Exceptional Release Presents Log Readiness: Preparing Logisticians for Near-Peer Threats
By Capt Christopher McLeod and 1st Lt Susan McLeod
The Air Force can increase readiness to meet emerging Chinese and Russian near-peer threats by adapting its Human Capital Management (HCM) strategy to increase the utilization and development of rated and non-rated officers.
This concept will help better align the Air Force with the National Defense Strategy (NDS) by developing the next generation of Air Planners capable of logistics-first Air Force and Joint operational integration to meet the evolving demands of Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) operations, while simultaneously addressing two critical aspects of pilot readiness and retention: Ops tempo and the availability of white space. To continue aligning readiness with the NDS, the Air Force needs to improve planning processes and skills, and address pilot proficiency and requirements shortfalls. Gone are the days when large operational exercises can neglect the types of kinetic and non-kinetic capabilities that can exist on near-peer battlefields.
To continue aligning readiness with the NDS, the Air Force needs to improve planning processes and skills, and address pilot proficiency and requirements shortfalls. Gone are the days when large operational exercises can neglect the types of kinetic and non-kinetic capabilities that can exist on near-peer battlefields.
Today, we need to develop more robust planning and operational exercising processes that emphasize, first and foremost, logistics-informed (“Logistics First”) planning in A2/AD operations. There are no effective distributed mission or follow-on operations without agile logistics.
Air Force Readiness vs. The Pilot Shortage
The Air Force has shown a need to increase pilot readiness in two ways – first, the Air Force needs their pilots to be proficient enough to meet the demands of the high-end/Fifth Generation fight; and second, the Air Force requires more pilots. The Air Force’s Aircrew Crisis Task Force verified the current pilot shortfall at roughly 2,000 across manned and unmanned aircraft, and the Air Force attacked the issue through a variety of short and long-term initiatives.
One example of a short-term initiative is experimenting with longer dwell times and fewer TDY locations to alleviate unmanageable operations tempos and improve quality of life. Approaches like this have the opposite effect on readiness, limiting quality training opportunities required to gain the proficiency needed to meet war plan readiness requirements.
The Air Force’s emphasis in pilot recruiting is driving the pilot training burden – a $6-$10M investment per pilot across multiple years – which will not equate to combat readiness until a pilot is Combat Mission Ready. It is more cost-effective to invest in Aviation Bonuses and Incentive Pay than to invest in more pilots.
Regardless of the training burden, the Air Force requires continued Fifth Generation pilot training capability and readiness, which requires both white space and significant investments in supporting infrastructure and budgets. The Air Force missed an opportunity to broaden its solution by focusing on HCM more broadly and optimize assets already within its possession. Support officers, used to fill key billets and perform non-flying additional duties, represent a cost-effective and readily available means of creating additional white space and quality of life opportunities for aircrew.
Support officers, used to fill key billets and perform non-flying additional duties, represent a cost-effective and readily available means of creating additional white space and quality of life opportunities for aircrew.
In this discussion, “additional duties” include jobs throughout a wing that are filled by rated officers where said position does not require rated officer-specific skills. For example, Operations Support Squadrons are manned and led by rated officers, drawing them away from flying squadrons when there are support officers with ample capability to lead those organizations.
Human Capital Management Solution
Evolve the Air Force HCM strategy to address rated readiness and expanded non-rated support officer’s responsibilities. If the Air Force shifts its investment to the human capital of its support and non-rated officers, flying squadrons can operate at a higher operational tempo, increase readiness, and sustain retention rates needed to support the National Defense Strategy. By utilizing foresight and evolving the career-field development requirements of rated and non-rated officers, pilots will be able to operate at the squadron-level longer to gain proficiency and experience, increasing white space and improving quality of life, while non-rated officers can build the skills necessary to improve planning and logistics integration in high-end fights.
By utilizing foresight and evolving the career-field development requirements of rated and non-rated officers, pilots will be able to operate at the squadron-level longer to gain proficiency and experience, increasing white space and improving quality of life, while non-rated officers can build the skills necessary to improve planning and logistics integration in high-end fights.
Simply put, evolving the antiquated ideology from focusing on the rated officer’s “universal leadership badge” to the idea that all officers have the capacity to lead Air Force organizations is paramount. In the era of Fifth Generation readiness, employing our combat support officers will contribute directly to bridging our readiness gaps.
