It is easy to get overwhelmed when listening to the pervasive 24/7 news cycle broadcasting predictions of an uncertain future. Whether it is America’s supposed “failure to lead” abroad, continuous fiscal disagreements in Washington D.C., or the Air Force’s pending drawdown of 25,000 Airmen, many conclude that the future is uncertain and not promising. But instead of allowing the talking heads to predict our future, it may benefit us to look back to the history of our nation and that of the United States Air Force to determine if where we are going is really new territory or if history is merely repeating itself.
An example may be found in the mighty F-16 Fighting Falcon. First designed in part by the late Col. John “Forty-Second” Boyd in the early 1970s, the Viper’s initial mission was as a day-only, air supremacy fighter, employing the AIM-9 Sidewinder against an adversary within visual range.
However, before long, the Air Force’s changing requirements and improving technology necessitated the Viper to transform into something much different, arguably more lethal, than Boyd or his acolytes envisioned.
F-16s today have little in common with those of Boyd’s vision. Instead of being a day-only fighter, the Viper is absolutely lethal at night. Instead of executing only air-to-air missions, the Viper expertly carries out air-to-ground roles. With the addition of more lethal weapons, pilots now have the ability to destroy adversaries beyond visual range. While much is different, the common factor throughout has been the ability of the Viper to adapt and accomplish new missions to meet the demands of the Air Force.
What can every Airman, young and old, take from the example of the morphed, but evermore lethal, Viper? That it is not always possible to calculate how a machine or weapon, let alone an individual, will evolve to be most effectively employed. Even with the advent of new technology, it is still people that make the Air Force the best in the world. Colonel Boyd claimed three elements determine a military’s success: people, strategy and hardware. Of these, the “most important element to winning” is having our people be better than the enemy’s.
To be the best, every Airman must be aware of options available and be able to choose the best one. It is obvious that two options are now available: separate/retire or remain with the Air Force.
Progress doesn’t mean that everything and everyone will be incorporated into the next evolution. Just as the Viper no longer carries the same missiles it once did, certain positions in the Air Force will be reduced or transformed, allowing some the ability to separate under auspicious conditions. It is only through knowledge of all options and the myriad opportunities in the civilian and military sectors that each Airman can make an informed decision.
For those that wish to remain, our expectation of change, absent of fear, is that as an Air Force, we can grow into something that would make our predecessors proud. In the end, this growth requires the flexibility to always look toward the higher goal of serving our great nation.