to work again, or is there a new approach that might achieve the same results better, cheaper, faster?”
Kwast is in charge of the Air Force portion of the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), a congressionally mandated look at Pentagon strategy that cuts across the entirety all of the Defense Department. The first QDR was released in 1997, followed by reviews in 2001, 2006 and 2010. The next review will be released in 2014.
“From an Air Force perspective, this QDR is an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to ask those fundamental questions,” Kwast said. “Our world has changed, and I’m not sure we have done a good job considering how it has changed and what it means for what we’re building.”
With the Strategic Choices and Management Review (SCMR) finally complete, Kwast said, his team is waiting for Pentagon leadership to deliver the terms of reference and schedule before diving full bore into the QDR.
Although SCMR “did not deliver everything that everybody might have wanted it to deliver,” Kwast said, the review did provide important insights on the “new world that we’re living in” that will help the QDR.
Kwast later told reporters he hopes to get the terms of reference sometime “any week now,” but that date is not set. “I think we’re on the cusp of it. SCMR is winding down, so the next step is QDR,” he added.
Everything is on the table, Kwast added, but warned that dramatic changes are not likely.
“It is important to keep a sense of balance…To knee-jerk react to one extreme has never been a prudent path in this kind of business,” Kwast said. “It can work at IBM or other places — it can sometimes work and you’re either a hero or a zero. But in this business you do not want to be reckless and take a gamble where you can fail fast. You have to be prudent, slow and methodical.”
“So it begs the criticism — you are not being innovative enough, you are not being visionary enough,” he added.
Kwast threw cold water on the idea that the service should be moving primarily toward unmanned systems.
“We have to take a look at where technology is at, at the facts, not necessarily our love affair with a certain idea, or the Buck Rogers you see in the movies,” Kwast said. “This is a sober stare straight into the eye of science and technology of what’s practical, of what’s ready, and making sure that we do not take any steps to grab onto a branch of the future that is insufficient before we let go of the branch of today.”
The general also indicated that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, long identified as a service priority, would not be canceled without a presidential order to do so.
“Nothing in this business is all or nothing. So everything is on the table, but it’s about the balance,” Kwast said. “The JSF fits into a very sophisticated concept of operation that is integrated that gives us the ability to do something no enemy can ever do. So everything is on the table, we say, but that JSF plays a critical role in an architecture that keeps us ahead of our enemy.”