(US Air Force)
Since being named the US Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and programs (A8) in October 2012, Lt. Gen. Michael Moeller has helped guide the service through the short-term chaos of a sequestered budget process while planning its long-term strategy. With the 2015 budget submitted, Moeller is turning his thoughts toward a new goal: a 30-year strategy that will provide the backbone of the Air Force’s long-term vision.
Q. Service officials have talked about this budget having risk. Where are the areas with the most risk for you?
A. [Our] biggest risk is unpredictability. If we’re required to return to BCA [Budget Control Act] level as the law of the land, starting in ’16, the levels of uncertainty and risk go way, way up. If we’re allowed to execute the president’s budget through ’19, then I believe there are three mission areas that we’ve got operational risk in.
[One is] ISR, and I would include command and control in that. That would be the JSTARS [Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System] and [airborne early warning and control] capabilities. They do both, but only the US Air Force provides that air command and control.
The second is fighter squadrons, because as we divest the A-10s, what we’ll see is that we’re building up to F-35 replacements, but there is some risk in there as we grow back.
The third is in bombers. We don’t have enough bombers in the fleet to meet all of the requirements; same with fighter squadrons. The capacity is our risk. As we get smaller to get more capable and then build back up, that is probably the risk.
Q. Is there a period you’re particularly concerned with having the most risk?
A. We tried very hard, and I think were fairly successful, at making sure that as we drew down certain capabilities, we saw [others] build up. A good example: As we looked at the tanker fleet — the KC-135s, KC-10s and KC-46As — if [we were] going back to BCA levels, we were forced to divest the KC-10; what you would see is the ramp of KC-10s decrease as 46As come onto the ramp. There is going to be a gap, and it depends on the mission area on where that’s going to be.
Q. Do you have plans laid out for what happens if Congress refuses to allow the service to divest the A-10 or U-2?
A. We do planning. That’s what we do. Right now, our plan is integrated. There are a number of options that we could show. We can go here, we can go here, we can go here, but in the end, each one of these takes us off of our flight plan to 2023, and we can in fact show what the impacts are going to be. We laid everything out on the table. [Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh] and [Secretary Deborah Lee James] in the end, along with all the other senior leaders, made coherent choices in this plan, and if you start picking and choosing, we’ll show you what it does to us, because we looked at the exact same thing.
Q. Officials have been warning of a coming “bow wave” for procurement outside this future years defense program. Was that part of the decision to push to recapitalize JSTARS, T-X and the combat rescue helicopter (CRH)?
A. Once we took a look at the 10-year plan, you could see the bow wave. And making those decisions on sequencing now really makes sense. We found by doing those three key things with CRH, next-gen and T-X that it actually now brings the bow wave down.
When you combine it with some of the initiatives that we’ve got in, that we uncovered in Air Force 2023, there are some interesting initiatives that are not quite ready for public consumption. But we found we actually can count on some savings in the mid-2020s. Now we’re starting to bring it down a little bit more. We’re getting closer to having an affordable 2025-2035 force. Still some tough decisions but that longer look drives you to make different decisions than short-term “we’ve got to have it now” force.
Q. What initiatives are you looking at?
A. As an example, we’ve approached what an Air Force base looks like since our inception in the same way. It’s an enclosed, complete community. Are there opportunities where we could look at some bases in different communities differently? For example, put a fence around the flight line area, and with the shared community, shared fitness centers, shared community center with the locals, with the city and with shared infrastructure costs — water, electric, all that — can we generate savings, and are there communities that would actually welcome that? The answer is, of course. We’ve never really taken a comprehensive, in-depth look at that.
Q. Welsh has reorganized the Air Staff, splitting operations, plans and requirements (A3/5) and moving some of that into your directorate. How will that work?
A. The standup of the A5/8 is designed to oversee the new strategic planning process, which the chief calls 30-20-10. It takes these pockets of strategic planners, consolidates them in a single organization and focuses on the long range. In the A8, we look at the long range, but more often than not we’re focused on the day-to-day battles of building and advocating and defending the POM [program objective memorandum]. The idea with the A5/8 is to look out 30 years, build a strategy that’s a call to the future that provides hooks for our external partners to come along with, or marks on the wall on where our focus areas might be.
Q. Welsh has also asked you to prepare a 30-year strategy, due in June, as well as a 20-year and 10-year look. What can we expect from those reports?
A. It is a call to the future and it will be visionary. But it’s also grounded in reality. I’m convinced that’s why the chief picked 30 years, because 10 years is too short. You can’t have a transformational Air Force at 10 years. Thirty years, you can set the framework for a transformational Air Force with the key focus areas and the overarching guidance.
Then the next step is a 20-year master plan that captures that and all the series of flight plans. We have ISR flight plans, we have force development flight plans, but they’re not nested under a single master plan that looks out 20 years that is resource-informed. The key difference in the 30-20-10 plan is that the 20-year is the first strategic planning area where we are resource-informed.
Then the final piece, which is truly unique, is that for the 10-year, we’re going to take a 10-year look with an integrated planning force that is resource-constrained. It will be balanced. And then, that 10-year planning force, the first five years is our POM. We’re going to turn the corner on the 10-year plan. We’ll take all the fact-of-life changes. We’ll take any congressional constraints and the latest fiscal guidance from the Office of the Secretary of Defense and apply that. If we get after the 10-year balanced force that’s tied to the 20- and 30-year look, we actually can show progress or lack of progress that we’re making and how changes affect our plan along the way.
Q. How could that impact acquisition strategy?
A. This is an example only. One of the focus areas could be hypersonics or nanotechnology or greater autonomous operations. In the strategy, if you talk about strategic agility and our focus areas in the broad sense from a 30-year perspective, it’s very helpful for our industry partners. Rather than pulling them along in an annual series of five-year plans, we’ve actually got a long-range, eight-lane highway out there, where they can show us how they can help. So that’s the concept for the 30 years.
Q. How do you accommodate major changes, like the recent Ukraine situation, in a long-term strategy?
A. For the first time, we did an airpower-specific strategic assessment as part of our Air Force 2023 activities. It also included the force development requirements from a personnel perspective to handle a broad range of strategic challenges, knowing that you can’t get them all. And it included a global posture and presence requirement in order to get into these new contested environments or areas. So we took a global perspective. It’s not going to cover all of these strategic threats, but I think we picked it wide enough and went to the high end, knowing that if we have the capability against these high-end threats, if a threat comes along that’s lower in the spectrum, we can still handle that.
Q. It looks like the budget is forcing more joint operations between the services. Should we expect planning to reflect that?
A. I would say that we are going to take jointness and magnify the effects and strengths of the other services to a different level. Rather than what we’ve seen in the past, where we actually contract and go to our core missions, there are cases where, you know, the Air Force relies on Navy and in some cases Army and Marine Corps capabilities, just as they rely on us for certain mission requirements.
A good example of where we spend a lot of time talking with other services to make sure that we didn’t do something that hurt them: One of the key requirements of the US Army is that as they change, as they transform, their reliance on strategic lift goes up. Which means that we make sure that we protect the strategic-lift requirements so that we can provide the global reach that specifically the US Army needs. We made sure we didn’t accidentally decrement a critical capability for another service, or create a gap. ■
By Aaron Mehta in Washington.