Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Note from AFA President -- Words Matter

AFA members, Congressional staff members, civic leaders, DOCA members,

Last month a senior AF leader used terms to describe forward-based forces and those not forward. The terms he used were “expeditionary” forces and “garrisoned” forces. The terms are commonly used … but they made me stop and think. Are B-2s at Whiteman AFB expeditionary? Are they in garrison? They can certainly reach out almost anywhere on the planet and achieve strategic effects. How about the ICBMs at FE Warren AFB? Or the space squadron at Peterson AFB? Or the MQ-9 squadron flying Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) in Iraq from Creech AFB? What about the F-16 squadron at Kunsan AB – it fights from “garrison” … but is it expeditionary?

It seems to me that Airpower transcends these land-based, historical terms.

I asked a former boss and mentor of mine what he thought … and his very good answer is below. Like him, I am not fired up about his suggested alternatives in the last paragraph.

Perhaps one of you could come up with a better description of Airpower than either of us. Think about it and let me hear from you.

For your consideration.


Michael M. Dunn
Air Force Association

In our strategy program, we include discussion of a set of Cardinal Rules, one of which is Focus on the Future. A part of Focus on the Future and simultaneously an illustration of it is the idea of changing labels and vocabulary if you want people to do something different in the future than they are doing now. So as an example (which we have discussed a little in the past), if you want people to think in new ways about Airpower, you avoid ancient and anachronistic words like “battle” and its off-shoots such as “preparing the battle-field.” “Warrior” also fits into this category. These kinds of words have such strong connotations and produce such evocative images, that they create a big barrier to people understanding that Airpower is not mechanism for fighting, but rather one for winning through creation of system change. [Emphasis added.]

The above was really a long-winded way of saying that I agree fully with your concern over the use of “garrisoned and expeditionary forces.” Both inevitably drag the listener (or reader) back to the American Indian wars and to our allies into Central America (nothing wrong with either, but not quite our problem today.) Identifying the problem is step one with step two being finding new terms—not to replace the old, but to capture an image of a desired future (Airpower accomplishing something that ancient garrisons and expeditions could not accomplish). [Emphasis added.]

It seems to me that the first conceptual idea is that with Airpower, we don’t need foreign garrisons (which is also a very defensive-sounding word) or clunky expeditions (at least in theory and in the future that will be controlled by the current budget deliberations). Ideally, with Airpower we impose solutions on an opponent in a very short time period with little or no residual effects (manpower on the ground, barbed wire, political entanglements). A “power projecting” air force would be a big improvement, but it is not very catchy and has become a bit overused. “Power projection,” “garrisoning” and “expedition-ing” are all means as opposed to ends. How to capture the ends, the result of the means, and to do it with evocative words that need little explanation, is the challenge. (A little differentiation from our joint friends also wouldn’t hurt.) The following are some possibilities:

The Impact Air Force; untethered impact force; the discriminate effects force; the precision effects force; the dominator (perhaps a bit over the top); the global reach/global effects force; the global impact force; the distant impact force; or perhaps the rectifiers. I am not sure that I am overwhelmed by any of these but they do suggest some alternatives. I’ll keep thinking about it; as you have rightly suggested, it is not a trivial issue. Words count!


Anonymous said...

Engish words sometimes convey rather bland meanings. The French are known for rather loquatious concepts. Perhaps, words that are derived from that dialect.

Anonymous said...

Interesting concept, but I think I disagree. After living in very non-military communities for the last thirteen years, it seems to me that one of the major problems the Air Force faces is that the non-military American public genuinely doesn't understand the AF mission, and therefore thinks of the AF as relatively unimportant in the grand scheme of national defense. Changing the language, I believe, would further exacerbate the problem. Words like warrior, garrison, expeditionary carry emotional weight of meaning and lend credence to the idea of "importance". While garrison and expeditionary certainly don't fully capture the AF mission, they do resonate with the civilians who pay the taxes that ultimately allow the AF to exist and be successful.

JoelFortnerPR said...

