Air Force outlines strategic plan

Times Staff Writer

The Air Force’s top officer on Thursday presented a new strategic plan for the service that warns the U.S. cannot ignore “ascendant powers” seeking to challenge American military superiority as it fights low-intensity wars elsewhere.

In his new plan, Gen. T. Michael Moseley, the Air Force chief of staff, did not name specific countries as potential challengers. But at a formal presentation, Moseley singled out military spending in Russia and China, noting both are rising at a rapid clip.

Air Force officials said the new strategic plan, an 11-page “white paper,” was the first since the early 1990s. It was presented at the Air University, the Air Force’s premier war college.


“Ascendant powers -- flush with new wealth and hungry for resources and status -- are posturing to contest U.S. superiority,” the plan states. “These adaptive competitors are translating lessons from recent conflicts into new war-fighting concepts and doctrines specifically designed to counter U.S. strengths and exploit vulnerabilities.”

In an interview, Moseley insisted he did not intend the new paper as an argument for shifting resources toward more conventional weapons systems, such as more F-22 fighters, that could be used against nation-state adversaries.

He said the plan also cites a wide range of unconventional threats facing the U.S. in the future, pointing to a list that highlights both violent extremism and the rise of terrorist and criminal organizations as key challenges.

“I think you have to deal with all of the above,” Moseley said. “I think you have to be prepared to offer the president in our world sovereign options across a full spectrum, from humanitarian assistance all the way out to nuclear deterrence.”

At the same time, Moseley argued in his Air University speech that some U.S. officials have ignored the importance of securing the skies, lulled into a false sense of security because recent conflicts have not involved air-to-air combat.

“It is an interesting assumption in the world of Washington right now that the dominating piece of the air domain, air superiority, is somehow a given, is somehow a birthright,” Moseley told the crowd of more than 1,200 military personnel, most of them Air Force officers.


The new strategic plan, released at the midpoint of Moseley’s four-year term as Air Force chief of staff, comes as the entire U.S. military engages in an increasingly intense internal debate over how it should be structured when the war in Iraq comes to an end.

Several senior officials, including Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, have argued that the U.S. is likely to fight similar guerrilla-type enemies in the future and should weight its new organizations and funding toward irregular warfare and counterinsurgency priorities.

At the same time, other officials, concerned about the rise of China and the renewed militancy of Russia under President Vladimir V. Putin, have warned against investing and training too heavily in low-grade warfare skills, concerned that more traditional war capabilities are eroding.

In the interview, Moseley said he believes the Pentagon should continue focusing on counterinsurgency missions. But he said the military cannot afford to ignore other, more conventional contingencies.

“I believe the probability of having to fight nation-state to nation-state is low, [but] I think there’s 100% probability we will have to fight their equipment,” he said, noting that many of the sophisticated air defense systems and fighter planes being produced by China and Russia are being bought by militaries throughout the world.

The strategic plan is even more explicit. It argues that an overemphasis on planning for wars like current conflicts could open up the U.S. military to an unwanted surprise.


“We should not assume that future conflicts will resemble the current fight in Iraq or Afghanistan -- lest we lose the ability to project global power [and] deter nation-states,” the paper says.