Shifting the Readiness Culture
Now to switch focus to our logisticians specifically and provide examples of how HCM can be better applied to support officer career fields. This cultural shift will drive development of the next generation logistician with the human capital investment needed to operate and integrate at a higher level.
This cultural shift will drive development of the next generation logistician with the human capital investment needed to operate and integrate at a higher level.
The fundamental concepts of HCM are the relationships between education, training, productivity, and incentives. By changing the focus from pilot training / retention / bonuses etc. to readiness, and investing in the human capital of support/non-rated officers, the Air Force has the opportunity to redesign support officer roles that address readiness and critical logistics integration shortfalls.
A large concern lies in the current Air Force HCM approach for logisticians. In 2008, the Logistics Human Capital Strategy identified four workforce categories: Life Cycle Logistics, Maintenance Support, Deployment/Distribution & Transportation, and Supply Management. Additionally, the strategy broke out three levels of focus in education: I (present outlook), T (3-10-year outlook), and E (Enterprise/10-100-year outlook). Integrating the NDS to this tactical level intent and direction has been lost in translation, as we have trained and socialized logisticians to depend on ‘on-the-job’ training.
The training gaps in tactical and operational employment are further amplified by shredding out our three primary functions (21R, 21A, and 21M). With an increased focus in HCM, logisticians can start to fill the gaps in education and evolve logistics strategy to better answer the problem sets in A2/AD operations. Modern electronic, aeronautical, and space-based warfare demands that logistics be in front of operations.
Modern electronic, aeronautical, and space-based warfare demands that logistics be in front of operations.
Private industry companies like Amazon figured this out a long-time ago — logistics and process engineering determine success, operations are the execution of a package making it to your front door on time.
Developing and Training Logisticians for the Fight
The logistician’s Air Force Specialty Code (AFSC) training and development system is not currently designed to meet these needs. The evolution of Air Force Logistics Strategy starts with focusing on extensive initial formal training to create multi-faceted logisticians focused on Agile Combat Logistics across the tactical level. Advanced education already exists in the logistics community but its focus is misplaced and its current curriculum is taught too late in a career.
For example, if the Air Force moved the Advanced Sortie Production Course (ASPC) curriculum to a lower level and earlier on in a logistician’s career (specifically AMOC) then HCM through education, training, and productivity would overhaul the logistics community – that tactical training would instantly translate into Air Force combat capability as younger Company Grade Officers (CGOs) would operate at a standardized I level imparting Combat Support tactics earlier than if they relied on the current on-the-job training. Add a few other concepts like data analytics and a mature First Lieutenant will actually be ready to lead an organization, think critically, and be capable to assume operational risk to promote a logistics push vs. pull mentality required in new concepts like Agile Combat Employment (ACE) and other A2/AD operations.
Add a few other concepts like data analytics and a mature First Lieutenant will actually be ready to lead an organization, think critically, and be capable to assume operational risk to promote a logistics push vs. pull mentality required in new concepts like Agile Combat Employment (ACE) and other A2/AD operations.
This would directly feed wings and squadrons with the ability to integrate logisticians into tactical and operational planning roles clearing white space for rated officers. The Air Force would increase the education level of our entry-level CGOs, which in turn provides the development space needed by our advanced education programs to grow and evolve their curriculum into something that provides big L logistics learning.
Examples of this would be: applying lessons learned from disaster relief to A2/AD warfare in order to find ways to solve operating logistics in that environment and Joint logistics integration in contingency operations. Said another way, the Air Force would be able to provide a T level of education across a younger logistics audience, originally requiring a more knowledgeable workforce to apply logistics concepts that actively work towards NDS objectives.
Examples include – joint planning and logistics, contracting and acquisition solutions, and how to utilize partner nations to solve the network of redundancies required to be successful in contested environments (i.e. Mesh Network Logistics and the Joint Logistics Enterprise).
Future Logistics Concepts
During the 2019 DoD Maintenance Symposium, 30 DoD and private industry officials called out multiple familiar concepts: the most reinforced being, the need for joint communication and teamwork to apply “new” logistics solutions like condition-based maintenance plus, additive manufacturing, and joint utilization of Organic Industrial Bases. But Air Force logisticians lack the infrastructure to learn how to interact at a joint level until too late in their career. This is a problem we can solve.