Sir, this is a tough one for which I don't have an answer. However, your former boss is hitting all around the target, which is communicating the Air Force's why, not what. The AF does a great job selling it's what, but a poor job with it's why. I'm not convinced this can be captured in a few words that stick, but rather in a total overall of how we communicate, beginning with why. The Air Force is about change and innovation and a better way of doing things. It's the DNA of the service branch. It's our heritage that we live out every day. The country doesn't realize it, but it's what they want and need us to do. Our why is our fight, our focus. We just fail to communicate it effectively. The service cannot be compared on an apples-to-apples basis with the sister services simply because our why is so very different. Perhaps refocusing our communication overall, starting with why, which is amazingly compelling, is the way to approach this, rather than try to summarize it in a few words. From this perspective, a skilled communicator can then articulate everything the service does in a way that moves people, not just informs people.

John said...

Direct Strike Force: Air Cyber Space

The DSF concept implies no intermediary issues (land or sea) but applying compelling force direct to your enemy and be the best at this.

Land Tactical - Army

Sea - Navy and Marines

Anonymous said...

You're right; words matter. As a part of the fledging Air Force Space Command many years ago, I was concerned with the use of the term "Space Superiority" used as synonomous with "Air Superiority". Both terms signify significant expense, and lead to conditions that we may never realistically expect to attain. I favor terms such as "Air/Space Control" implying conditions of control over areas that are important to us. More realistic, affordable, and attainable. Just adding to the discussion.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but this "debate" is nonsense. The result will be "leaders" talking to "leaders," nothing more. The majority of USAF personnel could care less, and the American public even less -- if that is possible.
Just look at leadership's widespread use of terms like "kinetic" when describing war-fighting. It is impossible to find a simple definition of the term that applies to military action in Merriam-Webster. My bet is most USAF personnel cannot define the word.
Another bet is I can find about a dozen terms on almost every page of "Air Force" magazine that most USAF people do not comprehend. That finding applies especially to articles that involve interviews with, or statements by, our leadership.
It is time to stop worrying about trend-setting gobbledygook and start communicating clearly.

PJ Bailey said...

How about 'Direct Combat', 'Indirect Combat', and 'Force Support'.
Direct Combat would be the folks in combat. Indirect combat would be the forces supporting the Direct Combat forces. Force Support would be everyone else in the Air Force.

Anonymous said...

I don't know who coined it, but I recommend the old SAC motto: "A Global Force"

Anonymous said...

Too much garbage. Wherever it is ,it is a Strike Force

Anonymous said...

Hey folks! Quit sounding like a bunch of English teachers in the faculty lounge! Years ago there was a wonderful slogan that said it all, "Air Power is Peace Power." So what, then. is Air Power? When I was young, I learned that Air Power is the Air Force (and Naval Aviation)plus the air transport industry plus the aircraft manufacturing industry. This is so clear and simple that anyone can understand the concept. As an adult, I heard about Mahan who wrote about sea power and defined it as the Navy, merchant shipping, and the ship building industry. That is so true and whoever applied a similar defination to air power was wise indeed. As far as peace is concerned, I'll quote Webster's: "a state of calm and quiet; public security under law; freedom from disturbing thoughts or emotions; a state of concord (as between persons or governments)"
'nuff said, okay!

Nat Mushkin said...

About those Minuteman ICBMs at FE Warren (or Minot,
or Malstrom) -- Since they all come under the Global Strike Command, I think that this should remind us that the terms associated with the weapon systems in that
command might be useful.

In connection with the distinction between means and ends, perhaps "targets" and "sorties" and even "launches" need to be looked at.
"On alert" is a descriptive phrase; as is "Combat Ready."
These are just ones that spring to mind.

Dolores I. said...

When thinking of our Air Force, I think of a "Global Action Force."

wildblue said...

simplicity is key to ease of understanding' why not--- conus based forces with global reach???

wildblue said...

KISS- keep it simple-- why not CONUS based forces with worldwide reach?

Gramps61966 said...

Global Air Interdiction.

gade said...

Your comments leave a stong word picture with me...that of an arrow--silent, straight and true-simply going to it's target.

Dave Houde said...

I think we had this figured out in SAC years ago. Aren't we talking about Global Reach/Global Power?

The terms are used but they haven't been used in a while...we could probably dust 'em off and shine 'em up.

Anonymous said...

IMO, you're overthinking the difference between "garrison" and "expeditionary." Forces "in garrison" are simply those not currently tasked; "expeditionary" forces are those responding to a joint force commander's objectives, i.e., performing a mission or task.

Ed Parker said...

Several problems cause this discussion to go sideways. First, there are no simple words, especially single words, which describe what the Air Force does. Second, use of long phrases or sentences to describe what you do or why you do it will not be used or remembered. KISS certainly applies here. Third, this kind of debate often has an agenda as to who is important. My answer is that the Air Force have a strong and clearly understood mission statement. Then we stick to deceptively simple words like "Intelligence", "Operations", "Planning", etc. Those words mean something to people. There is nothing wrong with "Support." As an AF doctor I was part of the support staff. I knew I had an important job, and I did not need a five-word title or a long sentence to describe what I did. The mission of the Air Force is "To Fly and Fight". That doesn't begin to tell the whole story, but none of us has trouble remembering the phrase. And it does not denigrate what the rest of us do.

Anonymous said...

Homeland Air Force
Air Defence Forces
Air Offence Forces

Satellite Air Force
Air Defence Forces
Air Offence Forces

Satellite Air Force would include all Air Force opperations away from the Homeland, allowing a unified effort to support global needs.


Yasmadog said...

u guys are wound up about Air

John Elliott said...

I prefer "Umbrella" or "Protective Umbrella" allowing all other forces to proceed uninhibited. Without protection from overhead forces and technology, including space assets, all, I repeat all other military forces would be at the mercy of enemy air and space assets.

Anonymous said...

CAVEARI! As in "Call out the Caveari!" CAV'ER EE


MSgt D W Dykes, USAF RET

Scotty said...

If the aim is simply to avoid using Army terms like "garrisoned" and "expeditionary" to describe means, we could use "forward based" and "quickly deployable". To describe ends and missions, though, is a different question. A corollary to KISS is to use terms with which an audience is familiar. How about "long range strike", "air and space defense", "interdiction" and "close air support"? (I know; "interdiction" can be both long and fairly short range strike. I didn't say these were perfect!)

Ted A. Morris, Jr. said...

I think the problem is much, much deeper than selecting the appropriate jargon. In early 2004 I was a scum-sucking, bottom-feeding contractor supporting a forward deployed Predator LRU. At the time, we were preparing to move our unit from Tallil (now Ali AB) to Balad, and I had an opportunity to argue the move with LTG Buchanan (then CENTAF). Although I’d been pretty much fully occupied with Predator support since deploying with the 387th AEG in January 2003, I had retired 10 years earlier as an AF officer and pilot who paid a lot of attention to the scholarly understanding of doctrine. There at Tallil, it seemed to me that the planned move made no doctrinal sense. We were perfectly effective - and safe - where we were. At that time, there was no unrest in the Naisiryah area, while they were mortared or rocketed every night in Balad (BTW, they still are). What possible purpose could it serve to place our equipment and personnel in danger there? Very basic doctrine (and common sense) says that if you are in position to put your aircraft over the target at the desired time, you should not do anything to risk your assets otherwise, unless it results in an improvement in mission effectiveness.
I was honestly surprised when Buchanan told me the real reason for the move - that “we”, meaning the AF, had been pushing Abazaid hard to let us “join the fight” by hunkering down with the Army at what was then called Anaconda; as if we hadn’t been part of the fight, simply because we were not getting attacked daily on the ground. And Buchanan was very angry with me for not understanding that rationale.
I think history teaches us that whenever we lose sight of the strategic objective, we seldom recapture faith in our own capabilities. I am firmly convinced that AF leadership at that time had lost the bubble on the decisiveness of air power in combat, and the deterrent value of that ability, and they haven’t gotten it back. Use of such Army-isms as “garrison” and “expeditionary” by a “senior AF leader” are just the tip of the iceberg, and show just how much faith we’ve lost in ourselves.