Logistics represents a powerful capability in Phase Zero (NDS ‘Competition’) operations, to prepare the global playing field for more contested environments like A2/AD operations, which rely exclusively on logistics generation and support to counter near-peer capabilities. Logisticians trained under this new construct provide ample experience and value to concepts like the Multi-Domain Command and Control (MDC2) structure, an initiative from General David L. Goldfein to adapt operational concepts through advanced technologies across multiple domains. MDC2 requires T and E level logisticians capable in each of their respective domains to provide the logistics for new operational capabilities, primarily because logistics is the common thread that bridges all domains.
This is even more crucial in Fifth Generation applications as new Aircraft Mission-Design Series aircraft like the F-35 are building their operational capabilities. General Goldfein emphasizes, “If [China or Russia] ever do see an F-35…it will never be alone. It will be part of a penetrating joint team. And in the “we’re here” message, the message is we’re here in space, we’ve been here for a while, we’ve been watching you, we know what’s going on, and we have already penetrated whatever defenses you think you have.”
Logistics needs to be in the forefront of support and sustainability deliberations across all organizational levels but much more on the tactical level where execution takes place. Major General Stacey T. Hawkins, AFMC Director of Logistics, Civil Engineering, Force Protection, and Nuclear Integration stated “we need to train our logisticians like we train our operators.” This concept of capitalizing on the Human Capital of our support officers takes the Air Force one step closer to that vision.
Major General Stacey T. Hawkins, AFMC Director of Logistics, Civil Engineering, Force Protection, and Nuclear Integration stated “we need to train our logisticians like we train our operators.” This concept of capitalizing on the Human Capital of our support officers takes the Air Force one step closer to that vision.
Squadron and wing-level integration, and the introduction of joint planning certification courses for CGOs can provide the skills necessary to alleviate non-readiness burdens for rated officers and build the expertise required for Multi-Domain mission success. The integration of these full-spectrum Airmen Planners into strategic planning and exercise programs will also drive the programmatic changes needed to achieve the required capabilities.
This is a key point that the Air Force must recognize in order to fully support the Joint community and meet the current expectations that Combatant Commanders have of current and future operational plans.
By developing logisticians that think big L logistics, the Air Force can start to move from best practices to developing and implementing the next practices. The Air Force knows that we need to exploit technological shifts in order to operate at the speed of relevance, and the tactical and operational level leaders are the people most suited to do this.
This ideology focuses on changing the culture of our support CGOs in order to operationally and strategically plan – the way rated officers are molded – to work in the unfamiliar, address immediate and long-term readiness, answer retention and capability shortfalls, as well as lay the foundation for a 20-year investment shift in the makeup of the next generation of the Air Force’s senior leaders. Captains and Majors are the real forces for change in our Air Force, while senior leader buy-in and support is a must, our Captains and Majors are the people that will apply this change culturally.
Captains and Majors are the real forces for change in our Air Force, while senior leader buy-in and support is a must, our Captains and Majors are the people that will apply this change culturally.
When the Air Force applies cultural change from the bottom up, they’ll have invested and grown the capability, and built the culture and climate needed to succeed against our most capable future adversaries.
About the Authors
Captain Christopher McLeod and 1st Lt Susan McLeod are both Aircraft Maintenance Officer stationed at Hill AFB. Chris is currently serving as a Career Broadening Officer in the Ogden Air Logistics Complex’s Logistics Career Broadening Program. Susan is the Officer-in-Charge of the 34th Aircraft Maintenance Unit, currently deployed to Al Dhafra Air Base in support of OPERATIONs INHERENT RESOLVE, ENDURING FREEDOM, and the Combined Defense of the Arabian Gulf mission. Chris graduated from the University of New Mexico in 2014, and in 2017 earned an Organizational Leadership Masters Degree from American Military University. Susan graduated with her bachelor of science in Biology from the Air Force Academy in 2016, and in 2019 graduated with her masters from Arizona State University in Sociology.
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Featured photo courtesy of US Air Force/ Nial Bradshaw